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Taking the SAT/ACT



The SAT and the ACT are standardized tests used for college admissions.

The SAT assesses college readiness by testing critical reading, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills. The SAT lasts three hours and 45 minutes (for actual testing time), and includes these three sections:

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•    Critical Reading: tests a student’s vocabulary, understanding of sentence structure and organization, and ability to answer questions based on a reading passage.
•    Math (or quantitative): tests knowledge of geometry, functions, probability, algebra, statistics, and data analysis. Now allows usage of a graphing calculator.
•    Writing: includes multiple-choice questions and a short essay, where students respond to a given prompt.

Each section is scored out of a possible 800, with a total possible score of 2400. The SAT Reasoning Test is offered by the College Board. On each test date, you can take either the SAT or up to three SAT Subject Tests.

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The ACT is a college admissions test that lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes (for actual testing time), plus an additional 30 minutes if you are taking ACT plus Writing. All the sections are multiple choice with the exception of the Writing Test.

The ACT tests these subject areas: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science.

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•    The English section tests punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and consists of five prose passages with accompanying questions.
•    The Math section tests various levels of algebra, geometry, and some trigonometry, and permits use of a calculator.
•    The Reading section tests reading comprehension.
•    The Science section covers background knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics and earth/space sciences.
•    The Writing test (only available with the ACT plus Writing test) consists of one writing prompt, where the student is asked to present a point of view on an issue.

Each section is scored out of a possible 36; the score report also includes a composite score out of 36. The ACT is administered by The ACT.

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Should I take the SAT or the ACT?

Selecting which exam to take depends on what colleges require for college admissions, and which test is better suited for you.  Most colleges accept either the SAT or the ACT, so it may simply be a matter of preference. Traditionally, students in the Midwestern U.S. took the ACT, while students elsewhere took the SAT, but these lines are now blurred and students are increasingly taking either one or both of these tests. Admissions officers insist that they will consider either test equally in their admissions process.

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Not sure what colleges require? Take a look at the test requirements of QuestBridge partner colleges to get an idea. Please note that most of these schools will require either the SAT or the ACT with Writing.

In general, the ACT is considered more curriculum-based (what is learned in school), while the SAT is aimed at general reasoning and problem solving. Also, the SAT deducts for wrong answers (no random guessing!), while ACT scores are based on number of correct answers only.

To figure out which test is better suited for you, take practice tests and see how you do. You might think you are at a great disadvantage if you can’t afford an expensive prep course, but with hard work and discipline, you can study on your own with practice books at your local library or school. And the more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel on test day.

SAT practice test | ACT practice test




Strategizing Test Dates

Various test dates for the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests are available throughout the school year, between September and June. However, not all tests are available every month, so planning ahead will ease your stress as you approach your senior year and the college admissions process. Bookmark these websites for planning and registering for standardized tests:

SAT test dates | SAT fee waivers

ACT test dates | ACT fee waivers

While you are not penalized for taking the exam multiple times — colleges will generally consider your highest score in each section rather than in one sitting — it probably doesn’t help you to take each test more than 3 times.

Registration is usually at least one month in advance. If you register on time, qualifying students can obtain a fee waiver with help from your counselor. (There is a maximum of 2 waivers per exam.)

For Seniors:

If you are planning on applying to the National College Match, please review the standardized testing page.

The first test date for the ACT is in September, while the first SAT date is in October. Additional dates are available during the rest of the fall. Plan to take an exam during the fall as these scores will be considered for at least your regular decision process, and possibly for early admission.

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If you have not yet taken any SAT subject tests, you may need to schedule these for one of the fall dates.

Keep in mind that if you are planning to apply early action or early decision, most schools can only accept up to your October test score. November and December scores are too late for consideration with most early application programs, including the QuestBridge National College Match.

For Juniors and younger:

In your junior year, you should plan on taking the ACT or SAT at least once by the spring. You should also plan to take SAT Subject Tests in May or June, ideally in subjects you just completed during your junior year.  You should plan to take at least two Subject tests, and some schools will require certain tests for certain programs.

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Also, in looking forward- if you decide to apply early to any colleges (like through the QuestBridge National College Match program), having strong test scores available by the end of your junior year will make you a more competitive applicant.

Scheduling Your SAT Subject Tests:

The SAT subject tests require additional planning, as some subject tests are offered only at specific times throughout the year.

For specific course-related exams, such as United States History or Biology, we recommend you take the SAT subject tests near the end of your academic year, typically in May or June, as you will then be able to use knowledge gained throughout your year in class towards the exam. Plus, you won't want to worry about taking these exams in the fall of your senior year, when you are also applying to college. You may also wish to reserve those test dates for re-taking the SAT or ACT if you need to improve your score.


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