Format of the ACT and SAT

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The new SAT is very different from its predecessor, but it’s changed for the better. Test-takers now know the exact order, number of questions, and amount of time given in each section. The general structure of the new SAT is shown below:

OrderSection NameNumber of QuestionsTimeRecommended Time/question
1Reading52 questions65 minutes< 75 seconds
Break 1 10 minutes 
2Writing & Language (Grammar)44 questions35 minutes< 40 seconds
3Math (No Calculator)20 questions25 minutes< 60 seconds
Break 2 5 minutes 
4Math (with Calculator)38 questions55 minutes< 75 seconds
Break 3 2 minutes 
5Essay (optional)1 prompt50 minutes 
Total  3 hours
(+ 17 minutes with breaks; + 50 minutes with essay)

SAT Section Breakdown
First, keep in mind that all four sections of the new SAT will have graphics, and the two English sections and the Math sections are weighted equally — 800 points each. The reading section includes 5 passages, each followed by 10 to 12 questions. The topics of the passages include two about history or social studies, two related to science, and one from literature. The Writing and Language section has four passages, each followed by exactly 11 questions. Topics of the passages include history/social studies, humanities, and science.

Calculators are not allowed in the first Math section, which consists of 15 multiple-choice questions and 5 grid-in questions. There will be no data analysis or advanced problem solving questions here. The second Math section (with calculator), however, will have more challenging questions that may require multiple steps, and about half of the 38 questions are data analysis/advanced problem solving.

Unlike the old SAT Essay section, the new one does not ask about your stance/opinion in response to the author’s claim. Instead, you must analyze the author’s argument and explain how he/she builds his/her argument throughout the passage.


OrderSection NameNumber of QuestionsTimeRecommended Time/question
1English75 questions45 minutes< 30 seconds
2Math60 questions60 minutes< 50 seconds
Break 1 10 minutes 
3Reading40 questions35 minutes< 50 seconds
4Science40 questions35 minutes< 50 seconds
Break 2 5 minutes 
5Essay (optional)1 prompt40 minutes 
Total  2 hours 55 minutes
(+ 15 minutes with breaks; + 40 minutes with essay)

ACT Section Breakdown
Compared to the SAT, the ACT is more time intensive, meaning that test-takers must manage their time wisely throughout the exam. The first section is called the English section, which is equivalent to the Writing and Language section on the SAT. Only 45 minutes are given while there are 75 multiple choice questions.

The ACT Math section could be a little tricky to many. The section starts off (extremely) easy, but the level of difficulty will increase as you complete this section. ACT Math also includes topics such as trigonometry and geometry, which many test-takers either forget or find themselves completely clueless during the exam. Also, the ACT does not provide a formula sheet like the SAT does, so it is important to memorize it before entering the test center.

Lastly, the ACT Science section is specifically designed for students to demonstrate their scientific knowledge and interest. However, very little background knowledge is needed for this section because it primarily measures your data interpretation, reading, and analytical skills.

While the ACT also has an Essay portion, the approach is very different from the SAT Essay. Test-takers are given an essay prompt followed by three perspectives, and are asked to write an essay by drawing connections between their position and at least one of the perspectives and supporting that position with examples and evidence.

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Also in: 简中 (Simplified Chinese) 繁中 (Traditional Chinese)

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