College Entrance Exams FAQs

Life is a series of tests… but high school students and their families come across them more than most people. A student’s transcript is the most important component of an application, but standardized tests still play a key role in the admissions process. Students planning to take standardized tests during the school year should have a plan in place before school starts in the fall. Understanding the differences between the tests can be confusing, so we’ve designed a college entrance exams guide to help students make sense of it all.

SAT I / Reasoning Exam

Who should take it?

All college-bound juniors and seniors should sit for the SAT exam at least once. Ideally the student will take it during the spring of 11th grade or fall of 12th grade. If students take the test multiple times, students have the option of choosing which test score to send to colleges.

What’s on the test? What does it measure?

The test has three components: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Each section is worth 800 points for a total of 2400. The SAT is supposed to predict how a student will do in college.

When is it given?

The exam is given several times a year (usually September, October, November, December, March, May, and June). Tests are generally offered the first Saturday of the month. If student’s religious beliefs prohibit Saturday testing, Sunday exams are offered at limited sites. See http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/special-circumstances for more information.

Where can students take it?

Many high schools on Long Island offer on-site testing, but not all of them. Students should take the test in the site closest to their home. It is strongly suggested that students register as soon as possible to ensure that they are able to take the test at their preferred site.

Why should a student take this exam?

Most competitive colleges require SAT or ACT scores for admission. Students that start their post-secondary education at a community college are also recommended to take this test. Community colleges often require placement exams before a prospective student can start classes, but students that score high enough on the SAT or ACT can be exempt from placement exams.

How can a student register?

Students should register online at www.collegeboard.com or using a registration packet (these can be found in the high school guidance office). There are registration fees; eash test administration costs $50. Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch may be able to receive a fee waiver. Students can receive one fee waiver per school year. Students with IEPs or 504s and require test modifications can receive them on the SAT. They will need to submit documentation from school officials to ensure that their request is granted. See http://sat.collegeboard.org/register/for-students-with-disabilities for more information.

 

SAT II / Subject Tests

Who should take it?

Students interested in applying to Ivy League or highly competitive colleges generally need to take the SAT II/Subject Tests in addition to the SAT Reasoning Exam or ACT.

What does it measure?

These are knowledge-based exams designed to measure how much information a student has retained after completing an advanced-level course (usually AP or IB course, or a college class taught in high school). Subjects currently offered include Literature, U.S. History, European History, Mathematics 1 and 2, and several foreign languages.

When is it given?

They are almost always offered on the same dates as the SAT Reasoning Exams, but students should not plan to take the SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject tests on the same day. It is recommended that students should complete the bulk of the coursework before taking the corresponding SAT Subject Tests.

Where can students take it?

They are generally offered at the same test sites as an SAT Reasoning Exam.

Why should a student take this exam?

These tests are admissions requirements for top colleges. Students that hope to attend the most competitive schools must take them in order for their application to be considered. Consult the college’s website or admission office to determine which SAT II tests are suggested.

How can a student register?

Students can register by visiting www.collegeboard.com or through packets distributed in a high school guidance office. Students must indicate which SAT II/Subject tests they want to take when they register. They can take up to three tests at a time. Fees vary by type of test selected and number of tests taken. Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch may qualify for fee waivers. Speak to the school guidance counselor to obtain one.

ACT

Who should take it?

The ACT is the lesser-known, but widely accepted, college entrance exam. Students should take the test during the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. If students score higher on one test administration, the ACT will automatically send the higher score to colleges.

What’s on the test? What does it measure?

There are several sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional (but strongly suggested) Writing section. Students are given marks between 1 and 36. The ACT is supposed to measure how much a student learned in high school. The questions on the ACT are knowledge-based; they tend to look more like the questions a student would encounter on a Regents or in-class exam. Students are given a score on each section, and their final score is an average of their marks on each section (called a “Composite Score”).

When is it given?

The exam is given several times a year (September, October, December, April, and June). The exams are usually scheduled for the Saturday after the SAT to allow for students to take both exams without conflict. Sunday test dates are available for students whose religious beliefs prohibit Saturday testing. More information is available at www.actstudent.org.

Where can students take it?

Many high schools on Long Island offer on-site testing, but not all. Students should take the test in the site closest to their home. It is recommended that students register for the test as early as possible to ensure that they are able to take the test in their preferred site.

Why should a student take this exam?

The ACT is accepted as an alternative to the SAT in college admissions, but seems to lack the fear-inducing reputation. As a result, many students score higher on the ACT.

How can a student register? Students should register online at www.actstudent.org or by using a registration packet (these can be found in high school guidance offices). There are registration fees. The ACT without writing is $34; with writing is $49.50. Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch may be able to receive a fee waiver. Students can receive one fee waiver per school year. Students with IEPs or 504s and require test modifications can receive them on the ACT. They will need to submit documentation from school officials to ensure that their request is granted. See http://www.act.org/aap/disab/index.html for more information.


TOEFL

Who should take it?

Students that are currently or have been enrolled in English Language Learner classes at the high school level should look into taking the TOEFL.

What’s on the test? What does it measure?

The exam has four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Each section is worth 30 potential points, for a maximum score of 120.  It is designed to measure a student’s readiness for college and helps gauge a student’s understanding of English.

When is it given? Where can students take it?

There are many options for test dates, even in the summertime. Check http://www.ets.org/toefl for test dates and locations. It is recommended that students take the TOEFL test at the site closest to their home.

Why should a student take this exam?

Students that immigrate to the USA from a country that speaks a language other than English will be at a distinct disadvantage on the SAT/ACT. Their retention of knowledge taught in high school and potential to succeed in college may not be be accurately be measured by the usual entrance exams, since their understanding of the language is more limited than a native speaker. The TOEFL helps “level the playing field” by ensuring the student’s command of English is not affecting their ability to be admitted to college.

How can a student register?

Registration materials can be downloaded and printed off the website. Students can also register online at http://www.ets.org/toefl/ibt/register/. Guidance offices may have them as well. Testing fees will run $175, but students that are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch may be able to waive part of the fee.


Other Helpful Hints

Students and their families must be proactive. A high school guidance counselor has many responsibilities and may not be able to provide extensive individualized attention and supervision. However, if families have questions or concerns, just ask.

Deadlines are very important. Students that miss registration deadlines are subject to late fees or can be closed out of their preferred test date or testing site. Students must arrive at the testing site on time on test day or they may be barred from the exam.

STUDY!! Professional athletes consistently practice to hone their talents; taking standardized tests also require skills. When a student registers for a standardized test, they can choose to have a “question of the day” emailed to them. They can download entire tests (or sections) to gain familiarity with the kids of questions being asked. Local libraries or the student’s high school may offer preparation classes. Study guides are sold in most bookstores, and are relatively inexpensive. Private organizations and tutors will cost more, but are also an effective means of preparing for these tests.

Student athletes need to send their scores to the NCAA. The NCAA Clearinghouse determines the eligibility of potential athletes. Students that hope to attend a Division I or Division II University must send their scores and transcript to the NCAA or risk being unable to play.

Remember, it’s only a test. Test anxiety is real, but panic won’t help a student’s score. Students should learn relaxation strategies so that they can walk into the exam with a clear head. The tests can be taken multiple times if a student gets a low score on their first attempt. A handful of colleges have eliminated standardized tests as admissions requirement, but students should investigate their school’s admissions policy thoroughly before opting to sleep in on test day.

Need help prepping for the test? Explore which option is best for your child, private tutors or tutoring centers. Find tutoring options in Long Island HERE.

 

By Rachel Minkowsky

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