There are many factors that can help a student determine which test they should take – the ACT or the SAT. Variables such as strengths, weaknesses, timing, or style can all play a role in making this important decision.
Perhaps you are a student who feels confident in your math skills, so you can handle whatever math questions these tests throw at you. However, your reading is an area in which you could use some additional help. The reading passages will be the issue that justifies your choice.
If that is the case then this post should prove beneficial. We are going to breakdown the differences between the ACT and SAT reading passages in order to help you make the difficult decision of which test is the right test for you.
Number of Passages
The SAT has 5 reading passages while the ACT has 4 reading passages.
Number of Questions
Every test you take for the ACT will have a total of 40 questions with 10 questions per passage.
While overall, the SAT will always have 52 questions, the amount of questions per passage will vary.
How much time will you have to tackle the reading passages?
Overall, for the SAT you will have 65 minutes, which breaks down to 13 minutes per passage.
You will have 35 minutes for the ACT passage, which means 8 minutes and 24 seconds per passage.
On the ACT, the reading passages will include one of each of the following: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science. The Social Science and Natural Science passages tend to be more straightforward, and therefore less challenging. While the Humanities and Prose Fiction passages require more analysis which lends towards more difficulty when reading these passages. On occasion, one of these reading passages will be a paired passage.
On the SAT, the reading passages have one Literature passage, one History passage, one Social Studies passage (economics, Sociology, Psychology or another Social Studies passage), and two Science passages (there is a possibility that one of them will be a paired passage). The difficulty level varies and very much depends on your familiarity with the subject and the complexity of the topic.
The question types on the ACT will be the following: detail, words in context, generalization, cause and effect, inference, main idea, point of view, and except questions.
For the SAT, expect these question types: evidence, arguments, words in context, and synthesis (questions based on analyzing a graph).
For the most part the reading passages you encounter on the ACT test are going to be more about what is actually in the passage. However, this does mean that the reading passages in the ACT are going to be a little drier.
On the SAT test, the reading passages discuss more interesting topics. But it will require that you dig deeper and analyze the passage for what the author is attempting to say rather than just what he is saying.
The challenge with the ACT is time. While the questions are more straightforward and the passages are more direct than the SAT test, you have significantly less time to read and answer the questions. So if you struggle to read quickly, consider trying the SAT.
The struggle with the SAT is the level of critical thinking skills required to answer the reading passage questions. If analysis is something that you find to be tough, try a practice ACT first to see if it fits your strengths.
Overall, both present their own unique set of challenges. It really comes down to what type of student you are and an awareness of your strengths and weaknesses.
Still not sure which test is for you? Sign up for a diagnostic SAT and ACT test to get a breakdown of your score. We will even set up a consultation with our SAT and ACT experts to help you figure out which test is the best fit for you.