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Taking standardized tests

What do you think?

Before you get started, think about how you would answer the following questions.

  1. What has been your experience with standardized tests?
  2. What test-taking strategies do you use on tests?
  3. Can you get accommodations on the ACT and SAT?
  4. Do all colleges require ACT or SAT scores for admission?

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Tests are part of the process

Many four-year colleges and universities require standardized test scores as part of the admissions process. These scores are designed to supplement the information provided by your grade point average, high school transcripts, extracurricular activities, reference letters and personal essay. It is important to check the admissions requirements of universities, colleges and community colleges to determine what, if any, admissions tests are required. Keep in mind, many community colleges do not require the SAT or ACT for admission.

The most common admissions tests include the SAT Reasoning Test and the ACT test. Both tests are timed and average about four hours, including breaks. A fee is required to register for each test.

Sitting through the SAT

The SAT is designed to measure critical thinking, mathematical reasoning and writing skills that students need to complete college-level work. It consists of three major sections: critical reading, mathematics and writing. Each section has a potential of 800 points. The test consists of multiple-choice questions, a written essay and math questions.

The art of taking the ACT

The ACT test is a general education college entrance exam that is based on what is taught in high school. It covers four areas: English, math, science and reading. The test is given in a multiple-choice format, with a score of 1-36 possible for each area, and an overall composite score is given. The optional 30-minute writing test requires students to plan and write a short essay.

Which test is best for you?

It is important to talk with your teachers, guidance counselors and other students about which test may be best for you to take. Some students may feel more comfortable taking a test based on what they were taught in high school (ACT) vs. skills they will need in college (SAT). You can also try out some practice test questions as each standardized test comes with practice test questions on their Web sites. Guidance counselors can assist you in registering for the test. It is also recommended that you take the SAT or ACT in your junior year, so you have the option to retake the test if a higher score is desired.

Start preparing

In the fall of your junior year, you may take the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) which helps you to prepare for the SAT. By taking this practice test, you also have a chance to enter the National Merit Scholarship Corporation scholarship programs. The PLAN is a practice test to prepare students for the ACT, which can be taken by 10th-graders. For more information visit the ACT Web site.

These practice tests will give you feedback on your strengths and weaknesses on the skills necessary for college study. This information will help you target specific areas on which to focus, study or practice. You can also see how your scores compare with others applying for college and the type of questions and specific directions to expect on the tests.

If you typically do not do well on standardized test, consider taking a preparation class or workshop in your area to improve your test-taking skills. Check out the ACT and SAT Web sites for additional preparation materials as well.


Students with documented disabilities are eligible for accommodations for the SAT or ACT. Read the testing sites bulletin to find out the procedures to request accommodations. This process often takes at least six weeks or longer so make sure you request accommodations early.

Accommodations for eligible students may include (but are not limited to):

  • Extended time
  • Reader
  • Writer
  • Braille
  • Large print
  • Frequent breaks
  • Preferential seating
  • Private room
  • Alternate lighting
  • Multiple day

For a list of accommodations provided to eligible students on the SAT and ACT, check the following Web sites: