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Is it Easier to Improve on SAT or ACT?

Like many other test-takers, chances are you will fall shy of reaching the 99th percentile on your first attempt on the ACT or SAT.

Fortunately, you are able to take both tests multiple times so that you can improve your score and eventually reach your goal. 

With hard work, prep courses, and time to review, you can boost your score on either of these tests. 

However, just because you are able to take these tests several times, it does not mean that taking these tests multiple times is ideal. Both the SAT and ACT cost money for each attempt and will require you to spend hours studying and preparing. As such, you will want to make the most of your time and test-taking attempts so that you can reach your target score sooner rather than later.

You may be wondering what would be the most strategic move to make in order to have the greatest chance of improving your standardized test score quickly. Would you have better success on the ACT rather than the SAT or vice versa? Should you prioritize one test over the other? 

The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions and neither of these tests is easier than the other. When you’re trying to improve your test scores, you will have to consider your strengths and weaknesses while asking yourself the following questions:

How well do you do under pressure?

The ACT has more questions than the SAT, 154 versus 215 respectively, and requires you to move through these questions more quickly to answer them all in time.

While the SAT involves more reading and problem-solving to answer the questions, it is important to consider that you have more time per question on the SAT than on the ACT. If you struggle with time constraints and have to answer questions under pressure, you might want to prioritize the SAT when you are working to improve your score.

Is science your strong suit?

Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a science section. This section requires you to be able to analyze charts and diagrams, and it tests knowledge of biology, chemistry, physics, and the earth space sciences.

If you struggled with the ACT Science section on your first attempt at the test, you might consider taking the SAT instead because it will be easier for you to improve your score without these science questions.

Ask yourself whether or not you have a good grasp on the science topics that will be covered on the ACT when you consider which test will be easier for you.

Is math one of your strengths?

The SAT has two math sections: one that allows you to use your calculator and one that does not. Although this is set to change with the new SAT in a couple of years, as of 2022, the SAT has more math questions than the ACT.

In fact, the math sections of the SAT account for half of your total score. If you don’t want to rely on your math skills to carry your standardized test scores, you should keep this in mind.

If math is one of your strengths, it might be easier for you to improve on the SAT than on the ACT. However, if you have always struggled with math or you would prefer to use a calculator for the math questions, you will likely have a better chance of improvement by taking the ACT because the ACT allows you to use a calculator for the math section and your score on this section will be a lower percentage of your overall score.

On the other hand, the ACT does require you to know some basics of trigonometry, while the SAT does not include trigonometry in favor of more algebra questions. If you struggled with trigonometry in school, the ACT Math section will likely be trickier for you.

Are you able to memorize information well?

If you struggle with memorization, the SAT will be a bit easier than the ACT because it provides key formulas in the test booklet.

Although one of the best strategies will be to memorize these formulas, I understand that it is not always possible for everyone. Keep in mind that you will need to memorize more information if you take the ACT rather than the SAT.

Take some time to note the essential formulas you will need to know for both tests, like the Pythagorean Theorem and the quadratic equation. If you spend time studying these formulas, but you still find that you have trouble remembering these formulas when you take practice tests, the SAT might be a good option for improving your score.

Do you need to write an essay?

The SAT has removed the essay component of the test, but there is still an optional essay section on the ACT.

If you know that writing a strong essay will help make up for some of the weaknesses in your test score, you may find that taking the ACT and opting to write an essay will help improve the quality of your college application. If you don’t need the essay and struggle with writing strong essays, either work with a private tutor or consider taking the SAT to improve your score instead.

Next steps

Because your personal strengths and responses to the questions above will be the determining factor when it comes to whether it will be easier to improve your scores on the SAT or ACT, there are some steps you should take to make your decision:

  • Take multiple SAT and ACT practice tests. This will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses for each test so that you can make a data-driven decision. You should stick with the test where you are earning the highest scores.
  • Think carefully about your answers to the questions above. It’s easy to let biases about the SAT or ACT and what you’ve heard from others about these tests influence your decision-making. Remember, neither test is inherently harder than the other. Take the time to answer each of the questions from this guide and allow your answers to inform your choice.
  • Take an SAT or ACT prep course. Both of these tests are equally difficult, so regardless of your personal strengths, you can do well on both of them with the right resources and strategies.
  • Work with a private tutor. A private tutor will be qualified to help you pinpoint your specific strengths so you can better determine which test will be the best for you to improve your score.

Learn more about private tutoring as well as the SAT and ACT prep courses offered through Prep Expert when you visit our website.

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Written by Prep Expert

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