Know Your Tests: College Entrance Exams

Find out what to take and how to prepare.

The Fastweb Team

August 03, 2016

Know Your Tests: College Entrance Exams

As you prepare for college, you’ll encounter at least one (and probably more than one) of the following college entrance exams:

  • PSAT/NMSQT: Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Assessment Test
  • SAT Reasoning Test
  • ACT
  • SAT Subject Tests (formerly the SAT II)
  • Admissions requirements vary from school to school. Consult your prospective school when deciding which test to take. Learn more about each of the tests here:

    Test: PSAT/NMSQT

    Description: The test is split up into three different sections. You’ll have 60 minutes to answer 47 reading questions, 35 minutes to answer 44 writing questions/tasks and 70 minutes on 48 math questions. Like the new SAT, you will not penalized for wrong answers — or for guessing, essentially. 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.

    Usually Taken: During your junior year, though you may wish to take it sooner for practice.

    Tips and Strategies: 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 scores from the junior year are used to determine qualification for National Merit Program. For more information visit: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/psat/about.htm

    Test: SAT Reasoning Test

    Description: Scale ranging from 200 to 800 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing; 200 to 800 for Math; 2 to 8 on each of three dimensions for essay. Essay results reported separately. The test is split up into three different sections. You’ll have 65 minutes to answer 52 reading questions, 35 minutes to answer 44 writing questions/tasks, 80 minutes on 58 math questions and 50 minutes for the essay.

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

    Tips and Strategies: It used to be that the SAT carries a “wrong answer penalty.” If you guessed right, you gained a point; if you guessed wrong, you were penalized. Now, you can guess without risking your SAT score. 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 tests you have taken previously. The SAT does not allow students to send only their latest and/or best scores. For more information visit: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/about/SATI.html

    Test: ACT

    Description: Three-hour exam; 215 questions; measures achievement in English, math, reading and science. The ACT Plus includes an optional 40-minute writing test. Scores on each section are averaged to create a composite score. Perfect score is 36. Students in the Midwest and South generally take the ACT.

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

    Tips and Strategies: Your score is based on the number of correct answers ONLY. If you aren’t 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 till the end. For more information visit: http://www.actstudent.org


    Test: SAT Subject Tests

    Description: 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.

    Usually Taken: Soon after you have finished the relevant course work (can be as early as freshman or sophomore year, depending on the school’s curriculum and the student’s progress).


    Tips and Strategies: Entrance requirements vary from college to college. Consult your guidance counselor or college admissions representative to determine which tests you should take. For more information visit: http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/about/SATII.html

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