Digital SAT vs. ACT: Choosing Your Best Test

Last updated Jan 11, 2024 

Whether you are the parent of a sophomore who is planning ahead for next year’s college admissions testing or a junior who is trying to figure out which test to take to maximize your scores heading into senior year, it’s always good to get to know your testing options, especially when one of those tests is undergoing some big changes. For decades, the SAT and ACT presented students with relatively similar testing experiences, but this year the paper and pencil version of the SAT will be retired and replaced with the Digital SAT (DSAT) that is shorter and taken on a computer, making the process of deciding which test to take slightly more complicated. Don’t worry! We’re here to fill you in on the differences between the DSAT and the ACT, the pros and cons of both tests, and offer some advice for how to choose your best test.

Get to Know the Tests

On a basic level, the SAT and ACT are not that different. Both tests assess college readiness by evaluating a student’s mastery of skills among core content areas, specifically reading, writing, math, and in the case of the ACT, science. If you look closer, however, the new Digital SAT and ACT have distinct differences. Reviewing this infographic that compares the DSAT and ACT, you will note how the tests differ in terms of their format and structure, question types and difficulty level, content, and testing experience. For some students, there may be just one or two criteria that sets one test apart from the other as a good fit, but other students may need to dig a bit deeper to weigh the pros and cons. 

Pros and Cons

So, let’s make a pro and con list by looking at several factors of the SAT versus the ACT to see how they match your personal preferences.

  • Digital (SAT) vs. Paper (ACT): Students today spend a lot of time (in some cases, too much time) on devices, which either means a digital test is one that will feel comfortable and familiar or one that will be awkward and frustrating. If you know that your eyes will strain staring at a screen for hours or you will feel anxious about possible technical glitches, then the simplicity of a traditional paper exam like the ACT might suit you better than the DSAT. However, if using a pencil to bubble in answers slows you down and you want easy access to features like the Bluebook app’s built-in calculator, timer, annotation tool, and question tracker for ones you skipped or marked to do later, go digital!
  • New (SAT) vs. Old (ACT): In contrast to the ACT that has been around in roughly the same format for decades, the DSAT is brand new. The benefit of the older ACT is that there will be more, and a greater variety, of resources and experienced tutors for you to take advantage of as you pursue test prep. Meanwhile, the DSAT represents adapting to the needs of students as they have evolved over time, making it innovative and potentially a better fit for today’s test takers. 
  • Adaptive (SAT) vs. Non-Adaptive (ACT): A test that adapts to the person taking it is a test where the test taker is given more control. But what might be empowering to one person might be frightening to another. For example, you could feel too much pressure and anxiety knowing that your answers in the first module of the DSAT Math section determine the difficulty of the second module, and ultimately how many points you can earn in Math altogether. If so, then the more straightforward ACT is for you. 
  • Quality Time (SAT) vs. Quantity Time (ACT): Taking tests is rarely something you want to do for more time than you have to. The DSAT is shorter, has fewer questions, yet still gives more time per question. If more time per question and less time testing sounds appealing to you, then the DSAT is your test.
  • Concise Questions (SAT) vs. Immersive Questions: Since the DSAT’s Reading & Writing section has questions related to short passages while the ACT relies on questions on longer passages, the experience of taking both tests can feel quite different. On the one hand, you can become more immersed in the content of the ACT and not have to shift gears as frequently. On the other hand, you may not have to remember as much with such short passages on the DSAT and not understanding one passage can’t significantly affect your score.
  • No Science (SAT) vs. Science (ACT): The ACT’s Science section has set it apart from the SAT for years, and it remains one of its most distinctive features, requiring students to interpret data and analyze scientific experiments in terms of their procedures and results. So, students who struggle with Science might avoid the ACT for fear that it will bring down their score. The fact that there are more different types of sections on the ACT (e.g. Science, optional Essay) may also be a turn-off, depending on whether you like or dislike the idea of having a chance to demonstrate your skill on a wider range of topics.

Bottom Line

Every student’s pro and con list is going to be different. What works best for one student may not work for another. How do you choose the best test for you? Since colleges don’t have a particular preference for one test over the other, the final decision comes down to whichever test produces higher scores. That’s why taking diagnostic practice tests is so important. Not only do you get a chance to test drive the tests to compare the overall experience of taking the DSAT and the ACT (e.g. difficulty level, pacing, question types, content), but your scores will help you determine the test that will give you the highest score. 

How A+ Can Help

Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT continue to play a determining role in a student’s college admissions chances, so choosing the right test is a serious responsibility. Fortunately, you’ve already taken the important first step of learning more about both tests. 

What comes next? Take diagnostic SAT and ACT practice tests so you can determine which test to prep for and when to prep. A+ Test Prep and Tutoring is proud to offer free, no obligation, proctored practice exams with a complete score report and consultation. We’ll review your practice SAT and ACT results with you to help you understand which test is a better fit, and we can make recommendations for which test to prepare for and when would be the best time for you to prep.

And of course we proudly offer one-to-one test prep programs that provide students with the individualized instruction needed for success on the SAT or ACT.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, we can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at


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