About College Entrance Exams
There are two college entrance exams in the United States. Most four-year colleges expect high school seniors to include standardized test scores from either the SAT or ACT exams as part of their application for admission. There is also a de-emphasis on standardized testing at some schools and you can find a list of more than 1000 test-optional and test-flexible schools at the National Center for Fair and Open Testing’s website.
About 1.9 million students take the ACT and 1.7 million take the SAT each year. Testing is big business and test prep is a billion dollar industry. How much time and money should your family invest in test prep strategies? The answer is different for every student and their family, depending on their college objectives, financial resources and student’s time availability. Sophomore and junior PSAT scores are good indicators of how students will fare on the SAT and can influence decisions about the amount of time needed to prepare. PPS also provides every student with a free ACT exam in the spring of junior year. For students happy with their results and comfortable that those scores will fulfill their college goals, that may be the only college entrance exam they take.
Students and their families often want to know what if a score on one test is better or similar to a score on the other test. The ACT & SAT providers have updated a concordance table to help you compare scores. They clearly state that a "concorded score is not a perfect prediction of how a student would perform on the other test" but it can be helpful to have this information to inform your college exploration.
Lincoln counselors advise students to learn about the test they will be taking (content and scoring, how questions are typically worded, the number of sections, the number of questions per section, etc.). Taking a practice test under timed conditions to understand the pacing and practice using strategies (like answering the questions you know first, eliminating obviously incorrect answers, etc.) is a good idea. Note that even near-perfect scores do not guarantee admission to very selective institutions. Colleges consider other factors in their decision making process. Counselors say that balancing good grades in challenging courses and meaningful participation in extracurricular activities is equally important.
Students can find free SAT and ACT prep courses and practice tests in their Oregon Career Information System (CIS) account as well as free and low-cost apps and websites like Khan Academy and ACT Academy. While Lincoln High School does not recommend or endorse specific tutors or test prep companies, our parent volunteers and College Coordinator have compiled a list of local providers as a service to families who are considering test prep for their college-bound students.
SAT Subject Tests
Some selective schools recommend that applicants submit results from 1-3 of these one-hour exams on school subjects like world languages, math, science, history and English. Do the colleges that you’re interested in require or recommend a specific Subject Test? See a list of colleges that require, recommend, or consider Subject Tests. These tests are offered on the same test dates as the regular SAT but in a different room with other testers taking the shorter exams. Find study guides and score reporting instructions and more at the SAT Subject Tests website.
Testing Fee Waivers
Both test companies waive their fees for students experiencing economic hardship. If you are registered for the free or reduced lunch program or have another qualifying situation, see your counselor to request a fee waiver during your junior or senior year. Using a test company's fee waiver may also qualify you for a college application fee deferral from some institutions. Your financial circumstances should not interfere with your ability to access college.
- SAT Fee Waiver brochure
- SAT's Directory of Colleges waiving application fees
- ACT Fee Waiver requirements
- ACT's College Application Fee Deferral Request Form (complete with your counselor)
College Entrance Exams in the News
Many colleges no longer require SAT essay or ACT writing scores
Both the ACT and the SAT are offered in the summer, but students should carefully consider when they think they'll do their best.
Impacts 2018-19 testers with diagnosed disabilities or English learning needs who qualify for extended-time accommodations on the ACT