Understanding The New Digital SAT vs. The ACT

The testing season is well underway! Juniors are preparing for, taking, and retaking the ACT and SAT right now.

Whether considering SAT Subjects Tests, the ACT essay, or an upcoming AP exam, there's a lot to manage. Here's a breakdown of all the exams on the horizon.



The ACT features four multiple-choice subject tests in English, Math, Reading Comprehension, and Science Reasoning. These tests aim to assess your overall academic growth and readiness for college-level coursework. Your scores on these tests, ranging from 1 to 36, are calculated by omitting incorrect answers. Guessing is not penalized on the ACT, and the scores from the four sections are averaged to determine your composite score.The ACT also includes an optional 30-minute writing test designed to measure your skill in planning and writing a short essay. This segment is a chance to show off your writing skills!

If you opt to take it, the additional scores will be reported. These scores are reported separately.

So, if writing is a weak area, you might want to take the ACT and skip the writing section, since it's currently optional (although some schools require it).


The SAT has undergone significant changes with the introduction of the new digital format. The digital SAT is designed to evaluate your general thinking and problem-solving abilities, similar to its predecessor.

Key changes in the digital SAT include:

  • The new digital SAT now boasts a shorter duration of 2 hours and 14 minutes, a significant reduction from the previous 3 hours and 5 minutes.
  • In addition, the digital SAT incorporates adaptive testing, where question difficulty adjusts based on your performance, aiming to provide a more precise evaluation of your skills.
  • The test's structure is simplified into two sections: Reading & Writing and Math, each divided into two modules.
  • Furthermore, the essay section has been eliminated, streamlining the test, and you are now permitted to use a calculator throughout the entire Math section.

Similar to the ACT, the SAT has multiple-choice questions and math questions that require you to produce your own answers. However, unlike the ACT, the SAT no longer penalizes you for wrong answers.

When comparing the ACT and SAT, it's important to note that both tests have their own unique qualities. While neither test is more likely to result in a higher score, many students perform equally well on both exams.

Instead of choosing between the ACT and SAT, consider taking both tests if the colleges you're applying to accept scores from either. Each test evaluates your skills in a different manner, so taking both can help you determine which one showcases your abilities better.

However, if you're limited on time and resources and can only focus on preparing for one test, it's recommended to take a practice exam for both the ACT and SAT to see which one you excel in.


Personalized Test Prep

At The House, our personalized approach to ACT and SAT test prep starts with a free diagnostic exam. We offer a chance for students to take a practice test for free, and in turn, generate a 6-page detailed report to pinpoint their strengths and weaknesses.

If you are starting early and considering the tests as a sophomore, you may still have time to take the PLAN (similar to a practice ACT) or the PSAT (which is similar to a practice SAT).

Generally, students in the Midwest region of the U.S. predominantly take the ACT exam. In fact, in Illinois, every junior is required to take an ACT as part of the two-day Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) in April.

While foreign schools tend to require the SAT, we have yet to interact with a university in the U.S. that does not accept both.

Make sure to check and see if the schools to which you are applying require both ACT and SAT, or just one.



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