With the Digital SAT upon us, conventional advice about which test on which to focus has gone out the window. Students find themselves unsure as to which test is best for them. With colleges accepting either test, which one is best for you? Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the tests. Take a look at our info-graphic, and then read below to help decide which test is best for you or your student!

English, Reading, and Writing

On the ACT you’ll see a long English section that tests grammar, mechanics, and composition skills. There will also be a reading comprehension section later on in the test that requires that students read four long passages and answer 10 questions about each of them. On the Digital SAT these two sections have been combined into modules that cover both reading and writing. The reading passages are far shorter (max 150 words each) but the writing questions overlap many concepts covered on the ACT. The relative brevity of the passages on the SAT gives students with shorter focus periods a better chance at showing their skills. However, the constantly changing topics may be distracting.


The ACT math tends to cover a wide range of topics from elementary school up through introductory pre-calculus. Students will need a broad understanding of many topics and the ability to do math quickly in order to do well on the ACT. The ACT focuses on testing simple concepts in diverse settings. The SAT covers fewer subjects, but does so more in depth. Students must have a much deeper understanding of algebra and linear geometry to succeed on the SAT.


The SAT, in general, is a deep, narrow test. The test expects students to have a thorough understanding of fewer concepts compared to the ACT which expects a shallower understanding of more concepts. For this reason, the ACT expects students to think quickly and adroitly while the SAT grants more time for deep thinking. Most students can expect to run out of time on at least one section of the ACT, while on the SAT this is less of a concern.


The SAT is now adaptive; the ACT is not. Depending on how a student does on the first reading and writing module and the first math module of the SAT, their second modules may be easier or harder. Consequently, the SAT can be shorter than the ACT and still collect a large amount of information on a student’s skills. It also means that students sitting next to one another will have different tests, thus reducing the risk of cheating.

Students who prefer the ACT

Students who prefer the ACT tend to be big readers and quick thinkers. Students who read a lot in their free time (or who did in the past) tend to have an advantage in terms of speed and skill on the ACT. In addition, students who are good with data and scientific concepts will have an advantage on the science portion of the ACT. Students who receive extended time or other accommodations often prefer the ACT as well.

Students who prefer the SAT

Students who are strong in math (especially Algebra) tend to do well on the SAT. Students who prefer to have more time to think deeply about concepts, wording, and nuance also tend to prefer the SAT. Students with a shorter attention span, will often prefer the shorter passages and more direct wording of the questions on the reading and writing portion of the SAT.

The Long and the Short of It

If by now it isn’t obvious which test you should focus on, consider taking one of each to compare. Nothing beats the real-world experience of giving it a try.  If you’re having a hard time making a decision based on your scores and skills, please reach out: we’re always happy to help!

Recommended Posts