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Key Differences Between SAT and ACT Reading

Math plays a bigger role in the SAT versus the ACT. On the ACT, math accounts for one-fourth of your total score, whereas it accounts for half of your total score on the SAT, according to Prep Scholar.

But what about reading? Is one test easier than the other when it comes to the reading section? Tiffany Sorensen, a tutor at Varsity Tutors and contributor at US News, recently broke down a few of the key differences between the reading passages on the SAT and ACT.


One key difference between the SAT and ACT is that the ACT passages are specifically organized by genre, whereas the SAT does not explicitly label its passages.

“Thus [on the ACT], you can expect the passage number (I-IV) to be followed by a label in capital letters, such as LITERARY NARRATIVE or INFORMATIONAL,” Sorensen says. “The latter could refer to a text about natural science, social science or the humanities. Be aware that paired passages could fall under any category.”


Another difference between the SAT and ACT is that the ACT is purely textual, whereas the SAT offers supporting visuals at the end of passages.

“SAT Reading questions that involve visuals generally range between one and three per reading set,” Sorensen says. “That typically amounts to between two and six visual-based questions out of 52 total, a small percentage of the reading test. Therefore, the presence or absence of graphics should not be the sole reason to choose one test over the other.”


Sorensen says the answer to this question is subjective. Some students may find one test easier, simply because of the genre, while others may find it more difficult. But she does highlight some key differences between the two.

“For example, although ACT passages tend to be longer, the questions that follow them may not be as complicated or multilayered as those on the SAT,” Sorensen says. “However, ACT-takers must read faster because ACT passages are longer. Therefore, it’s not possible to objectively say which reading test is harder. That depends on each student’s strengths and weaknesses.”

Sources: US News, Prep Scholar

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