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Understanding Standardized Tests

The standardized tests that most universities and colleges require may seem like the most daunting part of the application process. But if you view the tests as obstacles to be overcome or barriers to admission, your performance may reflect your perception.

The standardized tests that most universities and colleges require may seem like the most daunting part of the application process. But if you view the tests as obstacles to be overcome or barriers to admission, your performance may reflect your perception.

Understanding Standardized Tests

Test scores alone do not determine whether you will be admitted (although they can play an important role in determining any academic scholarships). Universities and colleges take many other factors into consideration—particularly your grades and the rigor of the subject courses you’ve taken, as well as your interests and extracurricular accomplishments, essays, and teacher recommendations.

For specific information regarding a particular university or college’s testing requirements, check its website or its catalogs and bulletins. You can also find information about the admission process in guides and resources available in bookstores. For testing dates and locations, fees, registration forms, and other details on each of the tests, ask your counselor for an information bulletin (each testing service offers one), or visit collegeboard.com (for the SAT) or actstudent.org (for the ACT).

Since the registration procedure takes time and testing slots fill up quickly, we recommend that you start the process at least three months prior to the date you plan to take the tests. You should also start preparing for the tests at least three months prior to taking them. Plan to take all tests well in advance of application deadlines, as your application will not be considered complete without test scores.

If you’re not satisfied with your scores, you can repeat the tests. Each test organization has different rules for score reporting to institutions, and you should check whether all scores or only selected scores are transmitted. Keep in mind that most undergraduate admission offices will use your highest scores in evaluating your application.

The tests include a variety of question formats and content. There is no absolute passing score like national exams in other countries; rather each institution decides how to evaluate the score results in conjunction with other admission factors. College admission guides typically publish median score ranges so that students can see the average test performance of the applicants. To ensure that you meet the fall semester admission deadline of most schools, you should try to complete all testing by the end of November prior to the year in which you are seeking admission.

SAT & SAT Subject Tests

For information or to register, visit collegeboard.com.

The SAT is a paper-based test that evaluates your reasoning skills. Students have three hours and 45 minutes to complete the test, which measures writing, critical reading, and mathematical abilities. The test is administered six times each year at most testing sites (October, November, December, January, May, and June). Test questions are divided roughly as follows:

Writing: 60 minutes

Includes 35 minutes of multiple-choice questions and a 25-minute student-written essay. Essay must be written with a pencil.

Critical Reading: 70 minutes

Focuses on your ability to critically read several passages, including double passages with different points of view. In addition, it tests your verbal reasoning skills and knowledge of vocabulary in context.

Mathematical Reasoning: 70 minutes

Emphasizes your ability to apply mathematical concepts and interpret data. A few questions require students to produce their own responses rather than select them from a choice of answers. Use of a calculator is permitted, although not required.

Unscored Section: 25 minutes

Includes a 25-minute section of questions being pretested (critical reading, multiple-choice writing, or mathematics). Answers to these questions do not count toward your score, but since you cannot identify the unscored section during the test, you should devote equal effort to all sections.

• Score validity: five years

• Maximum score: 800 for Critical Reading, 800 for Math, and 800 for Writing

• Test fee: $45, plus other fees according to bulletin/website

• Mode of payment: check or credit card

Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests are one-hour, multiple-choice tests in specific subjects. Unlike the SAT, the SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge of particular subjects as well as your ability to apply that knowledge. Not all universities/colleges require these tests for admission or placement. The ones that do require either specific combinations of subjects or permit students to choose among the various tests. Check the requirements of the universities/colleges you might apply to before deciding which of the 20 subject tests to take.

• Score validity: five years

• Maximum score: 800 for each subject test

• Test fee: $20 registration fee, plus $9 per subject test

• Mode of payment: check or credit card

Change of test date procedure

The SAT program allows students to transfer their SAT registration from one date to another. Call the SAT program at 212-713-7789 to request a test date registration transfer. There is a $22 service fee for test date changes, and a credit card is required.

ACT Assessment Test

For information or to register, visit actstudent.org.

The ACT is designed to assess students’ academic achievement and readiness for college-level work. It is a multiple-choice test that covers four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. (The optional ACT Writing Test is available outside the United States only on the October and April test dates.) The ACT exam lasts just over four hours, including administration instructions and a break after the first two test segments.

Students must register directly with the supervisor of the test center where they wish to test, not with ACT or via the Web. The deadline for contacting the test center is the Friday three weeks before the scheduled test date. Visit the website (www.actstudent.org) to check on the availability of the test in your country and for contact information of the test supervisor with whom to register for the test.

Test dates outside the United States are the same as those within. Not all centers are scheduled for every test date.

• Score validity: two years

• Maximum score: 36

• Test fee: $46 including optional writing section, $31 without

• Mode of payment: cashier’s check or money order

Test-Taking Tips

  • Become familiar with the test directions. Knowing what to expect will increase your confidence on test day.
  • Take practice tests. Know what types of questions will be asked. Sample questions are available in free booklets and on the websites of the organizations that administer the tests.
  • Make sure your test preparation materials are up-to-date.
  • Understand how the tests are scored. On some tests, it’s actually better not to answer a question at all than to answer it incorrectly.
  • Practice managing your time. Be familiar with the number of minutes allotted for each section of the test and figure out how much time you will have to spend on each question.
  • If you are required to take an SAT II Subject Test, plan to take it when the topic is fresh in your mind—for example, soon after you have completed a class in the subject being tested.
  • Be sure to get sufficient sleep the night before the test.

Registering for Tests

The administrators of the various standardized tests are listed below. The registration deadlines for paper-and-pencil tests are about six to eight weeks prior to the exam date.

SAT Reasoning Test and SAT Subject Tests

College Board SAT Program
901 South 42nd Street
Mount Vernon, IL 62864 USA
Phone: +1-212-713-7789

ACT Assessment Test

ACT Programs and Services
PO Box 414
Iowa City, IA 52243-0414 USA
Phone: +1-319-337-1000

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