PSAT, SAT, and ACT Testing FAQ
Which tests are required for college admissions?
Most likely you have heard of the SAT and ACT as tests required for admission into a four-year college/university. Students can choose to take either test. Unless they actually want to, they do not need to take both tests. Most institutions will accept the results of either the SAT or ACT. Each school year, the College Board (the organization that administers the SAT) and the ACT offer multiple test dates on Saturdays (or Sundays in the case of Saturday religious observance). Starting last year, the NYCDOE offers free PSAT 10 and SAT tests on school days in the spring. Both the SAT and ACT have optional writing sections that a student can decide whether to take or not while they are registering for their test. (NYCDOE-supported SAT tests do not include the essay section.) Some colleges/universities require the writing sections while others do not.
What are the sections of the ACT and SAT? What are the score ranges?
The ACT has four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The score range for each section is 1-36 and the test taker’s composite score is an average of the four sections rounded to the nearest whole number. (eg. 28.25= 28 composite, 24.5=25 composite) The composite score will not include the writing section if taken.
The SAT has two sections: 1) Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and 2) Math. The score range for each section is 200-800 with the highest possible score being 1600.
What about the optional writing sections?
The writing sections are scored on a different scale than the rest of the SAT and ACT. The ACT Writing section consists of an essay scored by two graders on a scale of 1-6 for total possible scores of 2-12. The SAT Writing section (essay) has three dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. This essay is also scored by two graders but on a scale of 1-4 for each dimension with a possible score range of 2-8. There is no composite of the three dimensions.
What is the difference between the PSAT/NMSQT and the PSAT 10?
The PSAT 10 (Pre-SAT 10) and the PSAT/NMSQT (Pre-SAT/National Merit Scholar Qualifying Test) are the same practice test for the SAT given by College Board but at different times of the school year. Only 10th graders take the PSAT 10 (in the spring) while the PSAT/NMSQT is given to those in the 11th grade (in the fall). Both are taken at school and Clinton registers students for the tests. PSAT 10 and PSAT/NMSQT scores are not shared with colleges. For more information about the National Merit Scholarship, visit their website listed under “resources” below.
What does it mean to “superscore?”
When an admissions office “superscores” an applicant’s test scores, they are taking the highest score from each section and from any of a student’s SAT or ACT test dates to create a new high score that will be considered the applicant’s official test score for admission. Most colleges/universities superscore the SAT but many do not superscore the ACT.
Example, Jane’s SAT scores:
6/2017- ERW 580, M 600= 1180
8/2017- ERW 660, M 670= 1330
10/2017- ERW 620, M 680= 1300
Highest test score in one sitting: 1330, Superscore: ERW 660, M 680 = 1340
How can I find out which test I prefer and/or is better for me?
Colleges/universities do not have a preference for either test. It’s ideal for students to figure out which test they like more or tend to get better scores on and focus on that test. There are free practice online and in-person SAT and ACT tests available through test prep companies.
How many times should my child take the SAT or ACT?
A student should only take the tests a total of 2–3 times.
What is a good SAT or ACT score?
The SAT has a maximum score of 1600 and the ACT’s maximum score is 36. A “good” score for a student varies for everyone. It can depend on which colleges/universities are being applied to, how much one studies for the tests, and personal abilities and expectations.
How do you convert SAT scores to an ACT equivalent (or ACT scores to the SAT)?
There are many websites in which you convert your test scores.
How can I get testing accommodations for the SAT or ACT if I have an IEP or 504 with testing accommodations?
The SAT and ACT provide accommodations for students who have documented disabilities. Accommodations can include extended time, additional or longer breaks, a computer from essay writing, etc. At The Clinton School, once students and parents have signed consent forms, our counselors will apply for testing accommodations on behalf of our students with IEPs or 504s. For the College Board, we apply for accommodations in the fall and winter of students’ sophomore year in preparation for SAT school day. Once the College Board has granted testing accommodations for a student, this approval is good for all College Board test products (PSAT, PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, and SAT Subject tests) unless the student no longer has the specified testing accommodation on their IEP/504. Our counselors will also apply for testing accommodations for students who choose to take the ACT, however the student must first register for an ACT test before an accommodations request can be made.
How can my child prepare for the SAT or ACT?
There are multiple ways to prepare for both tests:
- When possible, The Clinton School will provide a discounted test prep courses after school or on weekends through a test prep company
- Take an online or in-person test prep course through a test prep company
- Independent study with a test book available at bookstores and online
- Take advantage of a free online study resource like Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat
What are the SAT Subject Tests? Does my child have to take them?
The College Board administers the SAT Subject Tests (formerly the SAT 2) in five subject areas: english, math, science, history, and languages. Of the 3,000 colleges and universities nationwide, only approximately 5%—mostly highly selective colleges with the most competitive applicant pool—use SAT Subject Tests as part of their admissions decision. Of those that require SAT Subject Tests, most require two tests although there is a small number that require three tests. Students can find information on testing requirements on individual college websites.
How well does the IB curriculum align with SAT Subject Tests?
Because IB classes are taught over a two-year period, the content of IB classes doesn’t always correspond to the SAT Subject Tests, especially if students take these tests at the end of junior year. It is optimal for students to prepare for the test using College Board online resources or other test prep books or online materials
How does my child send test scores to colleges/universities?
While some institutions allow students to self-report their tests scores on their applications, an official score report is usually required to be sent directly from the College Board (SAT) or ACT:
SAT: During test registration and until nine days after that date, students can choose to have their test results sent to four colleges/universities of their choosing for free, however, students do not get a chance to see their test scores before they are sent. After this time period there is a fee for sending score reports except for students who are eligible for fee waivers. Starting in spring 2018 students with fee waivers will not be limited in the number of score reports that they can send. Unless an institution requires that applicants submit all test scores, students can use the College Board’s SAT Score Choice service to send only specific test results. For more information, see the link for SAT Score Choice under “Resources” below.
ACT: From the time of test registration until five days after the test, students can get their ACT scores sent to four colleges/universities for free. However, like the SAT, students who choose this option won’t be able to see their scores before they are sent. ACT Score Choice allows students to select which test dates they would like colleges/universities to see which can be used unless an institution requires all scores. Beginning in September 2018, students with fee waivers will be able to send up to 20 score reports for each test taken.
Who qualifies for a fee waiver for a standardized test? How many can a student receive?
Students who qualify for fee waivers have to meet certain income guidelines and/or statuses such as receiving free/reduced lunch, coming from a family that receives some form of public assistance, being in foster care, being homeless, etc. Students receive two fee waivers (including the writing sections if selected) and both the SAT and the ACT. In addition, two waivers can be used for the SAT subject tests if necessary, however a student cannot use the SAT subject test waivers for third and fourth sittings of the SAT.
How important are standardized tests for admission to college?
While most institutions require standardized tests, the importance of these test scores can vary between colleges and universities. There are some that place high importance on SAT/ACT scores and others that give applicants the option to not send them in at all. Schools where students have the option to not send in scores are called “test optional.”
What does it mean for a college/university to be “test optional?”
An institution that is “test optional” will consider a student for admission without having their SAT/ACT scores. This does not mean that test-optional schools won’t look at scores from those tests at all, but that students have to option to be evaluated in other ways. Some colleges and universities will accept SAT Subject tests instead of the SAT or ACT, others want an additional essay or a copy of a graded paper. It is always best to check directly with schools on their test optional policies. Fairtest.org lists institutions that are test optional. A link is located under “resources” below.
SAT/ACT Score Choice Service
National Merit Scholarship
Test Optional Schools