I recently posted a video on the ACT® vs. the new SAT®. In that video I focused on the multiple choice sections– but some students have asked, “what about the esssay!?”  In response, I’ve created another video to explain the differences between the two (BOTH are revised within the past year!), and tell you a bit more about what’s expected on either test.  Even if you’ve decided which test your taking, this video will go over some of the basics of what you need to know!


1. The essay section is not required for either the ACT® or the new SAT®. This is a change for the SAT® which, until recently, did require the essay. You can check the respective SAT® and ACT® websites to figure out if you should take the essay portion.

2. Neither the ACT® nor the new SAT® include the essay section in your composite score. That means that the essay will not count toward the overall 36/36 or 1600/1600 score you receive on the ACT® and SAT®, respectively.  Instead the essays are a separate subscore.

3. Both exams offer the essay portion at the end of the exam. Worriers rejoice! I swear the worst part of the old SAT® essay was thinking of better things to say AFTER the writing portion was finished, while I was trying to focus on multiple choice.  Now you can worry about this portion of the test last for both tests.


1. Time. The ACT® allows 40 minutes for the essay section while the SAT® gives you 50 minutes.

2. Scoring. The ACT® and the new SAT® are graded on different scales. The ACT® essay is graded on a scale of 36 possible points while the SAT® offers 24 possible points. Each however, divides these points into categories — the SAT® has three categories worth 4 points each, the ACT® has four categories worth 6 points each and then rescales the 24 points you get into 36 points (because confusing scoring methods are fun!).

For more on SAT® Scoring: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/understanding-scores/essay

For more on ACT® Scoring: https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act-educator/about-the-act/act-plus-writing.html

3. Prompts. The writing topics and tasks for the two tests differ greatly:

  • The ACT® essay prompt I discuss in the video starts with a short paragraph which introduces a topic and then addresses a debate surrounding such topic. It offers three perspectives and then presents more ideas to consider for the essay task. The essay requires you to have an opinion, voice that opinion, and support that opinion with evidence and reasoning. You must source your mind for specific evidence or strands of logical reasoning. I find that more creative students find the new ACT® essay easier to approach at times than the new SAT® essay, as it relies on synthesis.  You must synthesize your own ideas with those of others, in addition to analyzing the evidence you present.  While writing a formulaic essay used to work wonders on the ACT® if you pulled the right tricks, the bar is higher now that the prompt gives you more complex ideas to work with.
  • The SAT® essay, on the other hand, relies more heavily on analysis. You must read and understand a passage, identify the author’s point, and explain how the author effectively makes that point. Persuasive essays of some sort, at least thus far, make up the bulk of the SAT® essays you must consider.

Essentially, the ACT® asks you to construct a persuasive essay while the SAT® wants you to analyze one.

In order to figure out which essay is truly best for you, I would recommend trying each essay with the above points in mind to see how you do.

For ACT® writing prompts see our blog with multiple practice prompts here:


or the official ACT® practice prompt here:


For SAT® essay practice:


You should also read the example essays available online to get a better sense of which one is more suited for you. Good luck!

Looking for advice on How to Write The NEW ACT® Essay?  Check out this post and read more!

How to Write the NEW ACT Essay