How College Admissions Tests Work

Logistics of College Admissions Tests

So what's the registration process for an admissions exam? First, resign yourself to sacrificing a Saturday morning sleep-in. There are only a few strict exceptions that allow non-Saturday testing, such as religious reasons [sources: College Board: Special Circumstances, ACT: Non-Saturday].

Getting up on a Saturday might be hard, but for most students, SAT or ACT registration is simple: you can complete it online [sources: College Board: Register, ACT: Registration]. There are a few special circumstances that require mailed-in registration:

  • You're younger than 13.
  • You want to pay by check or money order.
  • It's the first time you're applying for a non-Saturday test.

Paper registration forms can be requested from the respective Web sites or obtained from high school guidance offices. Schools will also need to provide documentation if you are eligible for testing modifications, such as additional time [sources: College Board: Services, ACT: Services].

How much will you be paying? The tests vary a bit: It's $45 for the SAT, $32 for the ACT and $47 if you take the ACT plus writing. Registration can be completed several months ahead of the test date until about a month before. Extra fees are added for these reasons:

  • Late registration.
  • Same-day registration, if there are any open spaces.
  • Sending scores to extra colleges (more than four institutions).
  • International test sites.

Some students may be eligible for fee waivers; these are granted through an applicant's school, not through the test developers. You should obtain information from the school's guidance office [sources: College Board: Waivers, ACT: Waiver].

OK, now you've registered, and the big day is fast approaching. What do you need to take with you? Both tests have similar requirements:

  • Admission ticket.
  • Photo ID (must be government- or school-issued, such as a driver's license, passport or school ID)
  • Number 2 pencils and eraser
  • Permissible calculator (Graphing or scientific models are acceptable, but there are forbidden calculators. Check the detailed information on the Web sites.)

[sources: College Board: Test Day, ACT: Calculator]

You won't be allowed to take notes, pens, rulers, a cell phone, a camera, a BlackBerry -- or most any type of digital or electronic equipment -- into the test room.

Now that you know how to register for the test, you'll need to decide when to take it. No need to stress about that, either. Read on.