College Entrance Exams

PSAT, SAT & ACT Exams

PSAT

What is the PSAT?

The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), which is cosponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation, has several purposes.  It provides preparation for the SAT; is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program, which is open to all high school students who meet entry requirements, and the National Achievement Scholarship Program, in which only black American students participate; offers insight, through comprehensive reports, into students’ readiness for college; helps identify students for Advanced Placement Program (AP) courses; and provides college and career planning tools. When students take the PSAT/NMSQT, they are asked if they would like certain information sent to colleges, universities and scholarship programs that request it from the College Board. This is the function of the Student Search Service.

When is the test given?

The PSAT/NMSQT is a school-based test and it is given once a year.  The basic schedule formula is that the test is administered the third Saturday and the preceding Wednesday in October. Total testing time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, plus approximately 45 minutes for test-related activities

When should students take the test?

Students take the test in October of their junior year to prepare for the SAT and to enter the National Merit Scholarship Program and the National Achievement Scholarship Program

In recent years, the number of students taking the PSAT/NMSQT in ninth and 10th grades has increased significantly (more than half of all students taking the test now are below 11th grade).  If your student does take the test in 9th or 10th they must take it again in the junior year to participate in possible scholarship and recognition programs.

The PSAT/NMSQT Score Report Plus provides comprehensive information to help students identify academic skills that need improvement while there is still time to make a difference. Students receive score reports and other tools to encourage them to learn from this assessment.

How do I prepare for the PSAT?

To prepare for the SAT and planning for college, PSAT/NMSQT participants can go to www.collegeboard.org/quickstart to access My College QuickStart™, a free personalized planning kit based on their test results. With access until they graduate high school, students are able to take the next steps toward college with these features:

  • An online PSAT/NMSQT Score Report, including projected SAT score ranges, state percentiles, and the power to sort answer explanations by difficulty and question type.
  • A customized SAT study plan.
  • Personalized lists of colleges, majors, and careers.
  • Access to MyRoad™ — the College Board’s online major, college, and career exploration program.

Many different tools to support students’ use of My College QuickStart are available for free at collegeboard.org/psatdownloads.

Taking the complete practice test found in the Official Student Guide to the PSAT/NMSQT (available at Class Days and at the office) will familiarize students with the test expectations and question types.

How is the test used by colleges?

Colleges do not receive or use PSAT/NMSQT scores for admission decisions.

Test format

The PSAT/NMSQT includes five sections: One 60-minute critical reading section, Two  mathematics sections comprising of 70 minutes, and One 35-minute writing skills section .

The test mirrors the SAT with some differences. Since the SAT now includes topics from third-year college-preparatory math, which most people know as Algebra II, the math content level of the PSAT/NMSQT has been raised, although not to the same degree. It is not reasonable to test juniors and sophomores on subject matter they have not yet taken. 

The SAT includes an essay, but the PSAT/NMSQT does not. Here’s why: More than 3.5 million students take the test, and not enough readers are available to grade this number of essays with sufficient speed to allow timely delivery of score reports to students and schools. Also, the additional time it would take on test day for students to write an essay (80 percent of schools test on the Wednesday test date) could seriously disrupt instructional schedules in the secondary schools. And finally, the cost of scoring an essay would significantly increase the cost of this currently inexpensive test.

Scoring

Each section is scored on a 20-80 scale. The scores are a good indicator of how a student will perform on the SAT. (Though students could add a zero to arrive at an approximation of an SAT score, the projected SAT score range is reported on their online PSAT/NMSQT report.)

Preparation

Rigorous course work is the best preparation for the PSAT/NMSQT.

How the PSAT/NMSQT is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) uses the PSAT/NMSQT as an initial screen of more than 1.5 million entrants in each year's National Merit Scholarship Program, an academic competition for recognition and scholarships. To designate the approximately 50,000 entrants who receive program recognition, NMSC uses the Selection Index, which is the sum of scores from the test's critical reading, math, and writing skills sections. About 16,000 entrants are named Semifinalists on a state representational basis. NMSC determines an allocation of Semifinalists for each of the 50 states based on its percentage of the national total of high school graduating seniors. The Selection Index scores of all program entrants in a state are arranged in descending order, and entrants who have a Selection Index score at or above the level that fills the state's allocation become semifinalists. This method ensures that academically able students from all parts of the nation are included in the semifinalist talent pool. Although qualifying scores vary from state to state and from year to year, the scores of all semifinalists are extremely high. In addition, some 34,000 entrants are named Commended Students on the basis of a Selection Index score that is nationally applied and also may vary from year to year. This score is usually within the 96th percentile of college-bound juniors who take the PSAT/NMSQT but below the level required for participants to be named semifinalists in their states. For additional information, see the Guide to the National Merit Scholarship Program, which NMSC sends to high schools each fall, or visit NMSC's website at www.nationalmerit.org.

SAT

What is the SAT

The SAT, made by the College Board, is a measure of the critical thinking skills students need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well students analyze and solve problems — skills learned in school that are needed in college. The SAT is typically taken by high school juniors and seniors. Virtually all four-year colleges in the United States accept the SAT for admission purposes, and many use it for placement, scholarships, and merit aid. Homeschooled students need to take the SAT/ACT or GED if they are planning on applying for a CAlGrant.

How colleges use the SAT

The majority of four-year colleges require an admission test such as the SAT for admission purposes, and use the test to reach "an overall judgment about admissibility" for incoming freshmen (Trends in College Admissions, 2000). The SAT is one factor in the admission decision. Because course and grading standards vary widely from school to school, scores on the SAT, along with other criteria like high school GPAs, help colleges predict a student's ability to succeed in college. Many colleges use the SAT for placement, scholarships, and merit aid as well.

Colleges have the option of accessing images of the essays from the writing section of the test. Those that choose to view the essays can use them in the admission process, for placement or for both. Students need to check with each college to find out how it will use the essay.

Format and scoring

The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. The essay is the first part of the test. The critical-reading section measures a student's ability to identify genre, relationships among parts of a text, cause and effect, rhetorical devices and comparative arguments. Questions assess such reading skills as identifying main and supporting ideas, determining the meaning of words, understanding authors' purposes and understanding the structure and function of sentences. Reading passages are taken from different fields, including natural sciences, humanities, social sciences, and literary fiction.

The mathematics section measures a student's mastery of mathematical concepts and reasoning skills. It includes topics typically covered in three years of college-preparatory math, such as exponential growth, absolute value, functional notation, linear functions, manipulations with exponents, and properties of tangent lines. Students are asked to apply concepts they have learned to solve unfamiliar problems in flexible ways, often with real-world applications.

The writing section measures a student's mastery of developing and expressing ideas effectively. The essay, which is always the first question on the SAT, measures a student's skill in developing and expressing a point of view on an issue. The multiple-choice section assesses the ability to use language in a clear, consistent manner and to improve a piece of writing through revision and editing. Students are asked to recognize sentence errors, to choose the best version of a piece of writing, and to improve paragraphs.

My SAT Online Score Report

My SAT Online Score Report is available free to every student who takes the SAT, whether they registered online or by mail. My SAT Online Score Report helps students to:

· Understand specifics about how the test is structured and scored.

· Get detailed insights into how they performed on each section of the test, including responses by question type and difficulty.

· See how their scores compare to those of other test-takers.

· Work to improve their scores on a future test through targeted preparation.

· View a printable copy of their actual essay response and see sample essays that received various scores.

· Search for the right colleges, majors and careers based on their scores.

SAT Skills Insight™

Students can link from their online score report to a skills map that identifies the type of skills that are tested on the SAT so students can improve those skills. The report includes skill descriptions, suggestions for improvement by score band and sample questions for many of the skill descriptions.

Who should take the test and when it is given?

The SAT is administered seven times during the year in the United States (six times a year internationally). We recommend that students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year and again in the fall of their senior year if they are not satisfied with their spring scores.

Taking the test early in the spring of the junior year enables the student and the counselor to see the results while conversations about college are going on. It also means that the student has the information while researching and visiting colleges over the summer. Research shows that students receive little benefit from repeating the SAT multiple times. Students receive, on average, a 40-point increase in their scores across all three sections of the SAT when they take it a second time. Score increases are lower on subsequent retests.

Practice

Students can find lots of free and affordable practice at sat.collegeboard.org to help themselves feel confident on test day, such as practice questions, tips for tracking each section, even a full length practice test. Students can also find:

· The Official SAT Question of the Day™ — a question and its answer (with explanation) are posted daily, from one of the three sections of the SAT. Students can also sign up to receive The Official SAT Question of the Day by email or get the app.

· The Official SAT Online Course™ — an interactive course with 18 lessons covering all SAT sections and the PSAT/NMSQT.

· The Official SAT Study Guide™— The 2nd edition has 10 official practice tests. There is also a version with a DVD containing additional practice

Test Day Tips

Snack policy: Students are encouraged to bring snacks to the test to be eaten during breaks. Snacks must remain in the students' book bags or backpacks under their desks during the test.

Marking answer sheets: The following guidelines are published in SAT test and practice materials and are given to all test-takers:

· Use a No. 2 pencil and a soft eraser. Do not use a pen or mechanical pencil.

· Make sure you fill in the entire circle darkly and completely.

· If you change your response, erase as completely as possible.

SAT Subject Tests™

SAT Subject Tests are the only national admission tests that measure students' knowledge and skills in particular subject areas, and their ability to apply that knowledge. They are closely linked to the high school curriculum and have a proven track record of providing colleges with a highly reliable, objective assessment of student readiness for college-level work. The SAT Subject Tests give students an additional opportunity to distinguish themselves and showcase their skills in a particular subject area, even if not required by a college. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests covering 16 core subjects in five areas: English, history, mathematics, the sciences, and languages. Like the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests apply one standard to all students taking the test in a given subject, regardless of variations in preparation, and, combined with other factors, are a good predictor of achievement in a subject and of future success in college.

Format

The tests are one-hour, primarily multiple-choice, curriculum-based assessments of knowledge and skills in particular subject areas. A list of colleges that require or recommend SAT Subject Tests appears in The College Board College Handbook.

The exams offered in each area are as follows:

· English: Literature

· History: U.S. History, World History

· Mathematics: Mathematics Level 1, Mathematics Level 2

· Sciences: Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics

· Languages:

— Reading Only: French, German, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Spanish

— Reading and Listening: Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Spanish (all offered in November only)

Students may take up to three SAT Subject Tests on the same date, but they may not take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day. It is important to check the dates on which each SAT Subject Test is given because not all are administered on all seven annual testing dates. This information, as well as a description of each test and sample questions, can be found in the SAT Subject Tests Preparation Booklet or at www.collegeboard.org/subjecttests.

When should students take the SAT Subject Tests?

Students should take SAT Subject Tests as near as possible to the completion of their studies in a given discipline at the high school level. Thus, a ninth- or 10th-grade student who is taking biology and does not expect to take a more advanced biology course in high school may want to take the SAT Subject Test in Biology in May or June of that year. Likewise, a student taking Spanish III in 11th grade who does not plan to take Spanish IV as a senior can take the SAT Subject Test in Spanish in May or June of the junior year. Some colleges require and others recommend that you take the SAT Subject Tests. For that reason, taking a few SAT Subject Tests in grades 9 to 11 is a good strategy.

Practice

Students can go to sat.collegeboard.org for practice questions and test-taking approaches. Among the options there: Sample questions for each SAT subject test. The Official Study Guide for All SAT Subject Tests: This book has 20 SAT Subject Tests, plus an audio CD for the six language tests.

How to apply for special accomodations for the SAT

ACT

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The ACT Plus Writing includes the four subject area tests plus a 30-minute writing section. ACT results are accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the US.The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete, including a short break (or just over four hours if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing). Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing).

The ACT is administered on six test dates within the US, US territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada. In other locations, the ACT is administered on five test dates. The basic registration fee includes score reports for up to four college choices, if you list valid codes when you register.

What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.

The ACT has up to 5 components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 components: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.

The College Board introduced a new version of the SAT in 2005, with a mandatory writing test. ACT continues to offer its well-established test, plus an optional writing test. You take the ACT Writing Test only if required or requested by the college(s) you're applying to.

The SAT penalizes you for wrong answers, so guessing is discouraged. The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing.

The ACT has an Interest Inventory that allows students to evaluate their interests in various career options.

When should I test?

Pick a test date that is at least two months ahead of the application deadlines of all the colleges and scholarship agencies you might want to apply to. Scores for the ACT (No Writing) are normally reported within 2–8 weeks after the test date. If you take the ACT Plus Writing, scores will be reported only after all of your scores are available, including Writing, normally within 5–8 weeks after the test date.

Advantages to testing in your junior year:

You've probably completed the coursework corresponding to the test material.You'll have your test scores and other information in time to help you plan your senior year. (For example, you may decide to take an additional class in an area in which your test score was low.)Colleges will know of your interests and have your scores in time to contact you during the summer before your senior year, when many of them are sending information about admissions, course placement, scholarships, and special programs to prospective students.You'll have information about yourself and the schools you're considering prior to your campus visits, making your visits more focused.You'll have the opportunity to retest if you feel your scores don't accurately reflect your abilities in the areas tested.

Should I test again?

Many students test twice, once as a junior and again as a senior. You should definitely consider retesting if you had any problems during testing, such as misunderstanding the directions, or feeling ill. You may also want to consider retesting if you don't believe that your scores accurately represent your abilities, especially if you see a discrepancy between your ACT scores and your high school grades, or if you have subsequently completed coursework in the areas covered by the ACT. If you test more than once, you determine which set of scores are sent to colleges or scholarship programs. ACT reports scores from only one test date per report.

How will you do on a retest?

Research shows that of students from the 2013 graduating class who took the ACT more than once:

57% increased their Composite score on the retest21% had no change in their Composite score on the retest22% decreased their Composite score on the retest

For students with an initial ACT Composite score between 13 and 29, the typical ACT Composite score from the second testing is about 1 point higher (see Table below).

The lower your initial ACT Composite score, the more likely your second score will be higher than the first score.The higher your initial ACT Composite score, the more likely your second score will be the same as or lower than the first score.

How many questions are there and how long will the test take?

English: 75 questions – 45 minutes Mathematics: 60 questions – 60 minutes Reading: 40 questions – 35 minutes Science: 40 questions – 35 minutes Total: 215 questions Writing: 1 prompt – 30 minutes

Testing begins after all examinees present by 8:00 a.m. are checked in and seated. A short break is scheduled after the first two tests. For students taking the ACT Plus Writing, a brief break is also scheduled before the Writing Test. Students taking the ACT (No Writing) in standard time rooms are normally dismissed at about 12:15 p.m.; students taking the ACT Plus Writing are normally dismissed at about 1:00 p.m.

On some test dates, ACT tries out questions to develop future versions of the tests. You may be asked to take a fifth test, the results of which will not be reflected in your reported scores. The fifth test could be multiple-choice or one for which you will create your own answers. Please try your best on these questions, because your participation can help shape the future of the ACT. If you are in a test room where the fifth test is administered, you will be dismissed at about 12:35 p.m.

I haven't received my scores yet. How long does it take?

You can view your scores online as soon as they are available through your student Web account. Most multiple-choice scores from National and International testing, including the Composite score, are posted within 2 weeks after each test date. Writing scores are normally added about 2 weeks after your multiple-choice scores. You will receive notification when you log in to your account if your Writing scores have been added.

If you tested through State and District Testing as of spring 2008 or if you tested through Special, Arranged, Project, or DANTES testing as of mid-September 2008, you can also view your scores online after you receive your score report in the mail with an ACT Student Web account.

Score reports for the ACT (No Writing) are normally processed and posted online within 2 to 8 weeks after the test date. (Please allow an additional 1 to 2 weeks if you test in a location other than the US, US territories, or Canada.) If you took the ACT Plus Writing, your scores will be released only after all your scores are available, including Writing, normally about 2 weeks after your multiple-choice sccores.

Your score report will also be delivered as a PDF through your student Web account.

Scores are processed and added each week, usually each Wednesday and Friday. Normally, all scores are reported by 8 weeks after the test date. There is no option to speed the scoring of your tests.

Can I send scores from two different dates to a college as one score report?

No. We do not combine scores from different test dates in our reports. ACT maintains a separate record for each test date, and it is ACT's policy to report scores only for entire test dates.

Compiled from collegeboard.org

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