Which Test is Hardest: SAT, New SAT or ACT

Note: In this article, Chyten company founder and author Neil Chyten discusses SAT, New SAT and ACT reading sections. Future articles will compare other sections of the tests.

While giving a recent webcast about the New SAT, the most common question I was asked by students around the globe was: Which test is harder: the current SAT or the NEW SAT. Now most of the way through writing my new book, Mastering the NEW SAT, and having completed more than 300 hours of research and writing, I can tell you quite authoritatively that the answer is: “It depends.”

As with all tests, the New SAT has unique features, some of which many students will find easier and some of which many students will find harder. To help you determine which test is best for you (adding in ACT as well) I will go through each part of the tests and provide a relative difficulty rating.

Current SAT, New SAT, and ACT Reading: The Passages

The fact that the New SAT Reading Test has passages drawn from science, history, literature, US founding documents and/or the “global conversation” does not increase the test’s difficulty. ACT already has a similar design with passages drawn from science, history, literature, and social science. As with the current SAT and the ACT, New SAT reading passages are leveled for difficulty with each test containing easy, medium, and hard passages. Easy passages are appropriate for 9th grade English classes while difficult passages are appropriate for first-year college students. No prior knowledge of any subjects is needed, though it may be helpful in a limited sense. Strong analytical reading skills are imperative, no matter which test you are taking. One more thing: They told you that vocabulary was not being tested on the New SAT? Not true. While sentence completions have been removed, there are plenty of vocabulary words in the passages themselves as well as in the questions. So, as was the case before, a strong and diverse lexicon can help you earn a high score on all of these tests.

Difficulty Scorecard: SAT, New SAT and ACT: Equal Difficulty.

Current SAT, New SAT, and ACT Reading: The Questions

The SAT and New SAT questions are easier than those on the ACT simply because they follow the natural order of the passages. This allows you to apply local reading strategies, such as Chyten’s proprietary Zigzag Method, to the SATs, but not to the ACT. The New SAT has added evidence-based questions that require you to go back into the passage to support a previous answer. These may not be difficult, but they are time consuming. ACT questions do not follow the order of the passage, and so you will need to employ some kind of “breadcrumb” strategy.

Scorecard: Current SAT; Easiest, New SAT; Middle, ACT; Hardest