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What are the SAT and ACT?

The SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Testing) are two different tests used by American universities to gauge college readiness. Some schools require them on the application, some don’t. 

Most high school students take the SAT or ACT in their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year. High test scores can make a student more competitive for admission, as well as qualify them for scholarships.

Grove Prep students who take regular lessons can see a 50%-90% increase in scores. Check out the table below for more data.

Doing well on one or both of these exams is vital for college-bound students who want a shot at their dream school. We’re here to help!

What’s the difference?

While both exams test the same core subject areas of English grammar, reading, math, and science, they go about it in different ways and with different scoring systems. Colleges don’t have a preference for one or the other, so you should take the one that you feel the most confident on.


  • Administered by The College Board
  • Perfect score: 1600
  • Divided into 800 points for English, 800 for math
  • 141 multiple choice questions
  • 13 grid-in questions split between the math sections
  • Total time: 3 hours 15 minutes, excluding breaks

 Section Breakdown:

  • Reading: 65 minutes, 52 questions
  • Writing and Language: 35 minutes, 44 questions
  • Math (no calculator): 25 minutes, 20 questions
  • Math (calculator): 55 minutes, 38 questions
  • No essay


  • Administered by the ACT Company
  • Perfect score: 36
  • Sections are scored out of 36, then averaged for the “composite”
  • Essay is graded out of 12: two graders give up to six points each
  • 215 multiple choice questions
  • Total time: 2 hours 55 minutes, excluding breaks and essay

Section Breakdown:

  • English: 45 minutes, 75 questions
  • Math: 60 minutes, 60 questions
  • Reading: 35 minutes, 40 questions
  • Science: 35 minutes, 40 questions
  • Optional Essay: 40 minutes

But there’s more!

Those are just the structural differences between the exams. Here are some of the more nuanced details of the tests, as well as some of their similarities. These similarities may seem obvious, but it’s good to know exactly what the tests have in common so that students know exactly what to expect.


  • Sometimes includes a fifth, ungraded section at the end
  • Has some two-part reading questions
  • Gives a formula list at the beginning of both math sections
  • Incorporates science questions throughout


  • Math section moves from easy to hard
  • Does not give a formula list
  • Reading passages alway follow this order: prose fiction/literary narrative, social science, humanities, natural science
  • Science section has seven “passages”


  • Designed to test speed and accuracy
  • Four answer choices (A-D)
  • Use a bubble sheet to record answers
  • Math questions range from algebra to trigonometry
  • Mixed difficulty of questions (except ACT math section)
  • Do not penalize for wrong answers

How does tutoring help?

One-on-one tutoring is the fastest, most effective way to raise your score on these tests. Your tutor can teach you the content knowledge required for each section and show you how to apply it, no matter what each individual problem looks like. The benefits of having a tutor are the same as hiring any type of master teacher: you will get where you want to go more quickly, more effectively, and without wasting time.

Learn how to:

  • Decide which test you should take
  • Identify important indicators within each question
  • Get unstuck during difficult problems
  • Eliminate incorrect answers
  • Recognize patterns
  • Find the problem types you often miss
  • Stay focused for the entire test
  • Manage the timing of each section
  • Write a high-scoring essay
  • Determine how many times you should take the test

Did you know?

The SAT used to deduct 1/4 of a point for each incorrect answer. This system was discontinued in 2016.

How we measure results

The best metric for measuring student growth on these exams is by examining “points captured”: the percentage of the points a student originally missed that they now get right. Take a look at this data from Grove Prep students. We’re proud of them!

ACT – Real Tutoring Results

Oliver - Harvard '24
Percent Points Captured
Hours Tutored
21 Hours
Margaux - Tulane '26
Percent Points Captured
Hours Tutored
25 Hours
Claire - Columbia '26
Percent Points Captured
Hours Tutored
20 Hours
Kyra - Oberlin '25
Percent Points Captured
Hours Tutored
15 Hours
Mashi - UW '24
Percent Points Captured
Hours Tutored
16 Hours

We’re here to help

Let us make your test prep journey as simple as possible. Schedule a consultation with us so that we can help you get the scores you deserve!

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