ACT Essay vs New SAT Essay

How is the ACT essay different from the SAT essay?

There were big changes this year to both the ACT essay and SAT essay. The SAT, as pretty much everyone knows by now, is completely changing in spring 2016. And the ACT, which has always been far more hesitant to change, introduced a new essay format in the fall of 2015.

In this episode of TuesdACT, we’re comparing both essays. Want to find out which essay is going to be better for you? Check out the video and the highlights below!

Time Limit:

ACT Essay: 40 Minutes

SAT Essay: 50 Minutes

Liam got a 35 on the ACT. Get a higher ACT score with Magoosh.


ACT Essay: You betcha.

SAT Essay: Me too!

The Prompt:

ACT Essay: Analyze three perspectives on an issue and present your own.

SAT Essay: Read a passage and explain how the author uses certain strategies to build an argument and persuade an audience.

The Grading:

ACT Essay: Two different graders score an essay from 1 to 6 on four different writing domains: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. The raw score of points added up from the graders is converted to a scaled score from 1 to 36.

SAT Essay: Two graders score students from 1 to 4 in three different categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. These scores are added together but remain separate in categories, so students will receive three scores from 2 to 8 for each category.

How do I know whether the ACT essay or New SAT essay is better for me?

The SAT essay is probably going to feel more familiar to most students. You likely are asked to analyze texts and write essays on them in your English classes all the time. Although you may do essays similar to what’s on the ACT–basically a persuasive essay–it is less common.

If you are good at critically analyzing texts–meaning you can describe why an author is doing certain things to achieve a certain effect–you may be better at the SAT essay.

If you are good at logic and debate–meaning you can easily come up with pros and cons for various issues and supporting points and examples–you may be better at the ACT essay.

Because the SAT essay has a domain for “Reading,” students who are strong readers, but not as confident as writers, may feel this works to their advantage. They can understand what a text is doing, but may not feel like they have that flourish to their writing.

Because the ACT essay privileges ideas and examples, students who know a lot about historical and current events may be at an advantage here. The ACT loves good examples, and students who can come up with them will be rewarded! Check out ACT practice tests to see if this is right for you.

[crp limit=”4″ post_thumb_op=”after”]


  • Kristin Fracchia

    Dr. Kristin Fracchia has over fifteen years of expertise in college and graduate school admissions and with a variety of standardized tests, including the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, with several 99% scores. She had a PhD from the University of California, Irvine, an MA degree from The Catholic University, and BA degrees in Secondary Education and English Literature from the University of Maryland, College Park. She was the recipient of the 2013 Excellence in Teaching Award and the Chancellor’s Club Fellowship from the University of California, Irvine. She’s worked as a high school teacher and university professor, as an independent college and graduate school admissions counselor, and as an expert tutor for standardized tests, helping hundreds of students gain acceptance into premier national and international institutions. She now develops accessible and effective edtech products for Magoosh. Her free online content and YouTube videos providing test prep and college admissions advice have received over 6 million views in over 125 countries. Kristin is an advocate for improving access to education: you can check out her TEDx talk on the topic. Follow Kristin on LinkedIn!

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

, , , ,

No comments yet.

Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply