Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

by Megan Dorsey on April 16, 2012

 

Which test is easier the SAT or ACT?

The best way to find out is to take both.  If you don’t have scores from both tests to compare, here are my top 5 factors for deciding between the SAT and ACT.

1. Shorter test or shorter sections?

With the additional writing section, the ACT consists of 3 hours and 25 minutes of tested material; the SAT is longer at 3 hours of 55 minutes.  Both are long tests.  Some prefer the ACT format with longer, but fewer sections.  The ACT has one section each of English, Math, Reading, and Science and you never need to guess what section is next.  However, fewer sections means longer periods of time to focus on each portion.  Many students find it challenging to focus on ACT math for the full 60 minutes and prefer the SAT format of multiple math sections, each no longer than 25 minutes.

 

2. Trig questions or trickier questions?

Test content is similar, yet different in all sections of the SAT and ACT.  Math is one part where your comfort with content may lead you to favor one test over the other.  The SAT does not test any math concepts beyond Algebra II; the ACT includes 4-5 trigonometry questions.  On the other hand, many test takers have describes the SAT math questions as “tricky” and feel the ACT questions are more like what is taught in school.  Both tests have easier, medium, and very hard questions, so you have to decide which format is better for you.

 

3.  Superscore or single score?

The SAT provides three different scores – Reading, Math, and Writing.  Many colleges and universities will “Superscore” your SAT results by picking the best scores from different test dates, allowing you to retest and focus on only one subject if needed.  The ACT averages your scores in the four tested sections to produce a composite score.  While there has been some discussion of superscoring the ACT, most colleges don’t.  If you have exceptionally high results on one or more sections, but average numbers on others, you may want your scores seen on their own rather than averaged.

 

4. Vocabulary or charts & graphs?

I’m simplifying things a little here, but the content on both tests requires different preparation.  SAT Reading is so vocabulary intensive that I unfailingly recommend students study vocabulary flashcards to enhance their knowledge of college-bound words.  The ACT tests students on knowledge of vocabulary, but not to the same degree.

The content challenge on the ACT is the science section. Don’t get excited.  It has nothing to do with science.  This section tests students’ abilities to analyze and interpret charts and graphs.  With 40 passage-based questions in 35 minutes, many students struggle to complete enough questions.

 

5.  Leaving questions blank or strategically guessing?

Scoring procedures on the SAT penalize students a fourth a point for wrong answers, making it strategically advantageous to leave questions blank if your desired score in a section is 650 or below.  The ACT is more like classroom tests where only correct answers count and there is no penalty for incorrect responses. Both scoring methods provide you with opportunities to increase, or decrease, your score based on knowledge of the systems and how to use each process to your advantage.

Deciding which test is best for you can be complicated.  There are more factors that could influence your decision than I’ve outlined here.  Writing the essay first or last?  Grammar passages or errors in single sentences?  Remembering standard math formulas and special triangles or having them provided for the math sections?

The SAT and ACT are like Coke and Pepsi.  They are competing brands in the same market.  Some consumers will prefer one to the other, but for many they are about the same.  Again, I encourage you to take both tests before you pick a favorite.  Know which test plays to your academic and test taking strengths and don’t hesitate to take one or both multiple times.

 

 


Vivienne Egan April 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Hi Megan, I loved this piece. I run a website that aims to assist international students in their preparation for studying abroad, and we were wondering if you would be happy for us to republish a few of your blogs, especially the SAT related ones. We would link back to the original post and site. I’ve included my email address, so please let me know if you’d be interested.

megan April 23, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Vivienne, thank you. I would be happy allow you to republish some of my articles. I will send you and email with the details.

Best of luck with your international students. Many of the families I work with here are international. The higher education system in the US can be confusing for parents who completed all their university work abroad.

Megan

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