What is the difference between the SAT and ACT?

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Both are used for college admissions but how are they different? (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

College admission exams can be one of the most stressful moments in primary education, with the next four years of your life riding, at least partially, on how well you perform for four hours on an early Saturday morning.

But before you sit down with your No. 2 pencil, do you know the difference between the two major admission exams?

» READ MORE: This one thing can help students get a higher ACT, SAT score

Both the SAT and the ACT cover math and reading sections, but while the SAT also has writing and language sections, the ACT has science and English components. Both offer an essay writing section.

With the essay portion, both exams offer just under four hours to complete: You have three hours and 50 minutes to finish the SAT, but only three hours and 40 minutes for the ACT.

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National Merit Scholars from metro Atlanta receive scholarships based on their academic performance and extracurricular activities. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

National Merit Scholars from metro Atlanta receive scholarships based on their academic performance and extracurricular activities. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

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National Merit Scholars from metro Atlanta receive scholarships based on their academic performance and extracurricular activities. CURTIS COMPTON / CCOMPTON@AJC.COM

Are you good at counting on your fingers? The SAT doesn't allow you to use a calculator on all math questions; you're welcome to use it on all math questions on the ACT.

Neither exam is the "harder" one — but students usually perform better on one or the other, based on what type of student they are.

Scoring is another big difference between the exams. A perfect score on the SAT is a 1600, while 36 means you aced the ACT.

Which one should you take? Check the admissions requirements for each college or university you're planning on applying to and be sure to check whether you need to take the essay writing portion.

Looking for help studying for the SAT or ACT? Check out the AJC guide to free and affordable test prep options for the SAT and ACT.