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How College Admissions Tests Work

Choosing an Admissions Test

When choosing a college admissions test, you should, first and foremost, determine the requirements for the institutions you're applying to. What do they want? SAT? ACT? Either? Neither? The decision may already have been made for you. If you do have choice, that means you get to select the test that suits you best. For instance, you might consider:

  • Length of test: How long can you concentrate? The SAT is almost an hour longer, but only one-half hour longer if you take the writing section of the ACT. Is this a concern for you?
  • Type of test: The SAT asks you to apply your reasoning and problem-solving skills in reading, mathematics and writing. The ACT is based on the high school curricular areas of English, mathematics, reading and science (with writing optional). Which addresses your strengths better?
  • Pretest: Did you take both the PSAT and PLAN? On which did you score higher?
  • Academic style: Do you work really hard in your classes? If so, you might do better on the ACT, which is content-driven. Are your reasoning abilities better than your grades? You might consider opting for the SAT.
  • Data: Take a practice test on each of the Web sites, which might help you decide which test best illustrates your strengths.

[source: Slatalla]

Another point to consider is that some institutions don't require admissions tests at all. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, lists 830 U.S. four-year institutions that do not require SAT or ACT results for admission. A fundamental reason for eliminating the requirement is the applicant pool: There are concerns that reliance on test scores limit the number of minority, low-income and female candidates since their test scores are often lower [sources: FairTest, College Board: Validity].

Even if schools demand that you take an admissions test, some are permitting variations, such as requiring only SAT Subject Tests. In 2009, more than 30 of the top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges (compiled by the U. S. News and World Report) had alternative requirements [source: Epstein].

You now have the information and resources you need to make informed decisions about the primary college admissions tests. It's going to be up to you to stay calm and focused if you decide to take one of the exams.

If you want to learn more about the SAT, ACT and getting into college, explore the links on the next page.