The SAT vs the ACT

In March 2016, the College Board switched to the infamous new SAT. In 2016, we invested hundreds of hours in analyzing the new test and adapting our curricula and program to its challenges. In Summer 2016, we began teaching the new SAT, and we will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Q:  Which is harder: the ACT or the redesigned SAT?

As the SAT was redesigned, the focus was obviously on making it competitive with the ACT, as now there are a lot of overlaps between the tests.  

Compared to the ACT:

  • SAT Reading now has no dedicated vocabulary section

  • SAT Writing and Math are more closely tailored to what you learn in school

  • SAT Writing tests more practical applications of writing concepts

  • SAT Math includes less geometry

  • SAT Math tests fewer concepts overall

As such, we believe the new SAT remains a solid choice for students and parents on the fence, and we’re happy to offer consultations and talk through the differences in the two tests and why a specific test may be a solid fit for a specific student.


Q: Can you give a section-by-section rundown - an apples-to-apples comparison - of the redesigned SAT vs ACT?

ACT English <-> SAT Writing

  • ACT English and SAT writing are now similar enough to be a wash.


  • ACT math tests significantly more advanced concepts than the SAT:

    • If you've spent time studying the ACT, you know how you approach those questions over #40 - and where you stop being able to do them.

    • SAT math frequently seems to contain no hard problems

    • When our Executive Director was going through the math section of the SAT for the first time: “I said to myself as I neared the end of the math section (remember problems get harder as the section continues), "Where are all the hard problems?" Then I flipped to the next page and found I had finished the section. I said, "Is it possible? Are there NO HARD PROBLEMS on the new SAT math?" Sure, some of the problems are tricky, and they're definitely multi-step, but the new SAT math section is way way easier than both the old SAT math section and the current ACT math section.”


  • ACT Reading is more difficult than the practice tests you frequently see in the Red Book:

    • The ACT Reading section has gotten significantly harder since about 2009 - almost exponentially harder: If you look at a test from 2009 and one from 2013, for instance, you will see a marked difference in those questions we call "fetch" - ones where you have to "fetch" the answer from the passage, as they have asked for harder and more obtuse details.

  • ACT focuses on small details, where the SAT is asking broader questions or function questions.

    • A lot of the ACT reading seems only like a check to see if you can find the tiny detail we are asking for, not "Did you understand this passage?" The SAT is asking a lot more broadly, "Why does paragraph 3 focus on birds?" because the author is trying to make a point and birds is his chosen analogy.

    • SAT helps you become a better reader:

      • As a person who reads a lot, it's a lot more comforting to know that, as I prep my students, I'm making them better readers - I'm not making them crazy over finding really small details which, in the end, aren't important to the passage.

    • SAT Reading timing is easier than ACT:  

      • The ACT reading has always been a BEAR in terms of timing - even students who are great readers struggle to break the 28/29 barrier because they simply can't read fast enough to get to all the questions in time.


  • SAT has no science section:

    • ACT science is always a block for students. It's less that the questions are hard and more that students feel just plain overwhelmed by the skills necessitated to break down the graphs and answer the questions.

    • Just as the ACT reading has gotten harder over time, so has the ACT science - I'm specifically referencing the kinds of graphs they give you and the types of questions they ask and the conclusions they expect you to draw; the difficulty has increased exponentially since about 2009.

  • I'm so overjoyed to not have to teach science on the SAT!!

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Conclusion: The SAT is just easier than the ACT!

So if you stack it up:

  • SAT math is easier

  • SAT reading doesn't come with that terrifying timing problem

  • SAT writing = ACT English


So for SSA, choosing the SAT was a really solid choice. Not that we didn't spend about three months considering which choice was the right one - because we did; we would have been foolish not to truly weigh both sides and investigate everything we knew - both what used to be true and what is now true as well as what we know about students' aptitudes and where they traditionally have difficulties - about both tests.