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How to Choose Between the Digital SAT and the ACT

High school students face many decisions when it comes to preparing for the multi-faceted college application process, and one of the most crucial is choosing between the new digital SAT and the ACT. With both tests being widely accepted by colleges and universities, it’s essential to understand the differences between them to make an informed choice. While some schools have remained test optional, or even test blind, many prestigious schools still value a strong standardized test score when evaluating your candidacy as a prospective student. With the SAT’s transition to a digital-only format and the ACT offering a paper-based or digital option, there are new factors to consider. In this guide, we’ll delve into the essential differences between the digital SAT and the ACT to help you navigate this important decision.

Structure and Format

Digital SAT: The digital SAT contains sections reading, writing and language, and math using computer-based tools. Math is half of the SAT, so this test may be better for students who perform significantly better on the math portion of the test. According to the College Board, which administers the SAT, students receive 67% more time per question than on the ACT.

ACT: The digital ACT and paper-based ACT will be identical to each other. It is simply up to student to indicate which one they prefer when registering for the test. The ACT sections include English, math, reading, science, and an optional writing portion. The ACT is only 25% math, so it may be a better option for students who don’t perform well on the math portion of the test. In addition, the ACT has been known to have more straightforward questions and some students find it a little easier to raise their scores on it versus the SAT. However, there are more questions per minute, so it requires that the student move more quickly.


SAT: The digital SAT focuses more on vocabulary, analytical reading, and mathematical reasoning. The test contains an adaptive testing feature that will design the second module of each section based on your performance in the first. What this means is that the questions will be easier or harder as the test goes on based upon how you have performed during the beginning of the test. This could have a significant psychological impact on students as they sense how the test is going based upon the difficulty of the questions.

ACT: On the other hand, the ACT emphasizes grammar, punctuation, and science reasoning, in addition to reading and math. The science section doesn’t necessarily require prior scientific knowledge but assesses your ability to interpret data and draw conclusions. Both the digital and traditional ACT do not adapt during the test based upon your performance, which is an enormous plus for the test, as this will give students more confidence.


SAT: The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600, combining scores from the two main sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) and Math. Each section is scored on a scale of 200 to 800.

ACT: The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with each of the four sections (English, math, reading, and science) receiving a scaled score. These scores are averaged to obtain your composite score, rounded to the nearest whole number. If, for example, you receive a 27.5, that is rounded up to a 28 composite score. Also, since there are four sections, it is sometimes easier to get a higher superscore among several tests since students tend to vary how they perform in each second across several test sittings. This, of course, is only relevant for colleges that accept superscoring for the ACT, but many of them do.

Test Length

SAT: The digital SAT is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes in length. This duration alone is a notable difference when comparing the digital test to its previous, hard-copy counterpart which took students nearly four hours to complete. The digital SAT contains sections relating to Reading and Writing and Math.

ACT: The digital ACT takes around 2 hours and 55 minutes (without the essay), with an extra 40 minutes for the optional writing section. Colleges do not require the ACT essay and many do not even consider the essay section, so we recommend that students do not register for the essay portion of the ACT.

Availability and Timing

SAT: The digital SAT is given seven times throughout the year. Now that the test is digital, scores are typically available within a few days after the test date.

ACT: While the digital ACT also provides rapid score delivery, the availability of test dates may vary depending on test center locations, as the ACT is still mainly focused on being a paper-based test. The paper-based ACT is also given seven times a year.

Personal Preference and Strengths

Consider your strengths and weaknesses in each subject area. Choose the test that aligns with your skills and provides the best opportunity to showcase your abilities. In particular, determine whether math is a strength of yours or not, since math is 50% of the digital SAT and only 25% of the ACT. Also, it is crucial to take practice tests for both the digital SAT and the ACT to see which test feels better to a particular student. This is the best way to determine which test makes most sense for you to study for.

Test Prep Resources

There are considerably fewer test prep resources available for the digital SAT at this juncture since it was only implemented in March 2024. So, from a preparation perspective, there is no question that the ACT will have better test prep resources and will have many more practice tests.

In conclusion, when choosing between the digital SAT and the ACT, carefully consider the differences in structure, content, scoring, timing, your personal preferences, how you do on baseline testing and the availability of test prep resources for the digital SAT. Colleges will consider either exam for admissions, so we advise students to assess which test results in their highest score and/or where they feel most confident, then focus on improving their score on that particular test. Remember, both tests are designed to assess your readiness for college, so focus on preparing diligently and showcasing your strengths on whichever test you choose. If you are looking for more guidance on how to best strategize your standardized testing approach, reach out to one of our expert admissions consultants today and let us help you design a personalized roadmap that will set you up for strong scores ahead!

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