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A college entrance exam is a standardized aptitude test. Aptitude tests measure your collective knowledge on various skill 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 to prepare for these exams. However, taking practice exams is an additional way to study for these types of tests, 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 your school will determine which standardize test(s) you need to take. Below is a list of tests colleges most commonly used to assess prospective students.


PSAT/NMSQT

What is it?

Two 25-minute critical reading sections; two 25-minute math sections; one 30-minute writing skills section. Not used to determine college admissions; intended to help students prepare for the SAT. Same format as the SAT, but shorter - a test of verbal and mathematical reasoning. Scores range is between 20 and 80, with 80 being a perfect score. The average score for high school juniors is 49.

When should I take it?

During you junior year, though you may wish to take it sooner for practice.

How do I prepare?

If you do well on the PSAT (and meet additional academic requirements), you may qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program (a nationally distributed merit-based scholarship). Only the scores from the junior year are used to determine qualification for the National Merit Program.


SAT Reasoning Test

What is it?

Comprised of a 70-minute critical reading section, a 70-minute math section and a 60-minute writing section. Scoring on each section ranges from 200-800 points. Scores on the essay range from 1-6 points. Students in the East and West generally take the SAT.

When should I take it?

Spring of your junior year or fall of your senior year (or both, if you want a practice run).

How do I prepare?

The SAT carries a "wrong answer penalty" If you guess right, you gain a point; if you guess wrong, you are penalized. Eliminate the answers that you know are wrong before guessing. You can retake the test to improve your score, but your college will send all available scores to your prospective college, including the results of the tests you have taken previously. The SAT does not allow students to send only their latest and/or best scores.


ACT

What is it?

Three-hour exam; 215 questions; measures achievement in English, Math, Reading and Science. The ACT plus includes a 30-minute writing test. Scores on each section are averaged together to create a composite score. A perfect score is 36. Students in the Midwest and South generally take the ACT.

When should I take it?

Spring of your junior year or fall of your senior year (or both if you want a practice run).

How do I prepare?

Your score is based on the number of correct answers ONLY. If you are not sure, take a guess - it can't hurt you and it could help. Harder questions are worth the same amount as easy ones. Answer the easy questions first and leave the more time-consuming questions until the end.


SAT Subject Tests

What is it?

One-hour test that assesses mastery of a particular field of study, Up to three tests can be required for admissions. Some schools use the SAT II for course placement; others don't require it at all. Tests are offered in five subject areas: English, Math, History, Science and Foreign Language. Scores are based on an 800-point scale.

When should I take it?

Soon after you have finished relevant course work (can be as early as freshman or sophomore year depending on the schools curriculum and the student's progress).

How do I prepare?

Entrance requirements vary from college to college. Consult your guidance counselor or college admissions representative to determine which tests you should take.