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Standardized Tests

Test Preparation | SAT | ACT | Preliminary Testing: PSAT ACT PLAN | International Baccalaureate | Advanced Placement

Standardized tests are commonly used by colleges and universities as an independent assessment of the critical thinking and knowledge a student has learned in high school. Test scores are among the many factors a college will look at to determine if a student is a good candidate for admission.

The two most common tests are the SAT and the ACT. Both of these tests are accepted by practically all colleges and universities, and colleges do not have a preference which you take or submit. Many students take both.

Because the SAT generally tests reasoning and logic and the ACT generally tests knowledge and comprehension, some students may perform better on one or the other. If you want to know more about the differences between the these tests, this New York Times article explains the difference.

The ideal time to take the SAT or ACT is the spring of your Junior year. This gives you the opportunity to prepare in the fall or previous summer.

You can choose between the ACT or SAT. Colleges do not have a preference between either test (except military academies). They are called “standardized” tests because all students who take the test are measured on the same scale, so they are a valuable tool in making comparisons. GPA can be more relative since two students with the same GPA may have taken classes of varying difficulty or teachers may have graded them differently.

Standardized tests should be taken very seriously. Study the tests you are going to take. Take practice tests. Don't go into the testing center having never looked at your test before. Prepare for the test, as other students will be preparing too.

Test preparation does not need to be expensive. Most libraries have free online preparation programs and books that you can check out. Make sure you use materials that are no more than 2 years old, as tests are sometimes revised.

Purchasing a book is a wise investment, as you can write notes and complete the included sample tests. Here are two reliable SAT and ACT study resources from the test writers.

When looking at SAT and ACT score ranges, remember that these are just guidelines. Students scores can be above or below the ranges and still be accepted, but they can give you an idea of how you are scoring relative to other applicants.


The ACT is made up of multiple parts: English, mathematics, reading, science, and an optional writing test. While the optional writing section is not required by all schools, we highly recommend taking it in the event that a school policy changes.

General information about the ACT


The SAT Reasoning Test is made up of three parts: critical reading, mathematics, and writing.

The tests typically begin at 8:00 a.m., so arrive at least by 7:45 a.m. to get registered and settled before the test begins. Total testing time is 3 hours and 45 minutes. Each section is timed separately, so you will be there the entire time.

General information about the SAT can be found at the College Board website.

More information:


Preliminary Testing


The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test helps to prepare you to take the SAT. It is also the test used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation to determine eligibility for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship awarded to high school seniors each year. To qualify for the National Merit Scholarship, you must take the SAT to confirm your score on the PSAT.

Your test results can also be submitted to the National Hispanic Recognition Program, the National Scholarship Service and The Telluride Association for additional scholarship opportunities. Here's more information on scholarships.

The PSAT also includes access to “My Road” an online tool help you identify potential careers, areas of strength and to connect you with online tools for career and college decision making.

Students take the PSAT in October of their junior year. Some schools give the option of taking the PSAT in your freshman or sophomore years. This is a good way to take a practice test under timed conditions that will not impact future tests.

For more information visit the PSAT website.


ACT has a 10th grade education and career planning process program called PLAN that includes a test to measure academic progress like SAT, helps students explore career and training options, and offers guidance for post-high school planning, including scholarship guidance based on the student's interests.


ACT's 8th/9th grade education and career planning program helps
middle and junior high students transition to high school.
EXPLORE includes a test to measure academic progress in English,
math, reading, and science, helps students explore career and
training options, and offers guidance for post-high school

International Baccalaureate

Your high school may offer International Baccalaureate (IB) courses. These courses prepare you to take IB exams based on those courses. Students must complete a two-year curriculum to qualify to take the exams. Many colleges will give you course credit for qualifying IB test scores. For more information visit the International Baccalaureate website.

Advanced Placement

Your high school may offer Advanced Placement (AP) preparation courses. These courses prepare you to take the AP exams. Many colleges will give you course credit for qualifying AP test scores. You do not need to be enrolled in an AP course in order to take an AP test. For more information regarding the AP exams and the subject areas available, visit the College Board website.

Funded in part by a grant from
the Ben B. Cheney Foundation
published by Independent Colleges of Washington