How to Compare SAT and ACT Scores

by Megan Dorsey on October 16, 2014

Copyright: RaymondG / 123RF Stock Photocompare sat act

All colleges and universities that require standardized test scores for undergraduate admission will accept students’ scores on either the SAT or ACT.  Many students want to submit their best results, but because these two tests are graded on a different scale, they don’t know how to compare scores.  Understanding how to compare SAT and ACT scores can help students focus on their best test and know which scores to send to colleges.

Material Tested

The SAT and ACT test similar information, but they are not the same.  The SAT contains three graded sections:  reading, math, and writing.  The ACT has four graded sections: English, math, reading, and science. While many of the question types are similar, the tests are different enough that comparing scores is a little bit like comparing apples to oranges.

SAT Scoring

Each of the three SAT sections is graded on a scale of 200 to 800.  The three scores are not averaged to obtain a total score; although students and colleges often add scores together, resulting in a total of 1600 (math and reading) or 2400 (when all sections are totaled).  The average score per section is right around 500.

ACT Scoring

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36.  Each of the four sections is scored on the 1 to 36 scale, then all four scores are averaged to determine a student’s composite score.   Consider a student who earns the following results:

English 23

Math 36

Reading 22

Science 15

This student’s ACT composite score is 24.  Averaging helps the 15 in science, but in doing so reduces the perfect score in math. The average score on the ACT is 21.

Determining Equivalent Scores

Because the SAT and the ACT test different material and use different scoring systems, any attempt to compare scores must be seen as an imprecise evaluation.  The best way to determine equivalent scores is by evaluating how many students earn below a particular score; in other words, compare percentiles.  So, if half the students who take the ACT earn below a 21, and half who take the SAT earn below a 500 per section, those two scores are seen as similar.


Here are some comparisons of SAT and ACT scores.  The SAT results used are the sum of three sections:  reading, math, and writing.  The ACT results are the average of four sections:  English, math, reading, and science.

ACT 36 = SAT 2400

ACT 33 = SAT 2180

ACT 30 = SAT 2000

ACT 27 = SAT 1820

ACT 24 = SAT 1650

ACT 21 = SAT 1470

ACT 18 = SAT 1290

ACT 15 = SAT 1100

ACT 12 = SAT 870


While these comparisons are approximations, they can help students evaluate their progress and determine which test might be best for their particular academic strengths.  Once students compare their SAT and ACT scores, they can determine which results they want to submit for college admission.


Helpful Tip:

Students can obtain official full-length SAT and ACT practice tests from their high school guidance counseling office.  Students who complete these free practice tests according to instruction will have a good idea of how they will score on the actual test. Students do not need to take the actual SAT or ACT or pay for a prep course in order to evaluate their likely results.

PSAT: Strategic Stepping-Stone to the SAT and College Scholarships

September 30, 2014

  In high schools across the country, freshman, sophomores, and juniors will be taking the PSAT test in the middle of October. Many have no idea how important this test is for their college prospects. The PSAT is a strategic part of optimizing SAT scores and it can also be the key to earning significant […]

Read the full article →

Misleading and Wrong College Admissions Information

September 5, 2014

  Guess it is time to address some of the annual media hype surrounding college admissions. Every fall we see news stories trying to hook readers with a new or shocking angle. This week’s highlight comes from “Business Week” and features a former hedge fund manager who “guarantees” he can get your child into an […]

Read the full article →

Avoiding Problems with Online College Applications

August 28, 2014

Most colleges and universities have adopted online methods for submitting applications. Some schools use shared systems such as the Common Application, which is accepted by more than 400 schools, while others accept a state-specific application that’s accepted by public universities,and some private schools, (ApplyTexas). Whether using a specific college’s application or a common version, there […]

Read the full article →

When Should Juniors Take the SAT?

August 21, 2014

Most people agree that high school juniors should take the SAT, but there is some debate about when.  The answer to this question has changed over the years. In the current world of college admissions with early application deadlines creeping closer and closer, students who are taking outdated advice on the SAT may find themselves […]

Read the full article →

10 Questions to Ask on Your College Tour

June 26, 2014

Most college students indicate that campus visits were crucial to their college decision process. Prospective students should be looking for academic, social, and financial fit; a campus visit is the best way to evaluate if a school is right for you. Typical college visits include an information session in the admissions office and a student-led […]

Read the full article →

How to Research Colleges Effectively

June 19, 2014

  You have probably heard the advice “families need to begin the college search process by doing some research.” What does that mean? With more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the US, it can be hard to know where to begin researching. With so many potential sources the process can seem overwhelming. Many students […]

Read the full article →

TAMS Early College Program for High School Students

May 30, 2014

  Do you have an academically talented high school student who would be better served in a college environment? I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Brent Jones the director of admission for the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science (TAMS), an early college program for Texas students entering their junior year of high school. […]

Read the full article →