Parents and students often wonder which test they should take. In this multi-part post, we’ll explore questions like: What are the similarities and differences between the two tests? Which test is “harder”? Will one test give me an advantage in college admissions?

Let’s first compare the two tests side-by-side:

Writing & Language
Math section (no calculator)
Math section (with calculator)
Essay (optional)
English (grammar, style, etc.)
Science Reasoning
Essay (optional)
Time3 hrs
3 hrs, 50 mins (with essay)
2 hrs, 55 mins
3 hrs, 40 mins (with essay)
Reading5 reading passages4 reading passages
ScienceNone1 science section testing your scientific thinking skills (not specific science knowledge or formulas)
Algebra I & II
Geometry & Trigonometry
Algebra I & II
Geometry & Trigonometry
Will test your comprehension of a text
Will test if you can evaluate and analyze a complex issue
ScoringScale of 400-1600
Excellent (top 25%) = 1200
Good (Average) = 1000
Poor (lowest 25%) = 840
Scale of 1-36
Excellent (top 25%) = 24 or higher
Good (Average) = 20
Poor (lowest 25%) = less than 16

Now, students and parents often ask: Which test is “harder”? Numerous factors go into answering this question and it is less clear cut with the changes to the SAT.

Here are some factors that will NOT help you decide:

  • Both have optional essays (the SAT used to require it), so you can’t decide which is harder based on essay writing. However, many colleges would like you to take the essay section, so check with the colleges you are applying to.

  • Both tests have the same math concepts (the SAT used to NOT test trigonometry, but now does), so your level of math can’t help you decide which is harder.

  • Both take about the same amount of time (~ 3 hours), although both will be longer if you write the optional essay (3 hrs, 50 mins for SAT; 3 hrs, 40 mins for ACT)

  • The SAT no longer puts an emphasis on high-level vocabulary (as it used to), so your comfort with high-level vocabulary is no longer a factor.

The bottom line is that both tests are now very similar, so the best way to find out which one is easier is to take a practice test for each. Everyone is different and one test may be easier or harder for you. You can download practice tests below:

SAT Practice Test

ACT Practice Test

When you’ve finished, sign up to review your practice test with one of our tutors, so that we can see how to help you improve!