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SAT / ACT Testing


Colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT. So which one should you take?

It’s all about the numbers. Some students end up scoring substantially higher on the SAT; others do better on the ACT.

Key Differences:


  • The ACT is more of a “big picture” exam.
  • ACT questions tend to be straightforward.
  • The ACT Writing Test is is an optional section at the end of the exam.
  • The ACT tests more advanced math concepts (including trigonometry).
  • The ACT has a Science section, while the SAT does not.


  • The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary.
  • The SAT essay is a required section at the beginning of the exam.
  • The SAT is broken up into more, shorter, sections than the ACT.

For more information on the differences between the SAT and ACT, see the Princeton Review Website »

SAT/ACT Optional 4-Year Universities

Several schools, including some with big names, are making standardized tests optional for admission. These schools do not require either the SAT or ACT, and don’t necessarily consider standardized test scores to be good representations of a student’s ability. These schools will still accept test scores, especially good ones. For a list of test-optional schools, visit the link below.

Test-Optional Colleges & Universities »


The SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of the critical thinking skills you’ll need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well you analyze and solve problems. The SAT is typically taken by high school juniors and seniors.

The SAT includes Critical Reading, Math, and Writing sections. Each section of the SAT is scored on a scale of 200-800, with two writing subscores for multiple-choice questions and the essay. The SAT is administered seven times a year in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and six times a year overseas.

Test Order

The 25-minute essay will always be the first section of the SAT, and the 10-minute multiple-choice writing section will always be the final section. The remaining six 25-minute sections can appear in any order, as can the two 20-minute sections. Test takers sitting next to each other in the same testing session may have test books with entirely different sections.

For online sample questions and preparation materials, visit the SAT Preparation Center »

The Unscored Section

Each session of the SAT includes one 25-minute unscored section, known as the variable or equating section. This unscored section may be a Critical reading, Math, or Writing multiple-choice section. This unscored section does not count toward the final score, but is used to try out new questions for future editions of the SAT and to ensure that scores on new editions of the SAT are comparable to scores on earlier editions of the test.

SAT Subject Tests

Subject Tests (formerly SAT II: Subject Tests) are designed to measure your knowledge and skills in particular subject areas, as well as your ability to apply that knowledge.

Students take the Subject Tests to demonstrate to colleges their mastery of specific subjects such as English, history, mathematics, science, or language. The tests are independent of any particular textbook or method of instruction. The tests’ content evolves to reflect current trends in high school curricula, but the types of questions change little from year to year.

Many colleges use the Subject Tests for admission, for course placement, and to advise students about course selection. Used in combination with other background information (your high school record, scores from other tests such as the SAT Reasoning Test, teacher recommendations, etc.), they provide a dependable measure of your academic achievement and are a good predictor of future performance.

Some colleges specify the Subject Tests they require for admission or placement; others allow applicants to choose which tests to take.

Subject Tests fall into six general subject areas:



History and Social Studies

  • U.S. History (formerly American History and Social Studies)
  • World History


  • Mathematics Level 1 (formerly Mathematics IC)
  • Mathematics Level 2 (formerly Mathematics IIC)


  • Biology E/M
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


  • Chinese with Listening
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Italian
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening
  • Latin
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening

All Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple-choice tests. However, some of these tests have unique formats:

The Subject Test in Biology E/M contains a common core of 60 general-knowledge multiple-choice questions, followed by 20 multiple-choice questions that emphasize either Ecological (Biology E) or Molecular (Biology M) subject matter. After completing the core questions, test takers choose the section for which they feel most prepared.

The Subject Tests in Mathematics (Level 1 and Level 2) have some questions that require the use of at least a scientific or graphing calculator. Mathematics Subject Tests are developed with the expectation that most students will use a graphing calculator. There are no plans to discontinue or change the content of the Subject Tests in Mathematics Level 1 or Mathematics Level 2.

The Subject Tests in Languages with Listening (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish) consist of a listening section and a reading section. Students taking these tests are required to bring an acceptable CD player with earphones to the test center.

SAT Subject Test General Info:

  • If you are taking only one or two Subject Tests, you may leave the test center after your final test is finished.
  • You may work on only one test during each testing hour. You will get a short break at the end of each hour of testing time.
  • You can take up to three Subject Tests on one test date.
  • You can change your mind on test day about which Subject Test(s) you want to take. You may substitute a Subject Test (other than a listening test), or add Subject Tests (other than a listening test) on test day.
  • For more information, visit the SAT Subject Test Information Center »

Which Subject Tests should you take?

Before deciding which tests to take, make a list of the colleges you’re considering. Then review school catalogs, College Search Engines , or College Handbooks to find out whether the schools require scores for admission and, if so, how many tests and in which subjects.

Use your list of colleges and their admission requirements to help plan your high school course schedule. You may want to adjust your schedule in light of colleges’ requirements. For example, a college may require a score from a Subject Test in a language for admission, or the college might exempt you from a freshman course requirement if you do well on a language Subject Test.

Many colleges that don’t require Subject Test scores will still review them since they can give a fuller picture of your academic background.

If you’re not sure which Subject Test to take from a subject area, talk to your teacher or school counselor or visit the SAT Subject Test Preparation Center »

When should you take Subject Tests?

Most students take Subject Tests toward the end of their junior year or at the beginning of their senior year.

Take tests such as World History, Biology E/M, Chemistry, or Physics as soon as possible after completing the course in the subject, while the material is still fresh in your mind. For foreign language tests, you’ll do better after at least two years of study.

Copyright © 2006 collegeboard.com, Inc.

Preparing for the SAT

Tips to help you do your best!

  • Be well-rested and ready to go. Get a good night’s sleep the night before the test.
  • Eat breakfast. You’ll be at the test center for several hours and you’re likely to get hungry.
  • Bring acceptable Photo ID and your SAT Admission Ticket.
  • Bring two No. 2 pencils and a good eraser – a pencil is required for the multiple choice questions and the essay. Mechanical pencils are not allowed. Pens are not allowed.
  • Bring a calculator with fresh batteries.
  • Bring snacks. You will get a short break at the end of each hour of testing time. You can eat or drink any snacks you have brought with you during these breaks. A healthy snack will go a long way toward keeping you alert during the entire test.
  • Plan to arrive at the test center by 7:45 a.m. Testing starts at about 8:00 a.m.
  • Make sure you use a No. 2 pencil on the answer sheet. It is very important that you fill in the entire circle darkly and completely. If you change your response, erase it as completely as possible. It is very important that you follow these instructions when filling out your answer sheet.

Preparation Resources and Programs:

Revolution Prep SAT & ACT test preparation classes, tutoring, and online courses: Revolution Prep offers some of the best and most innovative test preparation coursework and tutoring available. Whether you are looking for a group course, private tutoring, or an online course, Revolution Prep has an offering that will fit your needs. To learn more about this program, visit Revolution Prep’s Website »

Tutor Source Private Tutoring – Find an affordable private tutor online at TutorSource.com. TutorSource has local tutors for all grade levels and most academic subjects.

Registering, Calendar, and Fees

Register for the SAT online »

For more information, visit the Complete Guide to the SAT Calendar and Fees »

Standby Testing

If you miss the late registration deadline, there’s still a chance you can take the SAT as a standby. Test centers accept standbys on a first-come, first-serve basis only if they have enough space, testing materials, and staff, so there is no guarantee that you’ll be admitted to the test. Read more about Standby Testing »

If You’re Absent

If you are absent on test day and you wish to test on another date, call Customer Service at (609) 771-7600 (TTY: 609 882-4118 ). If you do not wish to test on another date, your test and registration fees (including fees for services such as telephone re-registration) are nonrefundable. No reports will be sent.

The fee is $20 to change your test, test date, or test center.

When you call, be ready to tell the customer service representative your registration number and test date, your social security number, and the credit card number and expiration date. If you do not want to change your test date and would like to request a refund for any additional score reports, Question-and-Answer Service, and Student Answer Service, call Customer Service at (609) 771-7600.

Copyright © 2006 collegeboard.com, Inc.


What is the ACT and why is it important?

Most colleges require students to take a standardized exam as part of the admissions process. While there are many similarities, as a curriculum-based test, the ACT test is more straightforward than the SAT, and you can take the ACT several times and choose which score to submit.

The weight placed on ACT scores varies from school to school. Other important factors that schools consider in their admissions decisions are your high school GPA, academic transcript, letters of recommendation, interviews, and personal essays.

The ACT is offered nationally every year in October, December, February, April, and June. It is also given in September in select cities.

For more information about the ACT, visit the ACT Website »

What does the ACT test?

The ACT has four tests: English, Reading, Math, and Science, as well as an optional 30-minute essay. Some schools may require the essay, so be sure to ask before you take the test.


  • 75 multiple-choice questions
  • 45 minutes
  • Tests usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills


  • 40 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes
  • Passages include prose fiction, social studies, humanities, and natural sciences


  • 60 multiple–choice questions
  • 60 minutes
  • Emphasis on geometry, with some algebra and trigonometry


  • 40 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes
  • Questions on science-based passages


  • 1 optional essay
  • 30 minutes

How is the ACT scored?

You will earn one ACT score (1 to 36) on each test (English, Math, Reading, and Science), and a composite ACT score, which is an average of these 4 scores. Usually, when people ask about your score, they are referring to your composite ACT score. The composite score falls between 1 and 36. The national average is about 21.

If, for example, you scored 31 on the English, 30 on the Math, 29 on the Reading, and 30 on the Science Test, your composite ACT score would be 30.

You will receive subscores in English, Math, and Reading that range from 1 to 18. These scores provide you with more detail about your performance, but they are not actually used by colleges or universities.

The ACT includes an optional essay, known as the Writing Test. If you take the Writing Test, you will receive a Writing Test subscore and a Combined English/Writing score. Read more about the ACT Writing Test Scores and Guidelines »

When should I take the ACT?

Students have traditionally taken the ACT in the spring of their junior year and, if necessary, again in the fall of their senior year. However, more and more students are choosing to take their first ACT as early as the fall of their junior year. This gives them more flexibility to retake the ACT test one or more times, or to take the SAT or SAT Subject Tests.

How do I register?

Registration deadlines fall approximately five weeks before each test date. Click here to register online »

Copyright © 2012 The Princeton Review, INC

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