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The New Digital SAT Versus the ACT: Which is Better?

What are the SAT and the ACT?

The SAT and the ACT are two standardized tests that are meant to measure a student's academic abilities for college. Whereas the grades students earn in school are determined by different teachers at different schools, the scores they achieve on the SAT and ACT are determined by the same set of metrics. Thus these tests provide an important metric for universities to evaluate students’ college readiness alongside their academic transcripts.


How important are the SAT and the ACT in college admissions?

Even though COVID has encouraged more and more schools to go test-optional or test blind, having the test score still seems valuable to most colleges. Additionally, as the United States moves beyond COVID restrictions, some formerly test optional universities, including MIT, are making the SAT or ACT mandatory once again. While the SAT and ACT may not be the defining parts of a student’s application for test-optional schools, they provide some padding or brownie points for their applications. For more information on test-optional and test-blind schools, you can check out our article here.


What are the differences between the SAT and the ACT?

One of the first steps of the college application process is figuring out whether to take the SAT or the ACT. Indeed, the two seem to have a lot of overlap and perform the same function of showing a candidate’s readiness for college, but they actually have their own distinct qualities. However, it’s important to note that neither test is technically easier; it all depends on a students’ individual strengths. That said, here’s a quick overview to get us started.

Comparing the SAT and ACT:

Test

Digital SAT

ACT

Length

about 2 hours and 14 minutes

2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay) 3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)

Format

Adaptive, Online

Linear, Online

Sections

  1. Reading & Writing (two modules for 32 minutes each for a total of 64 minutes; 27 questions each module for a total of 54 questions)

  2. Math (two modules for 35 minutes each for a total of 70 minutes; 22 questions each module for a total of 44 questions)

  1. English (45 minutes, 75 questions)

  2. Math (60 minutes, 60 questions)

  3. Reading (35 minutes, 40 questions)

  4. Science (35 minutes, 40 questions)

  5. Essay (45 minutes, optional)

How it's scored

Scored on a scale of 400-1600

Scored on a scale of 1-36

Price

$52

$55 (+$70 if also doing essay)

*Quick Note: Students in the US will still have to take the old SAT, which is paper-only and has a different composition of sections. The digital SAT will not become available in the US until 2024.


Looking at this holistically, the main differences between the digital SAT and the ACT are that the ACT is linear whereas the SAT is digital, the presence of a science section in the ACT, and the nature of the reading and writing and language/English sections.


The ACT is what is known as a linear test, where test takers need to answer predetermined questions. In contrast, the digital SAT will take a “branching” or “adaptive” format. This means that the difficulty of each question will depend on whether a test taker answers the previous question correctly or incorrectly. Thus, the test will “adapt” to each student’s performance and every test taker will end up with a different set of questions, so how students do on earlier questions will affect the difficulty of later questions.


Next, the ACT has a science section, where students are asked to read a study or the results of a study and answer questions that focus on the data. Such a section is absent from the SAT. Furthermore, the passages for the reading and writing sections in the digital SAT will be combined and be much shorter and correspond to one question each. Some new passage types will be introduced, such as poems and bulleted lists of notes. While the questions seem to ask about the same passage elements as those in the ACT (e.g., meaning, purpose, etc.), the ways in which questions and answers are phrased is markedly different.


Additionally, the level of reading on the SAT is a bit higher than that of the ACT; however, this does not make the ACT an easier test, as it has a much higher question density per section, which students may struggle with as they figure out how to manage their time while taking the test.


How should students go about choosing which test they should take?


While we usually say that the easiest way to decide would be to take diagnostic tests for both, there are more factors to consider with the changes to the SAT, which are set to come into effect in March 2023 for international students and 2024 for US students (for more information, read this article that we have about the new digital SAT). This way, the student can see which one they feel better suited for and if they score higher on one test than the other. If you are interested in seeing how the old SAT and the ACT compare to each other, however, here’s a score conversion chart for the SAT vs. the ACT as provided from data from the College Board and the ACT.

Choosing which test to take is just the first step. Once you’ve decided on a test, you still need to take time to study for the test and learn to meet its challenges. With good preparation and planning, however, students will have the power to excel.


Need help preparing for the SAT or the ACT? Dragon Prep has a steady history of students scoring 1500+ on the SAT and 34+ on the SAT, so call or WhatsApp 9835 8011 or visit www.thedragonprep.com to see how we can help you!


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