College Admissions Exams
A college entrance exam is a standardized aptitude test that measures your aptitude in various areas such as verbal, math, analytical and writing skills. These tests are not designed to measure what you have learned in school; rather, they measure your potential to perform well in the future.
Your high school courses will help you prepare for these exams. However, taking practice exams is an additional way to study, as they will help you become familiar with the types of questions asked, the format of the questions and the timing necessary to finish each section.
The college you are applying to and where you stand in school will determine which standardized test you need to take. Below is a list of tests colleges most commonly use to assess prospective students:
PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test)
The PSAT is a test taken by sophomores or juniors in high school looking to gain test-taking experience in preparation for the ACT and SAT. The PSAT serves as great practice and taking it qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship, which could eventually help you save on college.
Because the PSAT is only a practice test, the score you receive on it does not affect your transcript. In fact, your PSAT score is for your betterment; your score can identify areas where you need to apply more study time, which may help you prepare for the ACT and SAT more efficiently.
PSAT (official site)
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)
The SAT is a standardized aptitude test that measures a student's readiness for college. It is made up of three sections: reading, writing and language, math and an optional essay. Questions are generally multiple choice, and the essay involves analyzing a piece of writing.
Each section is scored on a scale from 200–800, with a total possible score of 1,600. Optional essay results are reported separately. Be sure to find out if your colleges of choice require SAT essay scores before you take the test. The SAT is offered seven times throughout the year, and you are given three hours to complete it (the optional essay takes an additional 50 minutes).
SAT (official site)
SAT Subject Tests
Formerly known as the SAT II, SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge in particular subject areas, as well as your ability to apply that knowledge. Administered separately from the SAT, they are usually only required by extremely selective schools. Of those selective schools, most recommend prospective students take two of the five Subject Tests available: English, History, Mathematics, Science and Languages.
The tests are constantly updated to stay current with educational trends, but they are always multiple-choice exams about one hour in duration. Many colleges use the Subject Tests for admission, for course placement and to advise students about course selection.
SAT Subject Tests (official site)
ACT (American College Test)
The ACT is another standardized aptitude test designed to measure a student's readiness for college. Like the SAT, the ACT measures a student's potential to perform well in college. Test questions are based on standard high school subjects.
The test is multiple choice and consists of four subject areas: English, mathematics, reading and science. There is also an optional writing section, which if chosen, complements the ACT English test. Some colleges require the writing test; others don't. You should decide whether or not to take the writing test based on the requirements of the schools you plan on applying to.
Each section is scored on a scale of 1–36, and your final score is an average of all four subject areas. (If you take the writing test, you receive a subject-level writing score and an ELA score, which averages the English, reading and writing scores.) The ACT is offered six to seven times a year, and the actual test time is just under three hours (not including the 30-minute writing section).
ACT (official site)