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The digital SAT vs. the ACT!

Updated: Apr 9

Many students around the country recently took the first digital version of the SAT. It was quite of an adjustment! Many students thought it was very hard and are thinking of possibly switching to the ACT, (as a matter of fact the March SAT is always the hardest). Which test is best suited for your student? The digital SAT or the ACT. We highly recommend determining which test is best suited for your student ONLY after he/she completes an SAT prep program and an ACT prep course. Then, take a timed full-length practice test of each type and this is the best way to decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for your student. We believe that only after a student is prepared, it will be easier and more accurate to predict which test the student will score higher at.

Choosing between taking the SAT or ACT for college admissions has always been tough. But now that the SAT has switched to a digital version, there is even more to consider! The Digital SAT and ACT have some significant differences that impact how students take the test. The main differences are exam length, the format, and structure. The ACT has about twice as many questions as the digital SAT. In addition, the ACT has more sections covering more subjects, and lasts nearly 45 minutes longer. 


The Digital SAT has fewer sections and shorter questions. At only 2 hours and 14 minutes total, the Digital SAT is much shorter than the ACT, which is nearly 3 hours in length. The Digital SAT is an adaptive exam, which means the difficulty of each student’s test changes between sections based on their performance. If a student performs well on the first section, questions get harder; if a student does not do as well, questions get easier. 

The ACT is not an adaptive exam. Questions are not based on students’ performance. The exam is pre-printed in a test booklet. The Digital SAT has 2 sections: Reading and Writing as well as Math. The ACT, on the other hand, has 4 sections (+1), consisting of Reading, English, Math, Science, and an optional essay.  If science is your strong suit, you may have a better experience taking the ACT. 


When it comes to the difficulty level of the ACT, you pretty much know what to expect ahead of exam time. In general, you can expect easier questions earlier in each section and harder questions appear later. And since all the questions are printed in your booklet ahead of time, you do not have to worry about the test getting harder halfway through because of your performance like you would on an adaptive, digital exam. For some students, seeing the difficulty level of their exam questions changing in real-time can trigger test anxiety. Knowing that the questions are set in stone before the exam, may mean less worry about performance.  


At present, the ACT is still offered in a paper-and-pencil format. If you’ve been prepping for college entrance exams in school and have done so in a paper booklet, the ACT may feel more familiar. 

In general, many students prefer to test prep using paper booklets and printed sample tests.

If you are wondering whether the digital SAT is easier, the answer is, not necessarily. It all depends on the student’s preference. In summary, college-bound students are increasingly preparing for both tests concurrently and taking both the SAT and the ACT — and earn competitive scores on both!

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