Ask a Nerd!

Q: I am thinking of taking both the SAT and ACT; are they pretty much the same?

Brief: No! The SAT and ACT are two very different exams with two different test prep strategies. The essay structures are extremely different, the timing of the tests is different and the scoring is completely different. You should definitely tell your Irvine private test prep tutor if you plan to take both exams in the same year so that s/he can help you separate the two (READ: “Ask a Nerd! ‘What Kind of Tech Should I Use to Study‘”).


The SAT and ACT are two very different exams. Although there are several differences, a few are highlighted here to help you get started:

The SAT vs. the ACT essay

The essays require different structures and are graded based upon different criteria (READ: “8 SAT Essay Tips“). Many students find the ACT essay to have a simpler format but this doesn’t necessarily make it easier. How you will perform on each essay depends upon who you are as a writer. Ask your Orange County test prep tutor (schedule yours now before it’s too late!) to explain the differences to you and help you go back and forth from one writing style to the other. I don’t recommend taking both tests in the same month. It is too easy to get the two exams confused.

The timing of the sections

The SAT has 25 minute, 20 minute, and a 10 minute section. You will need to switch back and forth from math to English several times throughout the test, meaning that your right and left brains need to work in unison. The sections of the ACT are longer; writing, reading and English are between 30 and 45 minutes while the sole math section is 60 minutes long. This means that once you are done with math, you won’t have to go back and do it again (our Irvine math tutors will increase your confidence).

Mad Science (Reasoning Section)

The ACT has a science reasoning section, which the SAT does not have. Many test-takers and Irvine science tutors view the science reasoning section as a logic test that has nothing to do with science. Each student will attack and conquer this section differently and I suggest that you ask your tutor for special test prep techniques that are unique to this section (READ: “ACT Aspire: What is it?“).


The highest score (a completely perfect score) on the SAT is a 2400. The current average score is around 1500 to 1550. Most universities (including the university of California, Irvine) are looking for scores around 1850 for acceptance. Of course this varies by state. If you want to get into an Ivy League school or a school just below the Ivy League, you will need to shoot for a 2000-2300 (Yikes!).

irvine-test-prep-tutor                                     Image Via Michael Jung

The top score you can get on the ACT is a 36 (READ: “A Timeline Study Guide for the SAT“). The rumored score to get into university of California, Irvine is 23. If you want to get into Harvard, the rumored score is between 31 and 35 (Yikes!).

A few things are the same

To do really well on your SAT and your ACT exams you will need to do a few things.

– Take lots and lots of practice tests

– Get a tutor who specializes in test prep

– Work really, really hard

– Take the real test two or even three times

– Apply the techniques that your test prep tutor gives you

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