College Entrance Standardized Exams
One of the key criteria most colleges use for admissions decisions is the applicant’s score on a standardized entrance exam.
By the time you’re done with high school, you’ll be happy if you never see any more standardized exams — from state-mandated assessment exams to college entrance exams — your eyes are probably still blurry from taking them all!
All your hard work does come down to a test score — and for most colleges, your entrance exam score is one of the top criteria used to decide your admission fate.
In terms of college admission exams, students basically have two choices: the SAT or the ACT.
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) — one of two widely accepted college entrance exams, the SAT is a test of developed language skills and mathematical reasoning abilities, designed to assess general thinking and problem-solving abilities. (This test was formerly called SAT I.) There are also the SAT Subject Tests, covering your abilities in one of five specific subject areas (math, science, foreign language, and history/social studies).
ACT (American College Testing) — one of two widely accepted college entrance exams, the ACT assesses high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work in English, math, reading, and science. An optional writing test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.
Want to see a side-by-side comparison between the two tests? The Princeton Review does a nice job: SAT vs. ACT: How do the Tests Compare?
Your Goal? You certainly want to do your best to score as high as you possibly can on whichever test you take. Most colleges’ admissions information provides a range where most incoming students fall — and your goal should certainly be in that range — or higher. You can sometimes compensate for lower test scores with higher grades, class ranking, essay, and amazing recommendations.
One further note: Check all the colleges you plan to apply to and see if they list a preference for which test they want applicants to take.
Finally, perhaps the most important thing to remember about whichever test you decide to take — go online or buy a book or CD and take a few practice tests to get familiar with how questions and answers are presented. If you are really concerned about performing well, you could also consider taking a test-prep course.
Need help with any of the terms described on this page? If so, find the answers in our High School College-Bound and College Planning Glossary.
Return to the main page of the College Planning Tutorial.
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