Can You Get Into College By Taking The Easier Test, SAT or ACT?
As a professional SAT prep and ACT prep tutor, I handle a lot of questions from teen students and parents. One of the most common of those questions: “Is the ACT test easier than the SAT test?”
In this article, we’ll tackle the real questions that I think parents and students need to understand.
- Can you improve your chances of getting into college by picking either the ACT test or the SAT test?
- What are the main differences between the ACT test and the SAT test?
- What type of student should take the SAT test, and what type of student should take the ACT test?
We’ll start off with the short version of the answers, then dive deeper for more details. Read on!
Is the ACT Test Easier than the SAT Test? The Short Answer….
Here’s the big-picture summary of what I’m going to tell you: the ACT test and SAT test are designed to be very similar. So similar, in fact, that for most students it shouldn’t make much difference which test they’re taking.
BUT - for some students, they really do prefer one test or the other. And some students really do perform better on the ACT test than the SAT test… and vice-versa.
The only way to know is to try out both tests for yourself. That’s the short answer.
For the long answer, we’re going to do a deeper dive into design elements of the ACT and SAT tests. By the end of this article, you’ll definitely know more about whether or not the ACT test is easier than the SAT test.
SAT-ACT Score Conversion Charts Cancel Out Differences.
Here are three words why it doesn’t matter that much if the ACT test is easier than the SAT test… “Score Conversion Charts.”
Every college has access to an SAT-ACT Score Conversion chart that approximately compares scores between the two tests.
Remember, both the SAT and ACT are standardized tests, and they both have the same goal: to measure the college readiness of high school students. That means that both tests are remarkably similar in most of the ways that matter.
Add the SAT-ACT Score Conversion charts into the mix, and you quickly end up eliminating any major differences between the SAT and ACT for most students.
Plus, there’s something equally important (see below)…
The SAT and ACT Tests Are 80% the Same Material.
The ACT test and SAT test are more similar than they are different, trust me.
Both tests are long, comprehensive, and challenging. They are both designed for the same students. Both tests are used to test for college readiness. The SAT and ACT both have Reading, English, Math, and Essay sections. They test you on similar content in almost every section.
The biggest differences between the SAT and ACT tests are in style (the window-dressing) and pacing (the speed).
I tell students the ACT test and SAT test are 80% similar, 20% different. If you’re hoping for a major game-changer in your college admissions, your choice of standardized testing probably isn’t it.
But, Confidence and Comfort Make a Big Difference.
Despite all the reasons why it shouldn’t really matter if the ACT test is easier than the SAT test, the truth is - it does matter for some students.
After all these years of SAT and ACT prep tutoring, I’ve seen than some students do have a strong preference for one test or the other.
And, that preference leads to comfort. The comfort leads to confidence. And the confidence leads to a better final score, as a result of deliberately picking and prepping for the test you prefer. That gives you more options for college and scholarship applications.
Don’t close off any options for yourself. It may turn out that you really prefer the ACT over the SAT. And there’s only one way to be sure… Keep reading to find out how!
Try the ACT and SAT Tests Yourself with Practice Materials.
There’s really only one way to know for sure if you find the ACT test easier than the SAT test - and that’s to try them out for yourself.
You don’t have to take a full-fledged official ACT or SAT test. Just get a copy of the Official ACT Prep Book and the Official SAT Prep Book. Set aside a Saturday and Sunday morning. Take a full-length, timed practice test for both the SAT and ACT. Then compare your scores and your experience of taking both tests.
Everything I tell you about the SAT and ACT tests is only theory until you test it out for yourself. If you want to get a really great ACT or SAT score for college, then do what I did: study intensely.
One reason I’m qualified to make comparisons between the SAT and ACT tests is how much time I’ve spent studying both of them - enough to get multiple perfect scores.
If you want to achieve a higher mastery level (and a higher score), just study long and hard - instead of trying to beat the system by picking the “easier” test.
But, like I said - about 20% of students may find the ACT noticeably easier than the SAT… or vice-versa. So, let’s take a deeper dive into some key distinctions between the SAT test and the ACT test.
Keep in mind, this is from a pro tutor with 7+ years experience of SAT and ACT test prep… way more experience than most will ever have…
Get an Edge by Knowing Technical Differences between the SAT and ACT Tests.
Now that you’ve got an idea of whether or not the ACT test is really easier than the SAT test, let’s break down some of the technical details and differences between the two tests. The goal is to help you find a possible preference for one test or the other.
We’ll cover each major section of the SAT and ACT tests and highlight any important differences and similarities.
This will familiarize you with key characteristics of the two tests, which may help you pick one of two tests to focus on.
We’ve learned that the overall design of the SAT and ACT tests makes them fairly balanced, but you may still find one test more comfortable. Read on to figure out which test you might find easier!
The ACT Test Has Easier Readings, But Less Time To Complete Them.
A major theme of the ACT test is that it has slightly easier test material than the SAT test, but also has less time to work through these easier questions.
This theme is fully apparent in the ACT Reading section, which definitely has easier reading assignments than the SAT reading. However, just because the ACT Reading is easier doesn’t mean you’ll get a better score.
Most students would really need another 10-15 minutes to confidently finish the complete ACT Reading section.
But, that may still be better than your alternative: the SAT Reading test. Although you’ll have more time to work, the SAT Reading features harder reading passages, tougher vocab words, and more complex questions and answer choices.
All in all, the SAT Reading test is definitely harder than the ACT Reading test… but if you’ve got the reading skills (just not the speed), then SAT can still be the right choice.
If you really hate reading, I’d suggest going with the ACT Test. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be frustrated by the deep-reading and vocabulary required by the SAT Reading test.
But, Reading isn’t the only thing that matters to your score. Also consider the importance of SAT and ACT Math sections (more on this later).
Good Readers Will Find ACT Science Easy With Practice.
If you’re a good reader, you’ll find the ACT Science section not very difficult (as long as you practice for it).
Now, it might seem unfair for me to say that good readers will find the ACT Science section easier. After all, didn’t I just say that good readers might prefer the SAT? And that the ACT Test was (a bit) easier if you hate reading?
Well, I guess I am pointing out something unfair - better readers turn out to get better scores on the ACT and SAT tests. That’s a fact.
The ACT Science section is mostly charts, graphs, and critical reading. The most important of those skills is reading.
Note also that the ACT Science section will only be easy with practice.
You can be good at reading, you can be good at science, you can be good at test-taking - it doesn’t matter. The ACT Science section will feel extra-difficult the first few times, no matter what. You also can’t afford to waste time reading the directions or “getting a feel” for the test - both of which are necessary the first couple of times you try.
Overall, the ACT Science section can be a pretty easy source of points. You just have to prepare for it.
The SAT test does *not* have a Science section. Since the ACT Science can provide some “free points” to good readers who prep in advance, I consider the Science section a point in favor of the ACT Test feeling a bit easier than the SAT Test.
ACT Math Is Both Easier - and Harder - than SAT Math.
Making a decision between the SAT Math test and the ACT Math test is actually one of the more significant choices you’ll need to make.
The SAT and ACT test Math skills in very different ways. The overall foundation of math material is similar for both tests - but the appearance, style, and difficulties of the math sections are noticeably different.
The first key difference is speed. As usual, the ACT Math requires you to move faster per question than SAT Math.
The second key difference is complexity. The ACT Math questions are simpler (in general) than SAT Math questions. This means fewer steps, fewer concepts, and less time per question. You may have to move faster in ACT Math, but at least the questions are a bit easier.
The third key difference is memorization. The SAT Math requires less memorization of formulas. The ACT Math test, on the other hand, provides no formulas whatsoever. Also, the ACT Math will cover a greater variety of math topics on each test, from Trigonometry to Permutations. The SAT Math focuses 85% of its questions on Algebra 1 and Algebra 2, but the ACT Math features a much wider blend of different topics.
The fourth key difference is trickiness. The SAT Math is much “trickier.” This can make it more frustrating for below-average math students. Imagine finally getting to the end of a complex Math problem, only to get it wrong because you misread a tricky wording in the question. That’s what constantly happens to weak Math students in the SAT Math test!
If you’d rather deal with a highly Algebra-focused test with tricky, multi-step questions and more time to work on each question, then choose the SAT. If you’d rather deal with a broader blend of diverse Math topics involving simpler questions at a faster pace, then go with the ACT.
Neither Math test is “easy.” Both can be extremely challenging, and you need to start studying for one of them immediately. Still, if you can master the essential Algebra skills and “trickiness,” the SAT Math test will reward you with an easier experience.
The SAT Math is a great choice for kids with a lot of Algebra 1 and 2 skills and confidence. Luckily, these same students can also do very well with the ACT Math test.
Overall, the biggest lesson for SAT and ACT Math is that you must prepare, no matter which test you pick.
If you choose the SAT test, I highly recommend getting the best SAT Math prep book ever written. You can master this test, get higher scores, and feel overwhelming confidence on the SAT Math test!
ACT and SAT Grammar Tests Are About Equal In Difficulty.
The ACT English and SAT “Writing and Language” sections are very, very similar to each other.
That’s how I could write a comprehensive SAT & ACT Grammar textbook that will teach you to dominate both tests at the same time.
Here’s why: The rules of English grammar (for example, the rules of conjunctions) don’t change from test to test. And, if you’re testing Grammar in a multiple-choice test, there are only a few different ways to go about it.
So, the Grammar sections of both the ACT and SAT are nearly identical. Good news - if you prepare for one test, you’ll improve in the other test at the same time.
However, the ACT English section (45 minutes) is a bit longer than the SAT Writing and Language section (35 minutes). The ACT English is also much faster-paced than the SAT (just like the rest of the ACT compared to the SAT).
In some ways, the ACT English is actually harder than the SAT grammar - simply because you have to move faster and finish more questions. But mostly, the two sections are about equal, and you probably won’t notice any major differences.
The ACT Essay Is No Easier Than the SAT Essay.
Both the SAT test and the ACT test have an Essay section on them. Many students are overly concerned about the SAT and ACT Essays, but they’re really not that important.
They’re also not very difficult. A little bit of advance preparation will go a long way on both the ACT Essay and SAT Essay. A few hours of study and practice should be enough to prepare any student for both tests.
In fact, you can get my complete course that covers both the SAT and ACT essays and feel confident and prepared for either essay. With this course, you can choose to study for either essay test - or both.
Definitely don’t think that the ACT test is easier than the SAT test just because of the Essay section. The Essay task is so similar for the two tests that it’s not worth worrying about.
Decide whether you will take the SAT or ACT by experimenting with practice materials for both tests. Pay special attention to timing issues. Also notice differences in the Reading and Math sections. These differences will be far more important than the differences between the ACT Essay and the SAT Essay.
So, Is the ACT Test Easier than the SAT Test?
As you can see, it’s not a simple matter to say whether or not the ACT Test is easier than the SAT Test.
What we can say is - for most high school students, the two tests will feel about 80% the same.
Since colleges know how to accurately compare the two tests, we can say that about 80% of students don’t really need to worry about which test they take. Instead, they should make an educated decision, pick a test, and focus on that test completely.
Perhaps 20% of students may show better results on either the SAT or ACT test. This could be a result of the factors we’ve explored in this article, or for other reasons. If you have any other suggestions why students prefer one test over the other, please leave them in the comments below the article!
The key to SAT and ACT prep is to prepare in advance, so that you have time to work around your personal strengths and weaknesses - and then practice for the SAT test or ACT test as hard as you possibly can.
Contact Us With Your SAT and ACT Test Prep Questions!
We’d love to help you decide between the SAT test and the ACT test - or answer any other questions you have.
At Love the SAT Test Prep, we specialize in higher test scores for teens through SAT / ACT Prep Tutoring and SAT / ACT Prep Classes in Austin, TX. We also offer Online SAT / ACT Prep Tutoring for students around the globe.
Join our SAT prep email list or ACT prep email list for a FREE checklist and other test prep reminders and special info to help your scores.
Contact us today with any questions about SAT Or ACT prep, or leave a comment for us below the article!