Is the ACT or SAT Harder?

Ginger Abbot

Jul 22, 2022
ACT and SAt cover

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When applying for college, you will need to take either the SAT or ACT. These tests can feel nerve-wracking at first. Some students prefer taking just one, and some take both. With this in mind, you may wonder, is ACT or SAT harder?  

Differences Between the Tests

To answer this question, you need to understand the differences between each test. One of the main differences is that the ACT has a science section, and the SAT doesn’t. You can’t use a calculator in the science section. It covers topics like data representation and the research process. Yet, it focuses primarily on your ability to interpret graphs and studies.

Another difference is the SAT is divided into calculator and non-calculator sections. There is a mix of multiple-choice and grid-in problems. These questions focus on topics like algebra and problem-solving. Yet, you can use a calculator on all ACT math questions. 

The length of each test varies as well. The SAT is slightly longer than the ACT. The SAT is around 3 hours and 50 minutes, while the ACT is about 3 hours and 35 minutes. The scoring ranges vary as well. The SAT has a range of 400-16,000. On the other hand, an ACT score ranges from 1-36. 

Is the ACT or SAT Harder?

While the answer depends on your preferences, here are some factors to consider. 

1. The Math Section Content

When determining if the ACT or SAT is harder, consider the content for each exam. The math ACT focuses on complex concepts, like geometry and trigonometry. So, if these are your weaker areas, the ACT may be more challenging. 

Also, the SAT has a no calculator section. If you rely on tools to make quick calculations, the SAT math section may feel more daunting. In addition, the SAT provides a small reference list for basic formulas. This can be helpful for students who have trouble with memorization. 

For each test, the math section accounts for a different amount of the total score. The ACT math portion, with 60 questions, makes up a smaller part of your results. The SAT has the math section accounting for a higher percentage. So, for those struggling with math, the ACT may be the easier option. 

2. The Essay

While both tests have essay portions, the content varies. The SAT will require academic analysis of a given topic. You will need to evaluate the ideas already presented by someone else. The ACT will ask you to state your argument on a particular topic. You will want to provide your thoughts and perspectives. 

Therefore, if you have strong persuasive skills, you may find the SAT easier. However, if you prefer to support your point of view, the ACT may feel more comfortable. 

3. The Timing per Question 

When considering whether the ACT or SAT is harder, the length of the exam comes into play. The SAT often allows for more timing per question. With more time, you can think through your response. Yet, these questions often require more logical reasoning. 

On the other hand, the ACT is more time-intensive. For the math section, you have about one minute per question. Learning time management strategies can help you perform better. Try answering easy questions first. Although, ACT responses tend to be more straightforward. 

4. The Type of Questions

The reading section on the SAT features more evidence-supported questions. Each of these responses are in chronological order with the text it references. This section may be more challenging for students who have trouble analyzing passages. Yet, marking the passage can help improve your score. Although, the ACT doesn’t have these types of questions.  

5. The Style of Math Questions 

To answer the question, is the ACT SAT is harder? You also want to evaluate the types of questions. In the SAT math section, you have both multiple choice and grid in. Therefore, you can’t guess as easily. However, the ACT only has multiple choice. 

Which Test Should You Take?

Universities commonly accept both tests, but you should consider two main factors. First, figure out which test is better suited for your capabilities. If you tend to think more logically, the SAT can be a good choice. Take practice tests in each exam to see which one you score better in. There are plenty of online resources and test prep books. 

Another factor is the schools and state requirements. Some colleges may prefer one test over the other. While making a list of your dream schools, research this information. You don’t want to spend time preparing for the wrong exam. Also, keep in mind some states will require one or the other. For example, in Alabama, all high school students must take the ACT. 

Choosing the Right Test 

There are many steps to preparing for college. One of them is taking standardized tests. So, many students wonder, is the ACT of SAT harder? At the end of the day, there is no correct answer. The difficulty depends on your strengths and weaknesses as a test taker. 

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