Standardized Tests

Students in American schools are increasingly facing high-stakes standardized testing in an effort to improve educational outcomes. While some may debate the merit of an educational environment with an increased emphasis on tests, there is no denying that these tests have come to play a greater role in the college admissions process. In other words, for college admissions, standardized tests are important. Upon entering high school, students will be required to take several standardized tests and given the option to take many more in order to showcase their academic achievement to colleges and universities. The following provides information on four of the most common standardized tests that high school students will take in preparation for the college admissions process.


The SAT is a three hour (three hours and fifty minutes with the essay) standardized college admissions test. The SAT has a maximum score of 1600 points with an average of ~1080 points.

Taking the SAT is the first step in finding the right college. Your SAT score is only one of many factors that colleges consider when making an admission decision. High school grades are also very important. In fact, the combination of high school grades and SAT scores is the best predictor of your academic success in college. The admissions process also recognizes other factors, like extracurricular activities and personal recommendations.

Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school, and almost all colleges and universities use the SAT as part of their admissions process. The SAT does not test logic or abstract reasoning. It tests the skills you are learning in school: reading, writing and math.

  • The reading section includes reading passages and multiple-choice comprehension questions.
  • The writing and language section includes multiple-choice questions on identifying errors and improving grammar and usage.
  • The mathematics section includes questions on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, data analysis, and trigonometry.
  • The essay section (optional) includes one analytical essay examining how an author uses evidence, reasoning, and stylistic and persuasive elements in a given passage.

The best way to get ready for the SAT is to take challenging courses, study hard, and read and write inside and outside of the classroom. It is good for you to become familiar and comfortable with the test format and type of questions you will encounter. One of the best ways to practice for the SAT is to take the PSAT/NMSQT, which covers the same subjects under timed conditions. Doing a test prep course, either a classroom course or an online course with specialists that know what type of questions you will encounter and the best methods of increasing your score can also be a great resource.

Every college and university uses a different combination of criteria for admission. Feel free to contact them to get information on specific admission policies.

SAT Subject Test

SAT Subject Tests are hour-long, content-based tests that allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas where you excel.

SAT Subject Tests allow you to differentiate yourself in the college admission process or send a strong message regarding your readiness to study specific majors or programs in college. In conjunction with your other admission credentials (your high school record, SAT scores, teacher recommendations, etc.), they provide a more complete picture of your academic background and interests.

Some colleges require or recommend that you take SAT Subject Tests. In addition, you can enhance your application, demonstrate knowledge you have gained outside the classroom, and potentially place out of introductory courses.

There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science.


The ACT is quite similar to the SAT, but consists of four sections: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning . The ACT maximum score is 36; the average score is 20 points. Most colleges will accept either the ACT or the SAT, with some exceptions. The sections are broken down as follows:

  • 75-question English section (45 minutes)
  • 60-question Math section (60 minutes)
  • 40-question Reading Comprehension section (35 minutes)
  • 40-question Science section (35 minutes)

The ACT is more widely used in the Midwestern and Southern United States, while the SAT is more popular on the East and West coasts, although recently the ACT has been gaining more use on the East Coast. Use of the ACT by colleges has risen as a result of various criticisms of the effectiveness and fairness of the SAT.


The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a program cosponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). It’s a standardized test that provides firsthand practice for the SAT. It also gives you a chance to enter NMSC scholarship programs and gain access to college and career planning tools.

The PSAT/NMSQT measures:

  • Critical reading skills
  • Math problem-solving skills
  • Writing skills

You have developed these skills over many years, both in and out of school. This test does not require you to recall specific facts from your classes.

The most common reasons for taking the PSAT/NMSQT are to:

  • Receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for college study. You can then focus your preparation on those areas that could most benefit from additional study or practice.
  • See how your performance on an admissions test might compare with that of others applying to college.
  • Enter the competition for scholarships from NMSC (grade 11), principally the National Merit Scholarship.
  • Help prepare for the SAT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.
  • Receive information from colleges when you check “yes” to Student Search Service.

Sources: and


    1. Eventually, yes! It might be a little ways down the line, though. We love hearing about the kinds of videos and posts that you want us to make. The more requests we get like yours, the faster we’ll come up with new stuff. So if you have a bunch of friends who also want AP test videos, we would love to hear from them. In the meantime, if you have any specific questions about AP tests, you can submit them through Ask Test Masters and we’ll answer them on this blog. Please let us know what we can do to help!

    1. Louisa,

      Strictly speaking, no university will have an official preference for one exam over the other. However, keep in mind that in addition to taking the SAT or ACT, you will also have to take and submit SAT Subject Test scores as well. Some universities will waive their requirements for specific SAT Subject Tests is you take and submit both the SAT and the ACT, so there is a benefit to taking both tests rather than one or the other. Additionally, although it won’t be required to apply, you should really consider taking the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests; generally speaking, these schools are looking for students who exceed, not just meet, their application requirements.

      Hope this helps!

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