SAT vs A Levels: Which of the Two Exams Is Hardest?

SATs (Standardised Aptitude Tests) and A-Levels (GCE Advanced Levels) are two completely different sets of qualifying exams taken in numerous parts of the world.

Even though they might seem the same, there’s quite a lot of difference between them that is not immediately obvious.

The Basics of SAT

SAT is a standardized entrance exam used by most higher education institutions like colleges and universities in the USA. It is a pencil-and-paper test with two, three, if you are also writing the essay portion sections.

The sections are Mathematics, Evidence-based reading, and writing, and optionally an essay section. Both sections are worth 800 marks each for a total of 1600 maximum score.

The essay section is marked separately from the rest of the test. The test itself is 3 hours long, with an additional 50 minutes for the essay section.

The Basics of A-Levels

Advanced Qualifications Level or A-levels are subject-based qualifications that students in the UK take as part of their General Certificate of Education (GCE) and as a school leaving certificate.

They are completed over the last two years of school, known as 6th form college.

Most reputed universities and institutions of higher education recognize A-levels as suitable qualifications.

There are around 55 different subjects that can be studied as part of the A-levels, and each student is free to choose the subjects that interest them depending upon what would be most beneficial for their future studies.

Typically, students choose 3 A-level courses depending on their interests and what subjects their prospective higher education institution would consider.

The written exams taken at the end of the course are the main method of assessment.

Six grades range from A* to E. There is some amount of coursework apart from the written exams that make up the final grade.


The SAT’s difficulty is not easily comparable to A-levels since the former is a standardized entrance test.

The latter is a course of advanced subject qualifications.

SAT papers’ level of difficulty is usually much lower than that of an A-level because A-levels are judging two years of cumulative studies on various subjects depending on the courses taken.

The best equivalent would not be SAT to A-levels but AP (Advanced Placement) classes in the USA instead.

A-levels also have the added difficulty of students needing to pass the whole exam as it is impossible to re-sit single modules.


A-levels benefit students by letting them choose exactly the subjects they will need for their higher education purposes.

It removes and eliminates the added stress of subjects they will not need or pursue in their higher education.

It also helps students who perform well on written exams.

SAT, on the other hand, helps colleges understand the level of each student that takes it. SAT scores are considered with their high school GPA and other factors to paint a complete picture.

Final Words

A-levels and SATs are two very different and unique set of examinations that serve different purposes and are conducted in varied manners.

A-levels show mastery over subjects that are learned over 2 years, while SAT shows general competence stemming from the high-school entirety.

In the end, both serve to help students show their worth to higher education institutions.

Read: Is AP Capstone Worth It?

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