Which is the harder section, ACT Reading or SAT Reading? We will break down the differences between SAT and ACT Reading to help you decide which section is harder for you. You might be surprised which one is easier!
Major Differences Between SAT Reading and ACT Reading
In this section, I'll break down the most critical differences between SAT Reading and ACT Reading. One test is not inherently easier than the other - it all depends on your skills. Keep your own strengths and weaknesses in mind as you read through the following sections.
#1: Breaking Down Long Passages
The ACT doesn’t always give line numbers in the questions. For what we call “little picture, find the detail” questions, you have to skim the whole reading passage to find the answer, whereas SAT always gives line numbers. See an ACT example below:
Via ACT's Preparing for the ACT guide.
For this question, you have to sift through the passage to find the one line that mentions this very particular detail. If you don't have a good memory for small details, this can take time.
In contrast, you can approach the SAT Critical Reading section by reading the questions first and then going back to parts of the passage using the line numbers. For the ACT, you will have to at least skim the entire passage, even if you read the questions first.
Our advice? If you have a good memory for longer passages and small details, you will have an advantage on the ACT. If you are good at picking information out of a passage, you might do better on the SAT.
Timing is a bigger challenge on the ACT, as the ACT asks more questions per minute. SAT Reading has 52 questions in 65 minutes, giving you 75 seconds per question. On the other hand, ACT Reading has 40 questions in 35 minutes, which gives you just 52 seconds per question. This may not seem like a major difference, but all those extra seconds really add up when you're struggling to answer all the questions in a section before time is called.
Keep on your eyes on your watch!
Our advice? If pacing and answer questions quickly is a problem for you, you may find the time constraints of the SAT Reading section more manageable.
#3: Evidence-Support Questions
Are you good at pinpointing specific areas in texts that support your answers to questions? If so, the SAT may be a better fit for you. Evidence-support questions are a big part of SAT Reading but don't appear on ACT Reading. These questions build off of the questions that come before them and ask you to cite specific lines or paragraphs as evidence for your answer to a previous question.
Here’s an example of an evidence-support question (with the question to which it's referring):
As you can see, these questions can be challenging because they require higher-level thinking and strong reasoning skills. If you're stuck on the first question, you likely won't get the second one right either.
Our advice? If you struggle with interconnected questions or having concrete reasons for selecting a certain answer, you may find the ACT easier since it's Reading section doesn't include these types of questions.
So Which Test Should You Take?
The best way to decide which reading section you’ll do best on is to take real practice tests. Score yourself, and find out which test you score higher on based on percentiles.
Also, based on those practice tests, figure out your weaknesses. Are you struggling on SAT’s evidence-based questions? Then the ACT might be a better choice for you. Are you struggling with finishing the ACT Reading section in time? Then maybe the SAT will be a better fit for you.
Another strategy is to think about which test you like more. Sure, a test is a test, but you’ll probably find you enjoy one more than the other, and you may study more effectively for the test you like better.
Finally, think about the other sections if you can't decide. For example, you might take a practice test and figure out you are slightly better at ACT Reading. But if ACT Math is really hard for you, it could cancel out the benefits of being better at ACT Reading.
Want a comprehensive guide to whether the ACT or SAT is easier? Read this detailed breakdown.
In this post we recommended taking a practice ACT and practice SAT reading sections to figure out your strength. Check out our links to free ACT and SAT practice tests to get started!
What about the writing and math sections? See our complete guide to ACT versus SAT to compare your overall strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re going with the SAT, learn and review SAT vocab using the waterfall method. Also check out our tips for a perfect 800 on Critical Reading by our full scorer.
Vocabulary is still important on the ACT. Find out the words you must know! Also get a step-by-step essay guide and strategies for a perfect 36 on ACT Reading.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.