Which Admission Tests Do I Need to Take?
There are a couple of different standardized college admission tests. The word standardized means that the test measures the same thing in the same way for everyone who takes it. The results of these tests help colleges determine how well prepared you are for college-level work.
Some colleges ask applicants to take a specific test.
The SAT and the ACT
Most four-year colleges require that students submit SAT or ACT scores. Here’s how each of these tests is structured:
- The SAT has three major sections: math, reading and writing (which includes a written essay).
- The ACT has four major sections: English, math, reading and science (and an optional essay section).
SAT Subject Tests
Subject Tests are hour-long, content-based tests that allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas.
There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, math and science.
Some colleges require or recommend that you take SAT Subject Tests. Even if a college does not recommend Subject Tests, you can use them to enhance your application and demonstrate knowledge you’ve gained outside the classroom.
Some colleges also use Subject Tests to place students into the appropriate courses. If you perform well on the tests, you may fulfill basic requirements or get credit for — and possibly place out of — introductory-level courses.
When to Take the Tests
These facts may help with your planning:
- Most students take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the spring of junior year.
- Students who choose to take the SAT or ACT a second time typically do so in the fall of senior year.
- SAT Subject Tests are best taken directly following relevant courses, while the material from class is still fresh in your mind. But you can take them at any time during high school.
Keep in mind that while many students take tests more than once, there’s no evidence that taking a test more than twice significantly improves students’ scores. The best thing you can do is take time to prepare and get familiar with the test format before you take the test.
Reasons to Take the Test
Taking a college admission test can do more than help you get into college. Learn about the benefits of admission tests.
More About the ACT
The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, mathematics, reading, and science. The ACT with writing includes the four subject area tests plus a 40-minute writing test.
ACT results are accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the US.
The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete, including a short break (or just over four hours if you are taking the ACT with writing). Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes if you are taking the ACT with writing).
The ACT is administered on six test dates within the US, US territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada. In other locations, the ACT is administered on five test dates.
The basic registration fee includes score reports for up to four college choices, if you list valid codes when you register.
Why take the ACT?
The ACT is accepted by all 4-year colleges and universities in the United States.
The ACT multiple-choice tests are based on what you’re learning.
The ACT is not an aptitude or an IQ test. The test questions on the ACT are directly related to what you have learned in your high school courses in English, mathematics, reading, and science. Every day you attend class you are preparing for the ACT. The harder you work in school, the more prepared you will be for the test.
There are many ways to prepare for the ACT.
Taking challenging courses in high school is the best way to prepare, but ACT also offers a number of test preparation options including free online practice tests, testing tips for each subject area tested, and the free student booklet Preparing for the ACT. This booklet includes complete practice tests (with a sample writing prompt and example essays). ACT Online Prep™, the only online test preparation program developed by ACT, is another tool to help you be ready for test day.
The ACT helps you plan for your future.
In addition to the tests, the ACT also provides you with a unique Interest Inventory and a Student Profile Section. By responding to these sections, which ask about your interests, courses, and educational preferences, you provide a profile of your work in high school and your career choices to colleges.
The ACT helps colleges find you.
By taking the ACT, you make yourself visible to colleges and scholarship agencies, so it’s another way to help you get ready for life after high school.
Your ACT score is based only on what you know.
The ACT is the only national college admission test based on the number of correct answers—you are not penalized for guessing.
You choose which scores you send to colleges.
When you register for the ACT, you can choose up to four colleges to which ACT will send your scores as part of the basic fee for your test option. If you take the testmore than once, you choose which test date results the colleges will receive. ACT sends scores only for the test date you select.
Optional Writing Test.
Because not all colleges require a writing test for admission, ACT offers you the choice of whether or not you want to spend the extra time and money taking the writing test. Writing is an important skill for college and work, but schools use different methods to measure your writing skills. Find out what colleges have told us about their policies here.
Why choose the ACT?
Acceptance: The ACT is accepted by all US colleges and universities.
Test format: The ACT is and always has been a curriculum-based achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. Students frequently tell us that they feel more comfortable taking the ACT since it is directly related to what they learn in most of their high school courses. The current SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.
More than an admissions exam: In addition to being a college admissions exam, the ACT includes a profile and education/career planning section to help you plan for life after high school. You will receive personalized career information and develop a comprehensive profile that tells colleges about your work in high school and future plans. You can also see your strengths and weaknesses in the subject areas tested to help direct your future education.
The personalized career planning information provided from the ACT Interest Inventory helps students evaluate their interests in various career options. The information, in combination with the interactive ACT World-of-Work Map, helps students make connections between the work world and the activities they like to do.
Stable and trusted: ACT continues to offer its well-established and stable assessment, plus an optional writing test. ACT has made incremental improvements to enhance the ACT test, always keeping in mind the people we serve. We know the ACT has significant impact on people’s lives, so we work hard to avoid unnecessary risks that might come with large-scale changes.
Deeper understanding of readiness: In addition to the 1–36 scoring scale that colleges know and trust, ACT also provides college and career readiness indicators designed to show student achievement and preparedness in areas important to success after high school.
- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Score – Represents a student’s overall performance on the science and math portions of the assessment. The ACT is the only national college admission exam to measure science skills (www.act.org/stemcondition/13/). This new STEM score helps students connect their strengths to career and study paths that they might not otherwise have considered, especially when used with their results from the ACT Interest Inventory. Click here to learn more about the ACT Interest Inventory
- English Language Arts (ELA) Score – Combines achievement on the English, reading, and writing portions of the ACT for those who take all three sections, enabling students to see how their performance compares with others who have been identified as college ready. A student must take the optional Writing Test to receive this score. Learn more about the writing test.
- Progress Toward Career Readiness Indicator – Provides an indicator of future performance on the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate™ (ACT NCRC®), an assessment-based credential that certifies foundational work skills important for job success across industries and occupations.
- Text Complexity Progress Indicator – Helps students understand if they are making sufficient progress toward understanding the complex texts they will encounter in college and during their careers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who can take the ACT?
When should I test?
Pick a test date that is at least two months ahead of the application deadlines of all the colleges and scholarship agencies you might want to apply to. Scores for the ACT are normally reported within 2–8 weeks after the test date. If you take the ACT with writing, scores will be reported only after all of your scores are available, including writing, normally within 5–8 weeks after the test date.
Advantages to testing in your junior year:
- You’ve probably completed the coursework corresponding to the test material.
- You’ll have your test scores and other information in time to help you plan your senior year. (For example, you may decide to take an additional class in an area in which your test score was low.)
- Colleges will know of your interests and have your scores in time to contact you during the summer before your senior year, when many of them are sending information about admissions, course placement, scholarships, and special programs to prospective students.
- You’ll have information about yourself and the schools you’re considering prior to your campus visits, making your visits more focused.
- You’ll have the opportunity to retest if you feel your scores don’t accurately reflect your abilities in the areas tested.
Can I change my test date or test center on test day?
No. To be considered for admission to the test center, you must bring a printed copy of your ticket. The correct test center and test date must be listed on your ticket. If you bring a ticket for another test date or a different test center, you will not be admitted. You must also bring acceptable photo identification.
The only change you can make on the day of the test is your test option—ACT or ACT with writing. Tell the test supervisor at your test center that you want to make this change before you are admitted to test. If there are materials, space, and staff available for your new preferred test option after students registered for that option have been admitted, you will be allowed to make the change. If you change to the ACT with writing, ACT will bill you. See current ACT fees.
Can my parent/guardian receive copies of important email reminders and information from ACT?
The student emails the parent receives will be identified as a copy and for parent information only. The student must log in to the account to take any action requested in the email. Note that these emails may contain sensitive information about the student and the student’s ACT record. Only a trusted parent or guardian should be registered to receive these emails.
Once the parent email has been entered, the parent will have 14 days to confirm that the parent wants to receive these emails. If that confirmation is not submitted within that time, the parent will not receive any student email copies. The student will also be notified that the parent has or has not confirmed.
The parent may stop receiving student email copies at any time by asking the student to delete the information from the Parent Email section of the student account. The parent will receive an email notification if the student deletes or changes the parent information in the account.
The parent can expect to receive emails regarding the student’s ACT information from any of the following email addresses:
To avoid losing messages to spam filters, these should be added to the parent’s address book.