The new digital adaptive SAT, or the paper-based ACT?  As you approach the college application process, one of the most critical decisions you will have to make is which standardized exam to take. Each test has its fans and its detractors, and there are benefits and drawbacks to each. U.S. juniors (Class of 2025) will be the first to take the brand new, shorter, digital adaptive SAT debuting in March 2024. Take time to educate yourself about the format and timing of the exams.  We can help guide you through this decision-making process.

Here are some helpful tips to figure out which test is best for you.

Learn about the tests:

The new SAT is 2 hours and 14 minutes – split between a Reading and Writing section and a Math section. Each section is scored on a 200 to 800 scale and contains two stage-adaptive modules. Your performance on the first module will dictate the difficulty of the second module. The total score ranges from 400 to 1600. Unlike the previous 3-hour paper-and-pencil SAT, students can take the test on their own laptop, tablet, or school-issued device at a testing center. The test is administered through the College Board’s Bluebook app.

The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes and consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each section is scored from 1-36 and a student’s Composite score is the average of all four. The test is administered on paper and includes a bubble sheet for answers.

Both the SAT and the ACT test for “college readiness” and are accepted at all colleges and universities in the U.S.  Let’s discuss the similarities between the exams for starters.

The SAT and ACT test the same core skills:

  • Knowledge of English language conventions (grammar)
  • Reading comprehension
  • Math skills, up to and including precalculus/statistics
  • Interpreting and analyzing charts and tables

Each test consists almost entirely of multiple-choice questions.

Understand the timing and differences between the exams:

The following table summarizes the format and timing of the tests.

* The ACT also offers an optional essay, which only a handful of U.S. colleges require including West Point.

Alright, let’s cut to the chase, what are the key differences between the tests and why should I care?

We could provide a laundry list of all the little differences between the two exams, but, instead, we’ll focus on the key differences between the SAT and ACT. So, what are they?

  • The Math section is 50% of the SAT score, but only 25% of the ACT Composite.
  • The ACT provides less time per question and there is more time pressure. For example, students have 60 seconds per question on the ACT Math section versus 95 seconds per question on the Digital SAT Math section.
  • The ACT has a Science section. The Science test is all about data interpretation – rapidly interpreting and analyzing diagrams, graphs, and tables. Knowledge of chemistry, biology, and physics will only get you so far! Due to both timing and stamina, many students find the ACT Science section the most challenging.
  • The SAT Reading and Writing section consists of 54 short passages (usually 2-4 sentences) followed by one question. The ACT has significantly longer passages in English (five passages followed by 15 questions) and in Reading (four passages followed by 10 questions).
  • Many aspects of the Math sections differ. The chart below summarizes the key aspects.

Consider which test is better for you math-wise:

Which test is more difficult?

In short, neither test is inherently more difficult, but due to the differences between the tests, some students find one more challenging than the other. The best way to know which test is a better fit for you is to take the PSAT or a practice PSAT and a practice ACT and compare the score reports and your preference for either format.





Enter your PSAT, SAT, or ACT score into our concordance tool to convert your score.

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While the concordance tool above can show you how your score on one test equates to your score on another, our comparison tool can help guide your decision on which test is a better fit for you. Simply enter your PSAT/SAT and ACT scores below to find out if you favor one test versus another. Note: there are a number of factors that go into making the SAT/ACT decision – especially with the introduction of the new digital adaptive SAT starting on March 9th, 2024. Please call us at 203.352.3500 to discuss your diagnostic plan and a testing timeline- we are happy to help!

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