Is the New SAT Reading Harder Than ACT Reading?

Six Points of Comparison Between the Tests

There has been a lot of talk about whether or not the New SAT has become more difficult. In fact, The New York Time recently published an article entitled “New, Reading-Heavy SAT Has Students Worried,” which claims that the New SAT has “longer and harder reading passages.” Whether this is true or not, it is far more relevant to discuss the relative difficulty of the New SAT and ACT Reading Tests so that students can decide which test they should take. Here are six points of comparison.

  1. The New SAT Reading Test passages are drawn from science, history, literature, US founding documents and/or the “global conversation.”  However, this fact alone does not increase the test’s difficulty. ACT already has a similar design with passages drawn from science, history, literature, and social science. No prior knowledge of any subjects is needed, though it may be helpful in a limited sense because it can make the passages more easily digestible. In this respect, the two tests are equal in difficulty.
  2. New SAT Reading passages are leveled for difficulty with each test containing easy, medium, and hard passages. Easy passages are leveled for 9th grade English classes while difficult passages are leveled for first-year college classes. The ACT Reading passages follow the exact same pattern.  In this respect, the two tests are equal in difficulty.
  3. New SAT Reading Test questions follow the natural order of the passages, whereas ACT Reading Test questions do not. This allows students to apply local reading strategies, such as Chyten’s Zigzag Method, to the SATs but not to the ACT. ACT requires a strategy such as Chyten’s Route 66 Strategy that allows students to easily return to the passage to find information relevant to each question. In this respect, the SAT Reading Test is easier than the ACT Reading Test.
  4. ACT Reading questions are far more complex than New SAT Reading questions. In many cases, the basic wording of SAT questions is repeated, with only the content-specific references changed.  ACT questions require a much more thorough reading in order to understand exactly what they are asking.  In this respect, the SAT Reading Test is easier than the ACT Reading Test.
  5. For both the SAT and ACT Reading Tests, strong analytical reading skills are imperative. While the nature of the analysis differs in the two tests, students must be able to read deeper meaning into the content of both kinds of passages. SAT uses evidence-based questions that ask students to identify the reason they picked an answer to a previous question. ACT uses more inference-based questions.  In this respect, the SAT Reading Test is easier than the ACT Reading Test.
  6. The ACT Reading Test requires students to answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. The New SAT Reading Test requires students to answer 52 questions in 65 minutes.  This means that, on average students have 20 seconds more per question on the SAT than on the ACT. In this respect, the New SAT Reading Test is far easier than the ACT Reading Test.

Overall, the clear conclusion is that the New SAT Reading Test is substantially easier than the ACT Reading Test.