How College Admissions Tests Work

College Image Gallery Many universities require students to take a standardized test, such as the ACT or SAT, to apply for admission. See more college pictures.
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Are college admission tests making you anxious? If so, you're probably not alone. More than 1.4 million students took the ACT in 2008, and slightly more took the SAT [sources: ACT: 2008, College Board: SAT Scores]. That's a lot of sweaty palms -- but no need to worry. The process of registering for and taking admission tests is pretty straightforward -- there are not a lot of gimmicks or traps.

You may ask yourself why you're even being put through this agony -- aren't your grade point average (GPA), transcript and extracurricular activities enough? Well, many of the colleges that require an admissions exam will tell you that a standardized test provides extra information, and that all the individual parts combine to convey accurate pictures of their applicants. Also, high school courses are not always equivalent from region to region, so a standard measure that is not specific to one particular school can be more meaningful.

Perhaps that's not convincing enough. There's still some tension in the air. Are you concerned about which test to take: the SAT or ACT? The SAT is considered a general test of reasoning and problem solving, whereas the ACT tests several high school curricular areas. The institutions to which you will be applying will tell you which you need, so should be a relief. And if they tell you that either is acceptable, there are specific questions to ask yourself to help you decide, so no worries there.

What else do you need to know about admissions test? It might help to know how they originated, what they cover, how to take them and what you can do to prepare. If that seems overwhelming, just relax -- this article has the information you need to know. Breathe deeply, and let it all unfold before you, starting with this: Just who exactly conceived of these exams, anyway?