The SAT, ACT, and TOEFL: How They Compare

Emma Quinn
Published on
May 18, 2021

One factor that has continued to be a prominent force in college admissions is standardized tests. Whether it be the SAT, ACT, or TOEFL, students are required to take one or more of these exams to apply to a university. In this post, I’ll go over the basics of each exam to determine which is the best fit for you.


The SAT, founded in 1926, is still one of the most popular tests students take. Over eight million students take the test each year throughout the multiple dates CollegeBoard offers. It consists of four required sections (Writing, Math – No-Calculator, Math – Calculator, Reading) and the optional essay. Overall, the exam lasts three hours without the essay(65 min for 52 reading questions, 35 min for 44 writing questions, and 80 min for 58 math questions) and three hours and 50 minutes with the essay.

The exam currently costs $49.50 without the essay and $64.50 with the essay. It is presently scored out of 1600 points, with 800 being given to math and the other 800 given to writing and reading. If a student is not happy with their score, they can retake it at a later date.


The ACT, founded in 1959, has risen in popularity over the years. Over two million students take the exam each year throughout the multiple dates the ACT offers, and this number is expected to grow. It also consists of four required sections (English, Math, Reading, Science) and one optional essay.

The exam lasts for two hours and 55 minutes without the essay(45 min for 75 grammar questions, 60 min for 60 math questions, 35 min for 45 reading questions, and 35 min for science questions) and 3.5 hours with the essay.

The exam currently costs $42.50 without the essay and $58.50 with the essay. Each section is graded out of 36 points. The average of the four grades is known as the composite score. Like the SAT, students are allowed to take the test more than once.


The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), founded in 1964, is an exam that measures the English language ability of non-native speakers hoping to enroll in an English-speaking university. Over two million international students take the TOEFL each year in hopes of attending a university in North America or Europe.

It is split into four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. The exam is approximately four hours long(60-80 min for 36-56 reading questions, 60-90 min for 34-51 listening questions, 20 min for six speaking tasks, and 50 min for two writing tasks).

The price of the exam varies by location, but it is often around $40. Each section is scored out of 30 points, so a student’s total score is out of 120. Colleges set a minimum score for students to receive to enroll, and these scores can vary anywhere from 61 to 110. Like the previous two tests, students can retake the exam if they’re unhappy with their score.

Read the next article in our college application guide: The Do's and Don'ts for Writing College Essays

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