The Difference Between SAT Writing and Language and ACT English

act preparation english sat preparation writing and language Sep 19, 2022
SAT Writing and Language vs ACT English

Table of Contents

  • Structure and Score

  • Time

  • Topics and Question Types

  • Conclusion

Structure and Score

Like the Reading sections of the SAT and ACT, one obvious difference between the SAT and ACT English sections is the number of passages. The SAT has 4 passages each with 11 questions while the ACT has 5 passages each with 15 questions.  This means there are almost twice as many questions on the ACT than the SAT: 44 on the SAT compared to 75 on the ACT.

Also similar to the Reading section, the SAT incorporates some graphics into its Writing and Language section. You won’t see a lot but there are one or two tables, charts or graphs. You won’t have to do any calculations, but you will be required to interpret the data included. You can find an example question in the topics section below. 

The ACT contains more English convention (grammar) questions. The SAT is more heavily weighted to rhetorical skills (writing style and structure of the passage). If you are able to move quickly and decisively, the ACT may be a better fit. If you are more detailed in your approach, you may find the SAT more comfortable.

Writing and Language or English both account for 1/4 of your composite score. While the differences between the two tests are subtle, they can impact your score and are worth exploring. 



The SAT allots 35 minutes for you to complete 44 questions. That gives you 48 seconds per question. The ACT allots 45 minutes for 75 questions. That amounts to 36 seconds per question. If you have strong grammar skills and are a good proof reader, you may find the ACT a better fit. If you like to see the big picture and think more deeply then the SAT may be more your taste. 


Topics and Question Types

As mentioned above, the SAT has more rhetorical skills questions while the ACT focuses more on standard English conventions (grammar and idioms).

 The SAT will ask questions like “Which choice most effectively introduces the next paragraph?” or “The writer wants an effective concluding sentence that restates the main argument of the passage. Which choice best accomplishes this goal?” 

The ACT is more direct with questions like “For the sake of logic and coherence of the essay paragraph 3 should be placed?” or “Suppose the writer’s primary purpose had been to describe how a technological advancement changed business practices. Would this essay accomplish that purpose?”

While the number of each type of question varies (% writing skills vs % grammar) the grammar rules are the same for both tests. This varies greatly from the math tests where concepts tested on the two tests are vastly different. 

As I mentioned, the SAT will have a few graphics questions in the Writing and Language section. An example is below: 


Which choice most effectively uses data from the table?

  1.  No Change

B) 4.2 tons of mudstone

C) 29.4 tons of fine-grained sandstone

D) 199.1 tons of medium-grained sandstone




The ACT is more focused on vocabulary and idioms. While you will not be asked the meaning of words, you will be asked for the best substitute for a word or phrase. 


Depending on the presence or absence of the remaining three lines, up to seven different arrangements were susceptible and, therefore, seven different encodings. 

 A) no change

 B) responsible

 C) possible

 D) capable


I was traveling on a canoe on a group tour through the renowned Glowworm Grotto of New Zealand’s Waitomo Caves. 

 A) no change

 B) with

 C) by 

 D) in



The differences between these tests may not be a glaring as the Math sections but they are there and can impact your score. Since these passages occur early on both tests they can impact your stress level and state of mind. Choosing the best fit sets you up for success on the test as a whole. 

When deciding between the tests consider the following questions

  • Do I have a good grasp of grammar rules? (ACT)
  • I am a good editor. (ACT)
  • I have good rhetorical organization skills. (SAT)
  • I am decisive and can move quickly. (ACT)
  • I like to consider the passage in its entirety and deeply. (SAT)
  • I am good with context vocabulary (ACT)

Consider each test carefully. Even subtle difference and impact your score. It is definitely worth finding the best fit

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