Is the SAT Hard? An In-Depth Analysis | BestColleges (2023)

  • The SAT can be challenging due to time constraints and the way the questions are formatted.
  • The PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT because it is a shorter practice test.
  • Understanding how the questions are structured and taking SAT practice tests can improve your score.

Many students find the SAT challenging. It can seem almost impossible to sit for a four-hour test with constrained time limits that are chock full of reading passages and tricky math problems.

It all comes down to what type of test-taker you are. With nearly 2.2 million students taking the SAT each year, according to the College Board, there are bound to be some students who struggle with its testing style. So is the SAT hard — or not? is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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How Hard Is the SAT?

Unlike what some will say, the SAT is no easier or harder than the ACT. It just depends on your subject skills and your learning style.

Most of the content covered on the exam is from 9th and 10th grade, with some added advanced concepts from junior year. What makes the SAT seem more challenging is the way in which the questions are asked. It differs from what many students are used to in high school.

The good news is that you can overcome this challenge with proper test preparation. By familiarizing yourself with the test format and taking SAT practice tests, you can feel more prepared on test day.

Is the SAT Harder Than the PSAT?

Many students take the PSAT during their sophomore or junior year of high school. The PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT. There are important differences between the SAT and PSAT, including the difficulty level of the material, the length and timing of each exam, and the manner in which each exam is scored.

Content Difficulty

The PSAT tests the same content areas as the SAT with the questions formatted in the same way. The SAT is more challenging than the PSAT, however, because the PSAT is designed to be a practice exam. PSAT questions are largely based on the content covered in high school so far.

Length and Timing

There is a notable difference between the SAT and PSAT in both length and time. The SAT requires more stamina because you have to answer more questions in a shorter time. The SAT is a three-hour exam with 154 questions.

(Video) Where is the mistake in this hardest SAT Math Problem? | YouTube Shorts

The PSAT, on the other hand, is 15 minutes shorter and comprises only 139 questions. On the SAT, you will need to work at a faster pace while still maintaining accuracy.


The PSAT uses a different scoring range than the SAT. The PSAT is scored between 320 and 1520, whereas the SAT is scored from 400 to 1600. While PSAT scores do correlate to SAT scores, your PSAT percentile ranking and your SAT percentile ranking will not align.

For example, if you score a 1300 on the PSAT, it is equivalent to a 1300 on the SAT. That said, it will not necessarily put you in the same percentile. On the SAT, you would need to score between 50-70 points higher than your PSAT to rank in the same percentile.

Why Is the SAT Hard? 4 Key Factors

There are four key factors that make the SAT hard for those taking the college entrance examination.

In addition to time constraints and anxiety, students must analyze complex reading passages and work on a variety of math concepts, some of which they may be unfamiliar with.

1. Time Constraints

Each section on the SAT is timed and requires you to answer questions quickly. This can be challenging for students who struggle with time management on standardized exams that contain multiple-choice and grid-in questions.

Many students who have trouble with these types of exams experience difficulty distinguishing the correct answer from the distractor. You may find it helpful to monitor your pacing with a watch or other timer.

2. Wide Array of Math Concepts

The SAT Math section requires you to recall an array of high school math concepts. Major areas tested include core concepts in algebra, data analysis, functions, and systems of equations.

Additionally, there are advanced math concepts that will require you to manipulate complex equations, which the College Board details further on its website.

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Students must be able to solve problems from these areas quickly with and without a calculator in under two minutes per question. Reviewing the concepts before the SAT can help reduce the thinking time needed for math problems.

3. Complex Reading Passages and Challenging Questions

The Reading section of the exam requires you to read long, complex passages, oftentimes with unfamiliar vocabulary. You must be able to answer questions about the passages quickly without getting swayed by the second-best answer.

For students who are not great test-takers or who are not avid readers, their lack of proficiency may slow them down in this section. Familiarizing yourself with official SAT practice tests can help you know what to expect.

4. Test Anxiety

Many students find the SAT difficult because it can create test anxiety. Test anxiety is a type of performance anxiety that causes "butterflies" or even a rapid heartbeat.

The anxiety can result from just the sheer importance of the test and the weight colleges place on scores. One of the best ways to combat test anxiety is by taking timed practice tests and familiarizing yourself with the test structure beforehand.

During the test, you can de-stress by concentrating on your breath and doing deep breathing exercises.

4 Tips to Make the SAT Test Easier for You

The SAT doesn't need to be a stressful and overwhelming experience. Here are some things you can do to prepare for test day and make it less intimidating.

Focus On What You Can Control

There will be quite a few factors out of your control when you prepare for the SAT. But you can take charge of some factors, like managing your anxiety. For example, you can teach yourself ways to monitor your breathing during the test to lessen anxiety.

(Video) RANKING the SAT Sections from Easiest to Hardest

You can also take the time to understand what the question is asking you to do. By familiarizing yourself with the question structure, you can avoid common errors and multiple-choice distractors.

Create a Study Schedule

One of the best ways to prepare for the SAT is to create a study schedule. This means you need to allocate time each week to studying and preparing.

Taking one or two practice tests may only have minimal benefit. Preparing for the test on a set schedule can help you routinely address areas where you may need more practice.

To make a schedule, you need to first select your SAT test date and work backward, giving yourself at least 1-3 months to prepare. You should dedicate 2-3 hours to studying weekly to gain the most benefit.

Take Official Timed Practice Tests

Another important way to prepare is to take plenty of SAT practice tests. There are many benefits to this. First, taking practice exams will familiarize you with the question format and help you work on pacing so you can complete as many questions as accurately as possible.

Secondly, it can help keep test anxiety at bay because you will know what to expect on test day. In addition, taking multiple practice tests will help you determine where your baseline score is and how many more points you need to achieve your target score.

Finally, taking official timed practice tests will help you determine the subject you're the weakest in. That way, you can direct your study time in the right areas.

Work On Increasing Your Reading Speed

Your reading rate can substantially impact your SAT score. Since your goal is to complete the exam as quickly and as accurately as possible, you need to be able to get through a passage quickly while still understanding it.

One way to help with your pace is to effectively skim passages by reading the introductory paragraph, reading the first and last sentence of the body paragraphs, and reading the entire concluding paragraph.

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You can then go back and revisit a particular paragraph should a question require more time to read. When you can decrease your time reading the passage, it will give you more time for the critical thinking questions.

Frequently Asked Questions About the SAT

How do you study for the SAT?

To prepare for the SAT, you can enroll in free or paid SAT prep courses, take official practice tests, use highly rated SAT prep books, and/or hire a personal SAT tutor.

By far the best way to prepare for the SAT is to study frequently. This means establishing a study schedule at a minimum of 1-3 months out from your test date and dedicating several hours each week to reviewing concepts and taking high-quality practice tests.

Is the ACT or SAT harder?

The SAT and the ACT are both similar in their level of difficulty. In other words, one test is not necessarily more difficult than the other. However, different types of students may fare better on one than the other.

The ACT is more time intensive and fast-paced, so it's generally best suited for learners with strong time management skills. By contrast, the SAT gives you more time per question and features less reading material than the ACT.

The ACT also has a separate Science section that lasts 35 minutes and has 40 questions. The SAT does not have its own Science section but does incorporate scientific concepts throughout the exam.

Is the SAT Reading or Math section harder?

It generally depends on a person and their subject skills, but most people find the SAT Math — No Calculator section more challenging. This is partially due to our dependent use of calculators in upper mathematics courses.

Some may argue the Reading section is harder because the excerpts originate from known published works that are written at a fairly high level. Some test-takers may find the language within the SAT Reading section difficult to understand.

The content of the passage may also include topics or vocabulary you may be unfamiliar with if you're not an avid reader. This means you may come to a passage at a disadvantage if you don't have the requisite background knowledge on the topic.

(Video) SAT Practice Test 1 - Writing and Language Section - In Depth Analysis, Answers, and Explanations!!!


Is the SAT Hard? An In-Depth Analysis | BestColleges? ›

Unlike what some will say, the SAT is no easier or harder than the ACT. It just depends on your subject skills and your learning style. Most of the content covered on the exam is from 9th and 10th grade, with some added advanced concepts from junior year.

What is the hardest section of the SAT? ›

The hardest part to improve upon is probably the Critical Reading section, only because it involves more deeply ingrained, long-term bad habits that need to be broken before you can excel. But no portion of the test is “hard” or “easy,” objectively. Any student can achieve incredible SAT scores.

Which SAT section is hardest to improve? ›

Reading comprehension is often considered the most difficult section of the SAT for students to improve their scores. The prevailing belief is that students must improve their reading speed and proficiency in order to raise their score; as a result, it is expected to be a long, gradual process.

How hard is it to do well on the SAT? ›

Yes, Sat is hard. If you want to get a good score and make sure you'll be able to get into your top-choice schools, you need to prepare in advance. Practice tests are a great way to do this; consider working with someone with experience with college admissions and test preparation.

Is the digital SAT easier or harder? ›

Yes, the digital SAT is easier than the paper-and-pencil version according to students who have taken the exam and experts at College Board. “The digital SAT will be easier to take, easier to give, and more relevant,” says the vice president of College Readiness Assessments at College Board, Priscilla Rodriguez.

What is the lowest SAT grade ever? ›

The highest SAT score you can possibly earn is 1600. The lowest SAT score is 400.

Which SAT is the easiest? ›

Myth: The March SAT is the easiest SAT test date. Fact: There's no such thing as “the easiest SAT test date.” While it's true that some versions of the SAT are easier than others, it's false that some test dates are predictably easier than others.

What SAT score is impressive? ›

A score of 1350 would put you in the top 10% of test takers and help make your application competitive at more selective schools. In choosing colleges to apply to, consider factors such as the cost of tuition and availability of financial aid, location, and campus atmosphere.

Why is the SAT getting harder? ›

A: Yes, the SAT is getting harder.

Because the SAT is a scaled exam, and the College Board needs to maintain the integrity of the "normal distribution," a.k.a. bell curve. In other words, 99th percentile scores can only be earned by 1% of students, or else they would no longer be 99th percentile scores.

Is the actual SAT easier than practice? ›

The official SAT is neither harder nor easier than official practice tests since every SAT is scored differently. Their levels rank SAT practice tests' difficulty; the higher the level, the more difficult it is.

What did Elon Musk score on SAT? ›

Elon Musk reacts to GPT-4 scoring 93% on SAT exams.

What was Mark Zuckerberg's SAT score? ›

Mark Zuckerberg.

The founder of Facebook scored the perfect 1600 on the SAT and attended Harvard University. There's no surprise there on the score or prestigious university!

How rare is a 1600 SAT? ›

A 1600 is only achieved by around 300 test takers per year and makes you eligible and highly competitive for admission at every college.

Is SAT changing in 2023? ›

The SAT is set to switch from a paper and pencil format to a digital format in 2023 and 2024.

Is the SAT going to become easier? ›

However, the College Board says that the digital format will make the SAT less stressful and more approachable for students. The exam will be shorter, students will have more time per question, and the content on the SAT will be presented in a more direct way.

Is the SAT changing in 2024? ›

College Board has stated that digital testing will replace the paper materials and pencils currently required. A paper PSAT test will not be available starting in the fall of 2023, and a paper SAT test will not be available starting in the spring of 2024.

What is the lowest SAT at Harvard? ›

The 25th percentile New SAT score is 1460, and the 75th percentile SAT score is 1580. In other words, a 1460 places you below average, while a 1580 will move you up to above average. There's no absolute SAT requirement at Harvard, but they really want to see at least a 1460 to have a chance at being considered.

Has anyone ever gotten a 0 on the SAT? ›

While it's impossible for you to get a zero on the test (everyone who takes the SAT will receive at least a 400), you have almost similar odds of doing very well on the test without studying.

What is the lowest Ivy League SAT? ›

Ideal ACT/SAT Scores for Ivy League School Applications

The minimum SAT score to get into an Ivy League school ranges from 690 to 730 for the reading section and from 700 to 730 for the math section. Getting 700 or 710 (or higher) on both of these sections will give you an advantage at most Ivy League universities.

Is SAT easier now than 30 years ago? ›

In many ways, the new SAT is much easier than the older version. However, this doesn't mean you shouldn't study and be prepared! While the format may be better for some students, the questions are still designed to test your ability and skills in each particular subject.

What month is best for SAT? ›

It's generally best to take the SAT in the fall or spring of your junior year and then again in the fall of your senior year.

Which month is the easiest SAT test? ›

If you don't want to take the SAT immediately before your AP exams, then March may be the better testing month – but if you need more time to prepare, then May is likely a better testing month. But don't stop there. The June SAT test date is the last of seven national administrations each school year.

How rare is a 1500 SAT? ›

A 1500 puts you in nearly the 95th percentile of all 1.7 million test takers.

Is a 740 on SAT bad? ›

Unfortunately, 740 is not a good SAT score. In reality, it's a weak score that will keep you from achieving your college admissions goals. Although you're still outperforming the majority of test takers, it's still not enough to get you into the top schools in the country.

What is a good SAT score for Ivy League? ›

Ideal SAT Score for Ivy League Colleges

A good average aim should be 75 percentile or an SAT score of 1580 (out of 1600). But the main goal should be to earn scores that exceed the majority of applicants.

Does Khan Academy actually help with the SAT? ›

Is the Khan Academy a Good Way to Study for the SAT? Yes! Khan Academy offers personalized and interactive tools and resources for SAT study and prep. The site gives students a tailored practice plan based on their practice scores or previous scores.

How long should I study for the SAT? ›

Studying for the SAT in a month is possible, though it's recommended that you spend 10 to 20 hours per week over the course of two or three months prepping for the SAT.

Why are SAT scores declining? ›

This decline has largely been attributed to a lack of overall preparation for the exams, with only 22% of students in 2022 who took the test meeting all four subject area benchmarks (math, reading, science, and English), while 42% met none according to the ACT.

Does it hurt to take the SAT more than once? ›

Does It Hurt You To Take the SAT Multiple Times? It does not hurt to take the SAT multiple times. Colleges cannot see how many times you have taken the SAT. However, writing the SAT is a stressful and time-consuming endeavor, so it's important to know how many times are right for you.

Is SAT reading or math harder? ›

Your skills in Reading and Writing are significantly stronger than your skills in Math.

Is the Khan Academy SAT harder than the actual SAT? ›

Are the practice full-length SAT's on Khan Academy like the real SAT in difficulty? All of the full practice tests on Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy are official tests released by the College Board and of the same difficulty as the SAT you will take.

Is SAT based on IQ? ›

Scores on the SAT do correlate with scores on IQ tests and other standardized tests of intelligence. This is unsurprising considering that the SAT was originally derived from an IQ test for army recruits.

How rare is a 1400 SAT? ›

A 1400 SAT score puts you at the 95th percentile, meaning you scored higher than 95% of all test takers.

How rare is a 1590 SAT score? ›

A 1590 SAT score puts you in the 99th percentile. This means you outperformed 99% of test takers. In other words, you're in the top 1%.

Has anyone ever aced the SAT? ›

These scores are then totaled to give you a composite score of 1600. A perfect SAT score is incredibly rare. According to the College Board's most recent total group report, just over 1.7 million students in the class of 2022 took the SAT. Of these, just 8% (131,397 students) scored between 1400 and 1600.

What is the average SAT score for Harvard? ›

SAT Requirements

Harvard University's SAT scores for admitted students range from 1480 - 1580, with an average score of 1530. Although SAT scores are optional, we recommend that students aim for a good SAT score of at least 1530 to be competitive in the admissions process at Harvard University.

What is the top 1% SAT score? ›

Understanding Your SAT Score
Composite Score (Out of 1600)Percentile Rank
23 more rows

Is 2400 a good SAT score? ›

A perfect score on the SAT is 2400; and for the ACT, it is 36. The national average score for the SAT is 1540 (combining the math, reading, and writing sections of the test).

How rare is a 1450 SAT? ›

A score of 1450 on the SAT is considered a very good score, placing the test-taker in the 97th percentile of all students who took the SAT. This means that out of the 2.13 million test-takers, only 61064 scored the same or higher than a score of 1450.

What part of SAT is easiest to improve? ›

If you're trying to boost your SAT Reading/Writing and Language score, the Writing and Language section is the easiest to tackle. With a few SAT Writing and Language strategies, you'll be on your way to a much higher score.

What is the most important section on the SAT? ›

Generally speaking, the SAT Reading, Writing, and Math sections are all of fairly equal importance. Most schools report SAT scores using the total score (a combination of the EBRW and Math scores), implying there is equal consideration of the Reading, Writing, and Math sections.

Which SAT math section is harder? ›

A Difficulty Level Overview. It's pretty easy to figure out the difficulty level of questions on the Math Test - sections here generally increase in difficulty as they go on. The first few questions are the easiest, and the last few are the hardest. Top tip: Know where the easier questions live and do them first!

Is a 1300 SAT difficult? ›

A 1300 on the SAT indicates good performance in all sections of the exam and places you around the 87th percentile of all test takers, meaning you scored higher than 87% of all test takers.


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