ACT vs SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

Matt Larriva
Jul 28, 2023
Home » ACT vs SAT: Which Test Should You Take?

There’s more that goes into deciding between the ACT vs SAT than figuring out which of the tests is easier.

Fear not!

In this article, we’ll show you how to decide between the two standardized tests based on you and your goals. You’ll be ready to apply to your top colleges and universities with the highest test scores possible.

Should I Take the SAT or ACT | Infographic

Share this Image On Your Site

Differences Between The ACT and SAT

We’ve put a lot of thought and research into pinpointing the primary differences between the ACT and SAT tests.

Here are the differences between the two tests that came to light during my research:

act sat test point gains

They Have Different Grading Curves

It’s also easier to get into a higher percentile when taking the ACT.

Let’s consider how the tests are curved:

  • Correctly answering 90% of the questions on the SAT produces a 1440 (CR+M) which is the 97th percentile.


  • Correctly answering 90% of the questions on the ACT produces a 33, which is the 99th percentile.

Length & Time per Question Differences

The SAT has 10 sections.


The ACT has 5.

The SAT is longer: 3 hours and 45 minutes long vs the ACT which is about 3 hours and 20 minutes.

The ACT Doesn’t Test Vocabulary & The SAT Tests It To No End

Vocabulary shows up on every critical reading section of the SAT for about 8-10 questions in the Completing Sentences part. Then the same topic comes up again in the actual passages of the CR section.

And then once more in the Writing section on those rare diction questions:

(i.e. The noisome band music was so loud I couldn’t study—-noisome is the error, it actually doesn’t have to do with noise).

So if you don’t want to spend hours and hours memorizing the top 250 hardest vocabulary words, the 100 most common vocab words, and the 500 most recent word lists, go with the ACT.

Which Is Easier: The SAT or ACT?

Based on the factors above, all things point to the ACT being the easiest test.

Why do I say this?

There are only four answer choices on each question, and there are no guessing penalties on the ACT, unlike the SAT.

So not only do you have a higher chance of guessing/choosing the correct answer, there is no guessing penalty.

Another reason the ACT is easier is the English section–the passage lengths don’t vary which means you need fewer strategies to adapt to them.

But is the ACT easier than SAT for all students?

Not always…

It depends on the student’s individual test-taking style.

student pondering if act or sat easier
The best way to choose the ACT and SAT test is to take the test that best suits your strengths.

The SAT Is Easier If Passage-Based Questions Aren’t Your Strong Suit

Here’s why:

The SAT test includes vocabulary.


The ACT test includes science.

For most students, this is the most important difference between the ACT and SAT.


Because the science test on the ACT does not test science knowledge.

It is a critical reading test with scientific information instead of literary information.

The ACT has the Reading and the Science sections which essentially test the same ability.

Thus, you will see your Science score and Reading score move in tandem.

So, if you have a high accuracy at reading and answering passage-based questions, then you should take a ACT test which has more weight on passage-based problems.

Conversely, if passage-based questions are not your strong suit, then go with the SAT whose total score is less than 1/3 passage-based.

take act for more passage based questions
take sat for fewer passage based questions

How to Decide Which Test to Take: The ACT vs SAT

If you’re still not sure what test to take, here’s a fundamental method for deciding which of the standardized tests you should take:

  • Figure out your accuracy (problems correct/total problems) on the SAT passage part of Critical Reading.
  • Figure out your accuracy on the rest of the SAT
  • If the calculation from 1 is greater than 2, then switch to the ACT
  • If the calculation from 1 is less than 2, then stay on the SAT.

Now that you have decided which test is going to be easiest for you, we bet you want to know what the easiest test date is, too.

Well, let’s examine that query…

The best test date is when a student is most prepared.

If a student is performing consistently and can avoid making simple errors such as misreading questions or typing things into their calculator incorrectly, then the exact scale of the test they are taking will not affect their final score. 

Furthermore, there is no way to predict what the scale of a test date will be before getting the results back.  To do so would require knowing what specific questions would be asked on the test, which is problematic for obvious reasons. 

The answer to the question, “Is the sat or act easier?” will depend on the individual student.

Therefore, students should focus on taking the test when the timing works for them, and when they have reached a point in their preparation where they can achieve their target score.

For a full analysis on the optimal timeframe, and for help on deciding when to take the SAT and ACT, please review our articles:


The best way students can get a good SAT score is not for them to worry about which test date will be “easier”. 

Rather, the best use of a student’s time is to figure out which test is best for them and create test prep schedule far enough in advance that they can improve their score. Additionally, it is recommended that they use the best SAT test prep books and materials that are suited for students in similar situations.

Schedule a FREE Consultation

Marc Grey, Powerful Prep

Marc Gray, Client Success Manager

Free 20 Minute Consultation

20 min

Learn how our expertise can help your student get into their dream school using a customized test prep program.

Schedule a consultation using the calendar to the right.

Need answers now? Call us at 805-876-4687 now to discuss.

Schedule a FREE Consultation

Learn how our expertise can help your student get into their dream school using a customized test prep program.

Schedule a consultation using the calendar below. Need answers now? Call us at 805-876-4687 now to discuss.