Which Test is Harder: The SAT or ACT?

There’s no easy answer – but here’s some tips on finding out which one gives your student the best chance at success.

Applying for college is not for the indecisive… you know that by now.

Among the smorgasbord of decisions you’re faced with when it comes to your child choosing and being accepted to a university is which standardized test to take and submit with your application – the SAT or the ACT.

Many schools accept both tests and a good score on either will of course look good on an application.  So how you decide on which one your child should take may come down to one natural question:  Which test is harder?

The answer is technically… neither.  But each test does have its own set of qualities that could influence which one you take either way.

Here’s a brief overview of a few frequently asked questions about those differences that could help you make your decision.

Which test is longer?

The ACT consists of 215 questions plus an optional essay.  The SAT clocks in at 140 questions plus a required essay.  You get 3 hours and 25 minutes for the ACT and 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish the SAT.   So if your student is going to do that ACT essay they’ll have to spend  a much shorter amount of time on each question in order to fit it in.

What subjects does each test cover?

The SAT tests students in three areas: critical reading, math and writing.  The ACT covers four: English, math, reading and science, with the optional written essay bumping it up to five if your child chooses to do it.

How are the subjects weighted score-wise?

Both tests weighs the score of each subject equally — 1/3 for each SAT section and ¼ for each ACT section.   The SAT will deduct ¼ point for each wrong answer, while the ACT does not penalize students for answering incorrectly.   You can score between 600-2400 on the SAT and 1-36 on the ACT.   Students taking either test multiple times can select which score they want to send to colleges.

How do I know which test is better suited to my child?

Take a look at their grades.  Do they show a strength or weakness in one particular area?  If so, you can probably make a logical assumption about which test is the better fit.

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If your child is a science and math all star that means the ACT is probably going to work better for them. The ACT tests more advanced math concepts (including trigonometry) than the SAT and includes the science section which the SAT does not.   This science section doesn’t get too in depth, but provides an enough of an opportunity for a good science student to shine.

If on the other hand, your child has a way with words and loves vocabulary and writing, the SAT is probably more up their alley.   Their required written essay is factored into their score and gives them the chance to show off those skills.  The ACT will not factor their optional essay into the score and will send it separately to schools.

SAT questions are also worded very particularly and will reward a student for reading carefully.  ACT questions are more straight forward and less tricky word-wise.

The bottom line is, if your child does well on one test, there’s a very good chance they’ll probably score equally as well on the other.  A good student is a good student no matter how you test them.

However it’s understandable you’ll want the absolute best test score possible, so base your decision off of which areas your child excels most.

Those few extra points a great SAT essay or a strong science section on the ACT can get you can make all the difference.

Neither test is necessarily HARDER than the other.  They’re just made up differently.  Luckily you have the option of choosing which one fits your student’s skill set best.

Good luck on your choice and your continued admissions process!

To your successful college search,

Scott Weingold
Publisher, CollegeMadeSimple.com

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1 Comment

rene badilloMarch 15th, 2011 at 7:19 am

very informative

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Editor's Note: Scott Weingold has been ranked the #1 “College Financial Aid Expert Worth Knowing About” in the entire country by CollegeStats.org.  He has co-authored the book, “The Real Secret To Paying For College. The Insider’s Guide To Sending Your Child To College – Without Spending Your Life’s Savings.” Scott also publishes a popular free online newsletter, “College Funding Made Simple" which reveals insider’s tips, methods, and strategies for beating the high cost of college.

Scott is the co-founder and a principal of the widely renown College Planning Network, LLC – the nation’s largest and most reputable college admissions and financial aid planning firm. CPN is a proud member of the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of College Funding Advisors, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Scott, along with his college funding advisory team, helps thousands of families throughout the country with their college planning needs and offers a series of free educational webinars and workshops on “How To Pay For College Without Going Broke In The Process!” He's been featured or mentioned in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Yahoo News, TheStreet.com, Voice America with Ron Adams, Crains Cleveland Business, and on Cleveland Connection with James McIntyre.  Scott has published numerous articles and is a professional speaker who has addressed thousands of audiences online and offline throughout the United States.  His actionable insights and candid, open approach have earned him & his team numerous media interviews, citations, and speaking opportunities, and his free online video workshop is one of the Internet’s most widely viewed pieces in the college funding space.