Is the ACT easier than the SAT?

Students and parents are often interested to hear whether or not the ACT would be a viable alternative to the SAT.  Rumor has it that the ACT is more aligned to the high school curriculum and is more straightforward.  The truth is that both tests are more similar than different in what they test and how; however, the ACT puts more emphasis on speed and focus, while the SAT is more about critical thinking.  From even a quick look at an ACT it becomes obvious that not only are there more questions, but they are also all tied to passages except for the Math.  Because the ACT so often ties questions to passages, the student must process and filter more information, and realize how pieces fit into a larger whole.  To compensate for this, the ACT test makers cannot make the individual questions quite as difficult as SAT questions can be.  As for the math, the ACT will occasionally test higher level concepts, such as logarithms and trigonometry.  The problems from such concepts are very simple if the student knows these areas of math cold, but if not, they are difficult to think through on the spot.  In contrast, even a tricky SAT math problem will rarely go beyond middle school mathematics.

Another significant difference is that the ACT has a Science section, and the SAT does not.  The ACT Science is more about filtering through data in charts and graphs than any real scientific reasoning or knowledge of science.  The addition of this section puts the Math on the ACT to a quarter of the composite score, whereas on the SAT, the Math can make up as much as half of the total score, if admissions is not counting the Writing score.

Because virtually all schools are accepting either the SAT or the ACT, it is wise to give both tests a try early on and decide, based on your scores, which is more apt to you.  Ultimately, students often score about the same on either test, so don’t let the decision give you too much anxiety.

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