The Difference Between the ACT and SAT Writing Tests

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With its recent makeover, the SAT’s writing test is now optional, just like its ACT’s writing test. Other than that, the two have more differences than similarities. From timing to prompts, to grading, here’s how the two essays differ.

Timed Writing

Like the other sections of the tests, the ACT / SAT times their essay section. However, the SAT provides 10 additional minutes (50 total) to the ACT’s 40. Why, you ask? Well…

The Prompts

The SAT has test-takers read a passage and then asks them to review strategies that the author used to persuade them. On the ACT, the test-taker receives three arguments to an issue. They must then write a persuasive essay arguing their own point of view. In essence: the SAT writing test is a critical analysis of a persuasive essay, while the ACT is the writing of a persuasive essay.


Unsurprisingly, the ACT and SAT grade the essays differently. For the SAT, a student’s work is graded from 1 to 4 in three different areas—Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The ACT grades from 1 to 6 in four different (and compounded) categories—Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions.

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