Which Is Easier: SAT or ACT?

February 13, 2024
6 min read

Which is easier, SAT or ACT prep? This is a common question. However, with the insights provided in this guide, you'll be better equipped to make the right choice for you.

When deciding between the SAT and ACT, remember that what's easier can vary for each person. It's all about understanding the unique aspects of each test, like format, content, and timing. Your choice should match your strengths and preferences. 

This guide helps by explaining the differences so you can make a well-informed decision. It covers format, content, and scoring, and also how colleges view both tests. In the end, it's about picking the one that suits you best.

Differences Between ACT and SAT

Let's begin by exploring the distinctions between the ACT and SAT to help you understand the key variations between these two standardized tests.

Test Format and Length

  • SAT: The SAT underwent a significant change in March 2024 when it transitioned to a digital format. This shift shortened the test duration to approximately 2 hours and 14 minutes. The SAT now comprises two main sections: a 64-minute reading and writing section, and a 70-minute math section.
  • ACT: In comparison, the ACT remains a traditional paper-based test with a total duration of around 2 hours and 55 minutes. This time can extend to slightly over 3 and a half hours if you opt for the 40-minute optional writing test. The ACT includes English (45 minutes), math (60 minutes), reading (35 minutes), and science (35 minutes) sections.


  • SAT: The SAT places a strong emphasis on critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It aims to assess your ability to apply these skills to a variety of scenarios.
  • ACT: In contrast, the ACT is more focused on assessing your knowledge of what you've learned in school. It also includes a dedicated science section. However, it's important to note that the science section on the ACT is more about interpreting data and graphs than testing specific scientific knowledge.

Calculator Rules

  • SAT: The SAT allows the use of a calculator for the entire math section, offering more flexibility in problem-solving.
  • ACT: The ACT permits calculator use for all math questions.

Dedicated Science Section

  • SAT: The SAT does not have a specific science section, so you won't encounter science-related questions in this test.
  • ACT: The ACT, on the other hand, includes a distinct science section. However, it's essential to understand that this section focuses more on reading, interpreting, and analyzing data than on scientific concepts.

So, is the SAT or ACT easier? The answer depends on your strengths and preferences. The SAT offers more time per question and emphasizes critical thinking, while the ACT is quicker-paced and covers a broader range of subjects, including science. To make an informed decision, consider taking practice tests for both exams to determine which one suits you better.

student typing on laptop

ACT vs. SAT Scoring

Let's now explore how the ACT and SAT differ in terms of scoring, providing you with a clear understanding of how these tests assess your performance.

Vocabulary Section

The SAT places a strong emphasis on testing your vocabulary knowledge, while the ACT doesn't focus on this aspect as much. When it comes to the overall scoring, Math makes up 50% of your SAT score, whereas it accounts for only 25% of your ACT score.

Now, looking at the Math section in more detail, the SAT mainly tests algebra skills, while the ACT goes further by including topics like geometry and trigonometry. 

So, if you're better at algebra, you might find the SAT more to your liking, whereas if you're comfortable with a broader range of math skills, the ACT could be a better fit. Understanding these scoring differences can help you choose the test that suits you best.

Math Section

When it comes to your overall score, how you perform in the Math section varies between the ACT and SAT. For the ACT, Math makes up one-fourth of your total score, which is averaged with scores from other sections. However, if you're taking the SAT, Math carries even more weight, accounting for half of your total score. 

This means that in the SAT, Math is twice as important in determining your overall score compared to the ACT. Knowing this distinction can help you focus your preparation effectively, depending on which test you're planning to take.

Reading Section

An ACT score of 72 in the English and Reading sections is roughly equivalent to achieving a perfect 800 score in the SAT's Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) section. This comparison highlights how scores from these tests can be translated to provide a clearer understanding of a student's performance in the reading component specifically.

Writing Section

On the ACT, your essay is rated from 1 to 6 in four categories by two graders, totaling four scores ranging from 2 to 12. Your final score, which colleges see, is the average of these four scores. Two different people assess your essay, each awarding 1 to 4 points for reading, analysis, and writing dimensions, with the scores combined.

The SAT rates your essay differently. It gives you three distinct scores for reading, analysis, and writing, ranging from 2 to 8 points each. These scores aren't averaged; they stay separate. Your overall SAT essay score is the sum of these three dimension scores, resulting in a total score ranging from 6 to 24.

male student working on laptop

Timings in ACT and SAT

Let's explore how time management plays a vital role in the ACT and SAT exams and how it can affect your test performance.

SAT Timing

The SAT lasts for three hours. That's excluding a 10-minute break and a 5-minute break in between. Knowing how to manage your time during each section is crucial to scoring well. 

The SAT is divided into three main sections: reading, writing and language, and math. The reading section lasts for 65 minutes and has 52 multiple-choice questions. The writing and language section takes 35 minutes with 44 multiple-choice questions. 

The math test spans 80 minutes, including 58 questions - 45 are multiple-choice, and 13 require student-produced responses. The optional essay, which used to add 50 minutes, is no longer available, and optional subject tests have also been eliminated. This change is expected to save students time and streamline the testing process.

Overall, don't consider the clock your enemy; instead, learn to work with it by considering timing in your SAT study plan

ACT Timing

The ACT is around 2 hours and 55 minutes long, not counting optional breaks. With breaks included, it takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes. If you opt for the optional essay, known as the ACT Plus Writing, you'll be looking at approximately 3 hours and 40 minutes, or just over 4 hours with breaks.

The ACT comprises four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. It also includes an optional essay section, known as Writing. The total testing time for the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes without Writing, and 3 hours and 35 minutes with Writing.

To succeed in these tests, time management is crucial. Allocate your time wisely, tackling easier questions first and saving tougher ones for later. Spending too much time on initial questions can be counterproductive. 

It's worth noting that the SAT no longer penalizes guessing, so don't hesitate to make educated guesses if you're running out of time. Practice and getting a feel for your natural pacing are essential, and a watch can be a handy tool for managing your time.

On test day, remember to adhere to device restrictions and follow arrival and dismissal guidelines. These measures ensure a smooth testing experience for both the SAT and ACT.


Do Colleges Prefer the ACT or SAT?

Most colleges and universities don’t prefer the ACT or SAT. Instead, they view both the ACT and SAT scores as valuable tools for evaluating student readiness for higher education.

When you apply to college, you can typically choose to submit either your ACT scores or your SAT scores. The choice is yours, and colleges respect your decision. They don't lean toward one test or discriminate against the other. Their primary aim is to assess your academic capabilities and potential, and both the ACT and SAT serve this purpose equally.

This approach reflects the colleges' commitment to inclusivity and fairness. They recognize that students come from diverse backgrounds, educational experiences, and geographical locations. 

Therefore, they accept both tests to accommodate this diversity. Whether you perform better on the ACT or SAT, it's your individual strengths and abilities that matter most in the admission process.

What's interesting to note is that some students, particularly those applying to highly competitive colleges, opt to submit scores from both the SAT and ACT. This strategy can be advantageous because it demonstrates your adaptability and readiness to tackle different challenges. It shows that you're not limited by the choice between these two tests.

Furthermore, preparing for both the ACT and SAT has become more accessible and affordable than ever before. The content of these tests shares many similarities, making it feasible to study for the SAT and the ACT at the same time. 

The key takeaway is that most colleges and universities do not favor one test over the other. They respect your choice and accept scores from both the ACT and SAT. 

The critical factor is choosing the test that you feel most comfortable with and confident about, as your performance on that test will have a more significant impact on your college admissions journey than the choice between the ACT and SAT.

Choosing Between SAT and ACT

Is the SAT or ACT harder? Deciding between the SAT and ACT for your college admissions can be a common dilemma. Both tests are widely accepted by colleges in the United States, and they have their own unique characteristics.

In recent years, despite the rise of test-optional policies at some colleges, many students still opt to take these exams. For example, in the class of 2023, around 1.9 million students took the SAT, and roughly 1.4 million chose the ACT. Some students even decide to take both tests, which is quite common.

Colleges generally don't play favorites between the SAT and ACT. They treat them equally. Think of them like two equally loved siblings—colleges just want you to do well on either one.

Both tests aim to gauge your critical thinking and analytical skills, although they do so in slightly different ways. Some colleges that went test-optional during the pandemic have gone back to requiring these tests for admissions.

Now, it's worth noting that the ACT is administered in a digital format, and the SAT will be as of March 2024. This shift offers several advantages and is an important factor to consider when making your decision.

For most students, it's a good idea to take both tests at least once. Unless you're absolutely sure you'll do poorly on one of them, go ahead and give it a shot. Afterward, check the average scores accepted by the colleges you're interested in. If your score matches or exceeds their average, go ahead and submit it. If not, no harm done.

The SAT is managed by the College Board, which also handles things like Advanced Placement exams. On the other hand, the ACT organization focuses primarily on the ACT test. To make a straightforward comparison, consider factors like the test format, length, timing, reading passages, the presence of a separate science section, and the tools provided during the test.

In a nutshell, choosing between the SAT and ACT, especially with the digital format change in March 2024, shouldn't keep you up at night. Many students take both, evaluate their scores, and then decide which to send to colleges. 

The key is to understand the basics, recognize your test-taking strengths and weaknesses, and do a bit of prep work to make a confident choice that suits your abilities and preferences.

Should you take the ACT or SAT, or maybe both? Find out with our free quiz below!


Which is easier, SAT or ACT prep? What test does MIT accept? Keep reading to find the answers to these questions. 

1.  Is the ACT Easier Than the SAT?

The SAT and the ACT are not more difficult than one another. They differ slightly in the subjects they cover and their structures. These differences can impact individual test-takers, leading to one test feeling more challenging than the other. To discover which test may be a better fit for you, consider taking complete practice exams for both.

2. Which SAT Tests Are Easiest?

The following SAT subject tests that are often easier to score well on include:

  • Biology E
  • Biology M
  • Chemistry
  • US History
  • World History

These tests are generally seen as more accessible for achieving high scores.

3. Does MIT Prefer the ACT or SAT?

MIT accepts both the SAT and ACT scores from applicants, whether they are prospective first-year or transfer students. However, MIT doesn't require the writing section of the ACT or the optional essay of the SAT. Nevertheless, MIT places a strong emphasis on the importance of strong writing and communication skills in their applicants.

Final Thoughts

To wrap it up, when it comes to the SAT and ACT, simply choose the one that suits you best. The SAT is shorter, focusing on critical thinking. On the other hand, the ACT covers more subjects, including science, and remains paper-based.

Colleges don't favor one over the other, so it's your call. Many students even take both tests to show they're up for any challenge. The bottom line is to know your strengths, consider the formats, and practice. That way, you'll pick the test that suits your needs best. 

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