Is the New SAT Harder than the ACT?

iStock_000017020986MediumThis is a pretty popular question these days. There are so many students tearing their hair out wondering which test they should choose. And because the new SAT, at least on the surface, looks a lot more like the ACT, the two tests lend themselves to even more comparisons, including on the big question: Is the new SAT harder than the ACT?

Here’s the best answer I can give:

The new SAT is going to be harder than the ACT for some students, but not all of them.

Yes, I know that’s vague, but just as we could never say whether the old SAT was harder than the ACT or vice versa, the same applies to the new test. Some students are simply better suited for one test over the other, and this will also be true for the Redesigned SAT as well.

Here’s who might find the New SAT to be HARDER than the ACT:  

• Students who are not big fans of classic literature. Now that both the SAT and ACT have longer passages on the Reading sections, one big point of departure is that the SAT includes texts from “the Great Global Conversation” and “U.S. Founding Documents” (meaning, in some cases, denser, more overwrought texts from the 18th and 19th centuries) whereas the ACT texts are all modern.

• Students who are reliant on their calculators. The New SAT has a no-calculator section, which might send students accustomed to using their calculators for everything into a panic.  No longer can you rely on tricks such as the graphing function on a TI-83 to fudge your way through some problems, you need to know the math. The ACT Math test allows a calculator for all questions.

Here’s who might find the New SAT to be EASIER than the ACT:  

• Students who hate science. One of the biggest distinguishing factors between the SAT and the ACT is that the ACT has a Science test and the SAT does not. Now, as savvy test-takers know, the ACT Science test is not really about how much you know about science, it’s more about how well you can read and interpret charts and tables and make inferences. Still, students who like biology, physics, and chemistry are going to feel much more comfortable with the material and this can go a long way on the ACT (and send non-science kids running to the SAT).

• Students who are not fast readers. Even though the new SAT is a lot more “verbal” and involves a lot more reading, the Redesigned SAT, on average, allows more time per question than the ACT. On the Reading test, for example, the SAT allows an average of 1 minute 15 seconds per question, whereas the ACT allows 52.5 seconds per question. On the SAT Writing test, you get 48 seconds per question; on the corresponding ACT English test, you get 36 seconds per question. Granted, there are variations in question types that can make up the difference for some students. Still, the main obstacle of the ACT remains the intense pace it demands.

We’ve yet to determine how students are going to do on the new SAT, and it is going to take until the summer of fall of 2016 to really find out. Next year’s students are going to have a lot more information on the average ACT score and average SAT score in 2016 for college applicants, so that they can better compare their practice test scores and see where they are at in the general pool of students. But, for now, your best bet is to take a practice test of both the SAT and ACT and convert your scores using the existing concordance tables on the College Board website, just use the 1600 scale instead of the 2400 scale. It won’t be exact, but it will give you a close enough approximation for you to determine which test is harder for you.

Written by Kristin Fracchia. Kristin is an SAT and ACT expert at Magoosh. With a PhD from UC Irvine and degrees in Education and English, she’s been working in education since 2004 and has helped students prepare for standardized tests, as well as college and graduate school admissions, since 2007.

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