The Digital SAT vs ACT Test: Everything You Need to Know to Decide and Start Test Prep

The Applerouth Team
March 20, 2024
min read
graphic of students taking a paper ACT test and a single student taking a digital SAT test, separated by a comic book-style "versus" icon

Is college admissions testing on your horizon? At Applerouth, we want to equip you with the knowledge to make an informed decision between the ACT test and the computer adaptive SAT introduced in March 2024, officially known as the digital SAT.

Understanding the intricacies of each test empowers you to choose the right path. With Applerouth as your guide, the rest – including your test prep – is taken care of.

In this blog, we’ll explore the key distinctions between the two tests, covering aspects such as timing and scoring, an SAT vs ACT format comparison, sections, the topics covered, and more.

For a handy summary of everything discussed here, download our full Digital SAT vs. ACT guide:

SAT vs. ACT Guide

Get the SAT vs. ACT Guide

Your cheat sheet for choosing the test that suits your strengths – so achieving your potential will be that much easier.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Key Differences: Digital SAT vs ACT Test

First, let’s delve into the big picture differences that truly stand out between the digital SAT and ACT.

There have always been distinct timing and scoring differences between each test, but since the launch of the digital SAT in March 2024, another significant difference is in the format of each test.

The ACT, a traditional paper test, is known for its fixed format and short amount of time per question. Expect a faster-paced ACT test and lengthier ACT reading passages, with score reports returned in 2 to 3 weeks.

On the flip side, the digital SAT offers a modern twist with an adaptive format, meaning the difficulty level of the second half of each section will be based on your performance from the first half. This high tech way of differentiating scores, combined with shorter reading passages, means you’ll receive more time per question on the digital SAT. The cherry on top? Scores are delivered within days.

Timing & Scoring: A Comparative Overview of the Digital SAT and ACT

What can you expect in terms of timing?

The SAT clocks in at an overall 2 hours and 14 minutes, offering a score range of 400-1600 points.

In contrast, the ACT test extends to 2 hours and 55 minutes, presenting a scoring range of 1-36 points.

This makes the digital SAT a much shorter test, which many students prefer.

Dive deeper into the test section breakdown, and you'll learn more about the SAT's adaptive modules and the ACT's faster paced structure.

Digital SAT vs ACT Format Comparison

When deciding on the standardized test to take, formatting is a major consideration. How do they differ in this respect?

The ACT test consists of four sections: English, Math, Reading and Science. It is generally delivered in a paper format (with some digital testing being trialed as of 2024). When the ACT is administered digitally, it is simply the exact same test that is administered on paper.

On the other hand, the digital SAT exclusively embraces technology with its section adaptive style. Students take two sections: Reading & Writing and Math. Each section is split into two modules, and after Module 1 is complete a student’s score determines whether they receive a more challenging or less challenging version of Module 2.

An important consideration is that, on the ACT, students have less than 60 seconds per question. In the Reading section, students only have 36 seconds per question! On the digital SAT Reading and Writing section, students have 71 seconds per question, while they have a whopping 95 seconds per question in Math.

Regarding question formats, both the SAT and ACT share a foundation of multiple-choice questions. However, the SAT introduces open-ended responses, adding a layer of complexity to the mix.

Understanding the SAT Reading & Writing Section and ACT English and Reading Sections

The SAT Reading and Writing section and the ACT English and Reading sections (plural!) are more different than ever with the digital SAT in play.

Unlike the old SAT Writing and Language test, which was separate from the SAT Reading test in the old paper format, the new SAT Reading and Writing section combines reading comprehension questions with grammar, punctuation, and style questions.

With all new Reading and Writing question styles, SAT reading passage complexity has improved significantly. All passages are roughly one paragraph long, and each passage has only one accompanying question—rather than the 11 or so questions per passage on the old test.

In the digital SAT, 3 to 5 Command of Evidence questions use graphs, which is analogous to how the ACT Science section uses graphs and charts.

On the other hand, the ACT Reading passages are long and each is accompanied by exactly 10 questions. This is in addition to the 75-question ACT English section, which tests grammar, punctuation, style, and editing skills far more stringently than the digital SAT, which includes only about 12-15 such questions on the whole test.

SAT vs ACT Math Section

What can you expect within the Math sections of each test?

The SAT throws 44 questions your way, while the ACT challenges you with 60. The SAT's emphasis on Algebra, coupled with a reference sheet of common formulas, contrasts the ACT's focus on Geometry and Pre-Algebra, without formula support.

SAT math formulas are provided, so add this to your list of pros and cons if having a reference sheet is important to you.

Finally, an important aspect to consider when comparing the SAT vs ACT math section is the inclusion of the Desmos graphing calculator on the digital SAT. Students who master the use of this calculator will have a significant advantage going into the SAT Math section compared to the ACT math section, where their traditional calculator will be the only additional tool available.

Begin Your Journey to SAT or ACT Success

Take some time to decide between the Digital SAT vs ACT test. Which test is right for you will depend on many factors from test pace to question style.

Don’t forget to download our complete guide to the Digital SAT vs ACT test, which is a helpful visual summary of the information you’ve just read.

SAT vs. ACT Guide

Get the SAT vs. ACT Guide

Your cheat sheet for choosing the test that suits your strengths – so achieving your potential will be that much easier.

If you’re thinking about test prep now, there’s no better time to start! One of the best ways to decide if the digital SAT or ACT test is best for you is with a free practice test. Register online today, give us a call at 866-789-PREP (7237), or book a time to speak with a Program Director.

Empower yourself with knowledge, choose wisely, and let Applerouth assist in paving the way to your academic success!

Schedule a call with a Program Director.

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