ACT & SAT Prep

Most high school students expect to participate in the ACT or SAT, but few know their similarities, differences, or how universities use their scores.  The CSU considers scores for either test equally for admission, merit-based scholarships, and first-year GE English and math course placement.  Students may prefer the format, subjects tested, and level of rigor of one exam versus the other.

If deciding between the two exams, consider the expectations and potential benefits/disadvantages of both listed in the following brief guide:

            American College Testing (ACT)       Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)
Assesses knowledge of subjects
taught in high school

Measures literacy, writing, analysis,
and problem-solving skills

          Key Differences:

Heavy geometry
Tough science section

      Light geometry
More time per question
No-calculator math section

2 hours, 55 minutes
      3 hours
          Format & Timing:

English: 45 minutes
Math: 60 minutes
Reading: 35 minutes
Science: 35 minutes
Essay (Optional): 45 minutes


Reading: 65 minutes
Writing: 35 minutes
Math (No-Calculator): 25 minutes
Math (Calculator): 55 minutes
Essay (Optional): 50 minutes

          Number of Questions:

English/Writing: 75
Math: 60
Reading: 40
Science: 40

      Reading: 52
Writing: 44
Math: 58

          Time Per Question:

Reading: 53 seconds
English: 36 seconds
Math: 60 seconds

      Reading: 75 seconds
Writing: 48 seconds
Math: 83 seconds


All Subjects: 1-36 points

      Reading & Writing: 200-800 points
Math (Combined): 200-800 points



4 Passages:
Natural Science
Social Science

Percentage of Vocabulary Terms: 8%
Average Words per Sentence: 22
Peak Words per Sentence: 26
Average Grade Level: 11.5

Reading section does not use
graphs or charts


5 Passages:
Social Science

Percentage of Vocabulary Terms: 17%
Average Words per Sentence: 25
Peak Words per Sentence: 39
Average Grade Level: 13.5

Reading section uses
graphs and charts



Grammar: 51%
Rhetoric: 49%
Average Words per Sentence: 18
Average Grade Level: 10

Reading section do not use
graphs or charts

      Grammar: 45%
Rhetoric: 55%
Average Words per Sentence: 13
Average Grade Level: 10

Reading section uses
graphs and charts



Sections: 1
Calculator: Allowed
Formulas: Not Provided
Geometry Focus: 23%

Arithmetic, Algebra I and II,
functions, geometry,



Sections: 2
Calculator: Allowed (1 Section Only)
Formulas: Provided
Geometry Focus: 6%

Arithmetic, problem-solving,
data analysis, Algebra,
geometry, pre-calculus,
and trigonometry

Choosing Your Exam

Students can discover their best exam option by answering 13 questions about their study and testing habits using the Kaplan SAT vs ACT app.

Test Registration & Preparation

ACT Registration
SAT Registration

Khan Academy Official SAT Practice
Official Beginner's Guide for ACT


Matthew Tener, Coordinator
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(707) 654-1081


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