Short Version: The ACT is easier to prepare for right now. My recommendation is to prep for the ACT. Most of the skills are transferrable to the SAT, so you can always try the SAT as well.

Long Version:

Reason 1: The difference between the correct and incorrect answers are more subtle on the SAT. Oftentimes, students will get down to two answers and struggle between them. It’s often crystal clear on the ACT why the wrong answers are wrong. That’s not always the case on the SAT. I have over 20 years of experience looking at standardized test questions and answers and some of the reasons behind the correct/incorrect answers on the SAT still perplex me. This probably happens because the SAT is still new (see next reason).

Reason 2: The SAT completely revamped their test in 2016 since they were losing to the ACT. More people were taking the ACT because, you guessed it, it was easier to prep for and do well on. The SAT pretty much copied the ACT format. The sections on the new SAT are almost identical to the ACT. They said that they got rid of the vocab requirement (they didn’t), got rid of the wrong answer penalty, and made the essay optional (just like the ACT). The main problem with the SAT being a new test is that it feels unstable. They’re always tweaking things and it’s hard to truly expect what’s going to be on it. On the other hand, the ACT has been a stable test for a while now. When we take tests from the last 5 years, it’s consistently testing the same skills. Because of this, it’s easier to prepare for common patterns and have a good idea of what score to expect when taking the actual test.

Reason 3: No Science section. That’s a good thing right?? You would think so since a lot of students are initially fearful of the Science section on the ACT. The SAT actually takes the passages and question types from the ACT Science section and throws them into the Reading and Math portions of their test. I think they did this so they can tell the colleges that they still test the same skills as the ACT, and at the same time tell the students and parents, “Hey our test is friendlier since you don’t have to take a Science section!”. Now you know.

Reason 4: No calculator and free response Math questions. Graphing calculators are incredibly powerful and can do amazing things. Not having access to that for half of the math portion requires students to study more formulas/concepts compared to the ACT. The free response sections are harder as well since you can’t utilize the answer choices (or guess with a decent chance of getting the answer correct) when in trouble.

Reason 5: The timing is slower. Again you would think that this is a good thing. However, they make the test harder (see above) in order to compensate for that. The goal of these tests is to produce a nice normal distribution of scores (with most people scoring around the average). They can’t make the test easy without sacrificing the utility of the test when it comes to admissions. Students get faster at taking tests when they know how to efficiently approach common question types and are confident in why the wrong answers are wrong. Because both of those factors are more controllable on the ACT, the faster paced ACT is actually easier to control than the slower, but harder, SAT.

Hope that helps. I’ll keep adding more things if I think of anything else. Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions.