College Admissions Testing

While a small number of colleges have gone test-optional, the vast majority of colleges still require applicants to take the SAT or the ACT test. While most colleges indicate that GPA, class rank, and rigor of schedule are the most important admissions factors, test scores are also key components in the admissions process for most schools. Along with several other admissions criteria, high test scores and excellent grades will greatly increase the number of colleges into which a student will be accepted.

Here is a breakdown of the various tests:


Offered by the College Board, this is the most common college admission test taken by seniors in this region of the country.  SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” then was changed to “Scholastic Assessment Test.” Now, it is simply the “SAT.”  (The SAT Subject Tests are a different entity. See below.) The latest version of the SAT primarily assesses the type of English and math skills that are typically thought to be essential for success in college.

The SAT is about three hours long, and consists of two parts: Evidence-Based Reading/Writing and Mathematics. There is also an optional Essay section, which is an additional 50 minutes long. The SAT may be taken as many times as a student desires. However, we rarely see great improvement after the third administration, unless it is preceded by intense preparation over a period of time.

Our recommendation is that the SAT be taken initially at the end of junior year, preferably in May.  The June administration is also an option, but usually falls on the weekend just before or just after our final exams, when test fatigue may prevent a student’s best performance. 

When taken during the junior year, the student has the summer available to work on weak areas. The SAT can then be taken a second or even a third time during the fall and early winter of senior year.

SAT Subject Tests

These are College Board exams that measure proficiency in a number of different subject areas. One or more of these tests may be required by a college as part of the admissions process, or they may be required by specific academic departments within a particular college. For example, College X may not generally require SAT Subject tests for admission, but the engineering department at that school might require one of the math subject tests for those who want to enter that major.

Like the SAT, SAT Subject Tests are also offered by the College Board, and one registers for them in a similar manner.

The SAT Subject tests need only be taken by students applying to schools or majors that require them. They are taken in addition to the SAT test.

In order to register for these tests, follow links for ”SAT” on  the College Board website –



ACT stands for American College Testing, the company that offers the test of the same name. It is an alternate college admissions test that students may take.

In this part of the country, the ACT is a less popular test than the SAT. Consequently, there are fewer test centers that offer it locally, but they are plentiful enough to find one that is convenient.  The universities we’re familiar with accept it and consider it to be equivalent to the SAT.   Students should check the college’s website to make sure that it is an acceptable option. 

Nationally, the two tests are roughly equivalent in the number of tests they administer to students.  The ACT and SAT are also equivalent in length. The ACT includes sections covering English, reading, math, and science. There is also a writing section, which is optional.

Which of these tests should a student take? We recommend taking each one time during the second semester of junior year. Students should then evaluate their scores on each and decide which of the tests most accurately targets their personal academic strengths. Concentrate on maximizing performance on that particular exam over the summer, and then retake it once or twice in the fall.


Be aware that students may take both tests and report only the one(s) with the better results. Please also keep in mind that colleges and universities will look at best scores when a student takes the same test – ACT or SAT -- multiple times. This is called “super-scoring” and it is a common practice.