College Entrance Exams SAT and ACT

college entrance

Most colleges require scores from either the SAT or ACT as part of their admissions process. Learn about the different tests and how to prepare for them.

 

And some more competive colleges may or require or recommend submission of SAT Subject Tests scores.

Check the colleges that interest you to see what, if any, tests are required or recommended.

If a test is required or desirable, you may want to consider taking both the ACT and SAT to see which results in the higher score. The formats are different, so you may find yourself more comfortable with one and do better.

Check with your colleges of interest to see what the typical range of scores are for students they accept.

Practice Tests: PSAT and PreACT

To prepare for the SAT, take the PSAT (Preliminary SAT).  To prepare for the ACT, take the PreACT to practice for the real exams. Sometimes high schools arrange for their students to take these tests in their sophomore year.  Check with your counselor.

Even if you take a practice test earlier, you should always take the PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit QualifyingTest) in the fall of your junior year. The scores on this test are used to determine National Merit Scholars.  This test is often offered directly through your high school. Check with your counselor for dates.

Taking the SAT/ACT

The SAT and ACT are offered several times a year. You can take the tests more than once. Take them the first time early in your junior year. This gives you time to take them again and try to improve your test scores.

Check out SAT test dates.

Check out ACT test dates.

About the SAT

The SAT is made up of three sections and an optional essay:

  • Reading
  • Writing and Language
  • Math (consists of two subsections: no calculator and calculator
  • Essay (optional but some schools require or recommend it)

Each section is scored out of 800, or a total of 2400.

The national average is 1500, or about 500 on each section. A low score is considered to be 1100 or below.

For more information about the SAT and PSAT, visit CollegeBoard.org.

About the ACT

The ACT has four sections:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Writing (optional – check with the colleges to see if this is needed)

SAT total scores range from 400-1600. The total score is the sum of the section scores, including 200-800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 200-800 for Math. The optional essay is scored separately. You’ll receive three scores for each dimension (reading, analysis and writing) ranging from 2-8.

The national average SAT score is between 1050-1060. An impressive score is considered at or above 1340. A low score is considered at or below 910.

For more information about the ACT or PLAN, visit CollegeBoard.org.

About the SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests are hour-long tests that allow you to demonstrate your knowledge in specific areas where you excel.

There are 20 tests on individual subjects including literature, history, mathematics, science and languages.

If your score is high enough, you may earn college credit or advanced placement.

SAT Subject Test scores are reported on a scale of 200-800. Languages tests with listening include subscores on a scale of 20-80.

Average scores differ depending on the subject test but many colleges are happy with scores of 650 or above.

For more information about the SAT Subject Tests, visit CollegeBoard.org.

 

SAT and ACT FAQ

Should I take the SAT or ACT?
Check with the colleges you want to apply to and see if they have a preference.

If your college will accept either, take both tests.  If possible, take both preliminary tests (PSAT and PLAN) your sophomore year or early in your junior year, as this will provide you with valuable test-taking experience.

SATACT
  • Reading
  • Writing and Language
  • Math
  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
What scores are counted if I take the SAT or ACT more than once?
Most colleges consider your best score. Some colleges only want you to send your best scores, and some colleges want all your scores. Check with your college to see what their policy is.

Some colleges use superscoring which means they consider your highest section scores across multiple test dates. For example, let’s say you took your SAT twice and these are your scores:

MonthScores

October:

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing 530

Math 640

Total 1170

January:

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing 570

Math 620

Writing 530

Total 1190

With superscoring, when you submit your scores colleges will count your math score from October and your evidence-based reading and writing score from January for a total score of 1210.

What if I score low?
You can take the tests more than once to try to improve your scores. Keep in mind that colleges will just look at the highest score in each section.

Should I take SAT Subject Tests?

Some colleges recommend or require one or more SAT Subject Tests as part of the application and use your scores to place you into the right courses, so always check with the colleges you’re interested in first.

SAT Subject Tests give you the opportunity to highlight your strengths in subject areas where you excel.

How do I study for the tests?
Many high schools offer prep classes or use of study guides – check with your counselor.

Many study guides are available. Before buying, check with your school counselor, school library and local library to see if they have copies you can borrow.

CollegeBoard.com and ACTstudent.org offer free online study guides, practice tests and registration for emailed questions of the day.  More extensive study options may be purchased on the sites.

Prep courses are also available through private prep companies, including Sylvan Learning, Princeton Review and Kaplan Test Prep, but these charge a fee. Explore the free study help offered by the test administrators before purchasing study aids.

Do I have to pay for these tests?
Yes, there is a registration fee for each test. You can pay by credit card, check or money order. You will not get your money back if for whatever reason, you don’t take the tests.

You may be eligible to receive a waiver that would allow you take the tests for free. If you can’t afford the test fee, contact your high school counselor.

How do I register?
The easiest and fastest way is online:
• SAT –  http://sat.collegeboard.org/register
• ACT –  http://www.actstudent.org

You can also register by mail. You must register by mail if you are paying by check or money order. To register by mail, ask your counselor for the SAT Paper Registration Guide or ACT registration packet.

For help filling out the registration forms, or if you have questions or special circumstances, go to http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/special-circumstances (SAT) or  http://www.actstudent.org/regist/index.html (ACT).

Is there extra help if I have special needs?
You may be eligible to have adjustments made to your test setting if you have a documented disability. This may mean wheelchair accessibility, seating where you can hear best or lip-read, a printed copy of spoken directions or access to a snack due to a medical condition.

Ask your counselor to work with you in completing a Student Eligibility Form before you register for the SAT.  For more information, visit  https://www.collegeboard.org/students-with-disabilities.

You can also request special accommodations to be made while taking the ACT. Ask your high school counselor or visit  http://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/accommodations.html.

What about special circumstances?

Accommodation for special circumstances for SAT testing, such as Sunday testing for religious reasons, taking the test under the age of 13 or over the age of 21, and taking the test closer to home if you live more than 75 miles from the nearest test center, may be available.

Learn more at CollegeBoard.com.