College Entrance Exams: SAT, ACT, Subjects Tests … and More

If you are planning to apply to college, you will most likely need to take at least one college entrance exam. SAT and ACT scores are a key metric at many colleges. Not only do high scores improve your chances of acceptance, they can also lead to tens of thousands of dollars in scholarship money. Those who tell you that the SAT and ACT are about the same and that you can’t prep for either are misguided. Practice and learned test-taking skills can and will improve your scores. The ACT and SAT are different tests and you may score significantly higher on one than on the other.

SAT & ACT Overview: What’s the Difference?

The SAT and ACT are two very different college entrance exams. Both are nationally administered and are used to help colleges evaluate applicants. The SAT is essentially a three-part aptitude test (Reading, Math, Writing) while the ACT is more of an achievement test with four core sections (English, Math, Reading, Science) and an optional Writing section. Many colleges will accept either or both exams. Some colleges require one (typically the SAT). Our comparison chart will help you understand structure and content of the SAT and ACT.

SAT and/or ACT: Which Is Best For Me?

Since most colleges today accept both the SAT and ACT (and contend they don’t have a preference), and it’s not unusual for a student to score in a significantly higher percentile on one test vs. the other, many students ask: “Which test should I take?” The InLikeMe section “Which is Best For Me” compares and contrasts the two tests.

When Should I Take the SAT and/or ACT?

You will most likely take or have taken the PSAT and/or PLAN in the fall of your junior or sophomore year. When you receive your scores would be a good time to start planning for the SAT and/or ACT. When should you take the SAT or the ACT? Winter or spring of junior year is a good time to take the first test — as soon as you feel ready to do well. Some juniors take the SAT for the first time in March, and the ACT in April. Some start earlier or later. There is no fixed date. However, keep in mind that you may wish to study more and retake the exam, so factor that into your planning. Check out the 2010-2013 SAT & ACT Calendar to see when the tests are given along with the registrations deadlines.

What are the SAT Subject Tests (SAT II)?  Should I Take Them?

The SAT Subject Tests (formerly SAT II) are one-hour exams that measure your knowledge and skills in particular subject areas, and your ability to apply that knowledge. The best time to take the SAT Subject tests is when you complete the highest level course in the subject you plan to take. However, keep in mind that only a small number of colleges and universities actually require SAT Subject exams. Some colleges specify which tests are required for admission or placement; others allow applicants to decide. Some colleges will accept the ACT instead. After you’ve decided which exams you will take, plan ahead. If you take certain AP classes as a freshman or sophomore, consider speaking with your counselor about taking the test at the completion of the course while the material is still fresh in your head. Check out the list of SAT Subject Tests and the 2010-2013 Testing Calendar for more information.

How Do I Prepare for the SAT and ACT?

Your PSAT (and/or PLAN) score report contains useful information about specific sections on the SAT (and/or ACT) where you should focus extra attention while preparing for the SAT or ACT. Many students take formal SAT prep classes or private tutoring, although motivated students can often accomplish just as much with diligent self study. The College Board (SAT) and the ACT have compiled sample exams in their study guides that are an excellent resource for any entrance exam preparation effort. Find out more about The Official SAT Study Guide, The Real ACT Prep Guide, My College QuickStart and other programs and resources to prepare for the SAT and ACT.

How Much Can I Raise My Scores?

Those who say you can’t prep for the SAT and ACT are wrong. Empirical evidence proves that scores can jump significantly – several hundred points on the SAT is not unheard of — with effective preparation. In fact, each new word you learn that appears on the SAT can improve your score 5-10 points.

Should I Take a Test Prep Course?

SAT and ACT scores are one of the most important components of your applications package. There are a myriad of programs and resources to help you improve your standardized test scores ranging from free (mostly online) to expensive personal tutoring. Depending on your needs, goals, timetable, budget and level of motivation, there are good options for you.

Are There Any “Can’t Miss” Ways to Boost Your Scores?

Yes. Here are five can’t miss FREE on-line programs to improve your scores. Since building your vocabulary and reading comprehension skills is a cumulative process, it is recommended that you get started as early as possible.

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