Which test should I take?
Check the schools that interest you. If they have no preference, consider taking both the ACT and SAT to see which shows the higher score.
The formats are different, so you may find yourself more comfortable with one over the other and do better. See which works better for you.
When do I take the test?
You should take the PSAT (preliminary SAT) or the PLAN (pre-ACT) to practice for the real exams. You should take these tests your sophomore year or early in your junior year. This test is often offered directly through your high school. Check with your counselor for dates.
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.
What do the scores mean?
Your test scores are important but they’re just one part of your admissions. Your high school transcript is most important, including your grades, the classes you took and the extracurricular activities you were involved in.
Check with your schools of interest to see what the typical scores are for students they accept.
The SAT has three sections: math, critical reading and writing. Each of the three sections 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.
The ACT has four sections: English, math, reading and science, and an optional writing section. (Check with the colleges to see if they want you take the writing section.) The ACT is scored out of 36. The average score is 20 or 21. A low score is considered to be 15 or below.
How do colleges count the scores?
If you have taken the SAT or ACT more than once, colleges generally account only the highest score for each section.
For example, say you took the SAT twice and there are your scores:
- Math 520
- Critical Reading 535
- Writing 540
- Total 1595
- Math 550
- Critical Reading 520
- Writing 530
- Total 1600
What if I scored 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.
How do I study for them?
The sooner you start preparing for the tests, the more prepared you will be when you take them.
There are many ways to prepare for the ACT or SAT, including books and study guides free online, practice tests and registration for emailed questions of the day.
Many high schools offer prep classes. Check with your counselor.
SAT and ACT prep courses are 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 considering choosing study aides.
FREE Prep for the SATs:
To start, visit http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/. You can register for a daily test question, review sample practice questions in math, reading, writing and SAT Subject Tests, or take a free practice test.
There are SAT study guides that can be purchased online or at your local bookstore. Before you buy any study guides, check with your school counselor, school library and local library to see if they have any copies you can borrow.
FREE prep for the ACT:
To start, visit http://www.actstudent.org/testprep/index.html. You can try some practice test questions, review the ACT question of the day and download or print a free student preparation booklet.
Do I have to pay for the SAT and ACT?
Yes, there is a registration fee. You can pay by credit card, check or money order. You will not get your money back if you don’t take the tests for whatever reason.
You may be eligible to receive a waiver that would allow you take the tests for free. If you feel you can’t afford the test fee, contact your high school counselor. You can review Guidelines for Student and Families here.
How do I register?
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 guidance 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.com/register/how-to-register (SAT) or http://www.actstudent.org/regist/index.html (ACT).
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 the SAT or ACT, take both preliminary tests (PSAT and PLAN) your sophomore year or early in your junior year. Get the feeling for both tests.
Math, writing and critical reading
Science, Math, English and reading
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 http://sat.collegeboard.com/register/for-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/aap/disab/.