Preparing for College: Standardized Testing

The SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and ACT are standardized tests used for college admissions. Make sure to check the requirements of colleges you are interested in early on, so you can prepare accordingly. Generally speaking, colleges will require one of the following:

  • SAT
  • ACT
  • SAT and two SAT Subject Tests
  • ACT + Writing

Overview of Standardized Test Options



SAT Subject Tests


Testing Agency

College Board

College Board


Test Type

Focused on the knowledge, skills, and understandings necessary  for college and career readiness and success.

Content-based tests in specific subject areas -- students choose which subjects to test in.

Curriculum- and standards-based test that assesses students’ academic readiness for college.


3 hours (plus 50 min for optional essay)

1 hour each

3.5 hours (plus 40 min for optional writing section)


Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, Math, and Essay (optional)

20 different subject areas

English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (recommended, but optional)


Each section scored out of 800; essay results reported separately

Scored out of 800

Each section scored out of 36; essay results reported separately


You can take one SAT test per date | SAT test dates

You can take up to three SAT Subject Tests per date | SAT test dates

You can take one ACT test per date | ACT test dates

Study Resources

SAT practice test
Khan Academy

SAT Subject practice tests

ACT practice test

Fee Waivers

SAT fee waivers

SAT fee waivers

ACT fee waivers


Should I take the SAT or the ACT?

To decide which test(s) to take, answer these following questions:

  1. Which test is better suited for you? Take practice tests to see if you perform better on the SAT or ACT.
  2. What are the test requirements of the colleges you are interested in? Pay close attention, some schools require specific SAT Subject Tests (in addition to the SAT), or the ACT with Writing.
  3. When are the upcoming test dates? Will you be able to take all required tests in time for the National College Match? (See below for more information.)

Strategizing Test Dates

Having strong test scores available by the end of your junior year will make you a more competitive applicant. The timeline below will keep you on track to have the test scores you need, on time.

Winter - Spring of Junior year: take the SAT and/or ACT at least once. Remember to take the ACT+Writing, if it is available. 

May -- June: Take any SAT Subject Tests you need to (ideally in subjects you just completed during your junior year). Remember that some schools will require tests in certain subjects.

August -- October: Take the SAT and/or ACT again if you want to improve your scores. The first test date for the ACT is in September, while the first SAT date is in August. The October SAT will be too late to be considered when QuestBridge selects Finalists for the College Match, but can be sent directly to the colleges.

November - January: Retake any tests you want to improve your scores on to prepare for Regular Decision. Note that some schools will not accept January test scores.

Keep in mind: 

  • Test dates for the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests are available between August - June.
  • Not all tests are available every month, so plan ahead. 
  • Many colleges will consider your highest score in each section rather than in one sitting.
  • While you are not penalized for taking the exam multiple times, 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 testing agency.)