Most colleges require you to take one of the most common tests, the SAT or the ACT.
Most community colleges have open enrollment and don’t require standardized test scores. However, they will usually require placement tests. SAT or ACT scores may exempt you from placement tests. If you want to enroll in a selective program at a community college (nursing, computer science, law enforcement), then standardized test scores may be required. Later, if you transfer from a community college to a university or another school, test scores may be required.
The SAT measures your ability rather than knowledge. The 3 ¾-hour test contains three sections: writing, critical reading, and math. Most of the questions are multiple-choice.
Some colleges may also require you to take an SAT Subject Test. SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge in specific subjects within five general categories: English, mathematics, history, science, and languages. Specific subjects range from English literature to biology to Modern Hebrew. SAT Subject Tests are primarily multiple-choice, and each lasts one hour.
Both the SAT and SAT Subject Tests are offered several times a year at locations across the country. The College Board provides detailed information about the SAT and SAT Subject Tests, including information about preparing to take the test, what to take with you on test day, and understanding your scores.
Like the SAT, the ACT test is accepted by almost all colleges and universities. But instead of measuring how you think, the ACT measures what you’ve learned in school.
The ACT consists of four multiple-choice tests: English, reading, mathematics, and science. If your college requires a writing test, you can take the ACT Plus Writing, which includes a writing test in addition to the other four tests. These tests are offered several times a year at locations (usually high schools and colleges) across the country.
The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a program cosponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). It’s a standardized test that provides firsthand practice for the SAT®. It also gives you a chance to enter NMSC scholarship programs and gain access to college and career planning tools.
The PSAT/NMSQT measures:
- Critical reading skills
- Math problem-solving skills
- Writing skills
You have developed these skills over many years, both in and out of school. This test doesn’t require you to recall specific facts from your classes.
The most common reasons for taking the PSAT/NMSQT are to:
- Receive feedback on your strengths and weaknesses on skills necessary for college study. You can then focus your preparation on those areas that could most benefit from additional study or practice.
- See how your performance on an admissions test
- Enter the competition for scholarships from NMSC (grade 11).
- Help prepare for the SAT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.
Advanced Placement (AP) Exams
You usually take AP exams after you’ve completed an AP course in the relevant subject at your high school. A good grade on an AP exam can qualify you for college credit and/or “advanced placement” in that subject in college. For example, if you score well on the AP English literature exam, you may not have to take the college’s required freshman-level English course.
Most AP exams last two to three hours, and include essay questions and possibly multiple-choice questions. The tests are offered each spring. Each test is offered only once, with a makeup day a few weeks later. Check out detailed information about AP exams, including courses and exams.
College-level examination program (CLEP)
CLEP gives you the opportunity to earn college credit in different subjects by taking exams. Not all colleges offer credit based on CLEP tests, and different colleges offer different amounts of credit for the same test, so do your research before committing to an exam. Check out detailed information about the CLEP, including getting college credit for what you already know.