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As a professional SAT and ACT tutor, I have been asked this question quite a bit, and in this two-part article, I’d like to share my perspective on some key differences between the two, which may convince you that either the ACT or the SAT is an easier test.
Is the ACT or SAT the easier test?
I keep hearing a persistent rumor that the ACT is an “easier” test than the SAT. Students want to know if the ACT or SAT is easier so they can improve their odds at getting into their favorite college. I mean, who wouldn’t be tempted by that carrot to look for the easier test? Believe me, I understand.
Sadly, before I go in-depth into my reasoning, my basic argument is Part I: No, it’s not, and Part II: It wouldn’t even matter if it was.
Why the SAT is actually easier than the ACT:
More SAT Prep is available than ACT prep:
The SAT has more prep books, and better-quality books on the market, than the ACT (have a look at my best SAT prep books)
The SAT has far more official practice tests available, and whether you’re prepping for the ACT or SAT, you need to use official practice tests from the actual authors, not imitations that lead you to practice the wrong skills and expect the wrong types of topics on the test.
It’s easier to improve your SAT score than your ACT score:
It’s easy to gain a few extra points on the SAT, which has a wide 2400 point scale that can reflect even minor improvements from test to test, but the ACT, on a much narrower 36 point grading scale, demands hard-core study just to improve by even one point. There are no half points on the ACT.
The ACT math section tests harder concepts than the SAT math section:
Contrary to popular belief, the ACT actually requires more content knowledge (that means, like, formulas and stuff) than the SAT, especially in the ACT math section. The ACT math section tests higher-level math concepts than the SAT, like trigonometry, logarithms, and matrices. You can improve your SAT Math Score with the books in my online bookstore.
I hate the ACT science section with a passion:
The ACT science section can be an absolute nightmare for some students, to whom the charts and graphs seems extremely dense and intimidating – to be fair, some students find it quite easy, but many others struggle mightily to improve on it.
It’s not hard to improve your SAT score by studying vocabulary lists:
The SAT is more vocabulary-heavy, which makes some students nervous, but there are some phenomenal SAT vocab word lists available that are targeted extremely accurately to the SAT – I like Direct Hits and The Princeton Review’s Essential SAT Vocabulary. Surprisingly, the SAT’s emphasis on vocab is actually a benefit; if you start preparing early enough to build up your vocabulary, it will really help your SAT Critical Reading score.
They’re both really long:
True, the ACT is 20 minutes shorter, but by the end of either the ACT or SAT, that’s a minor difference (test day for both the ACT and SAT will still be over 4 hours long!).
A few basic strategies help more in the SAT than in the ACT:
Also true, the SAT is more “tricky” – but then again, learning the primary SAT strategies can provide a big boost to your score right away; this isn’t as true of the ACT (which, for example, is more based on actually knowing a bunch of specific concepts and formulas in the ACT Math section, and not as easy to “fake”).
Time-budgeting for the ACT is more difficult:
Because there are fewer sections to the ACT, and more questions in each of the sections, most students find it more difficult to get a sense of their time budget per section on the ACT.
Both the ACT and SAT tests have their issues:
Neither the ACT or SAT is a cakewalk… but I truly believe the SAT is easier than the ACT if you are going to devote some time to test prep practice.
Both tests are difficult in their own way. The SAT is heavy on difficult vocab and on “trickiness,” while the ACT tests more advanced math concepts and has that dense science section filled with charts and graphs.
So, is the ACT or SAT easier? If you do no prep at all, they’re both miserable and difficult. But, if you’re going to study (and you should), I think the SAT is the better choice hands-down if you want to see results for your efforts.
I’m so convinced of this line of reasoning that I actually quit tutoring the ACT in favor of working exclusively on the SAT!
Now go on to Part II: Is the ACT better than the SAT?