What are the Different Types of College Admissions Tests?

Jami Yontz

College admissions tests are standardized tests taken by high school students and those looking to attend a higher education university. Test results are used by universities to determine the student’s basic knowledge and to predict their future academic achievements. The two main types of college admissions tests in the United States are the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT) exam. In other parts of the world, either national exams are given in high school, and many universities also have their own specific exams for admission.

ACT scores are required for most college applications.
ACT scores are required for most college applications.

Depending on the admission requirements for the university the person wishes to attend, a high school student will take either the ACT or SAT. The SAT has ten timed sections that test math skills, reading comprehension, and writing. Each section is comprised of multiple-choice questions except for a section of the writing exam, which requires the student to complete an essay arguing a position within 25 minutes. This test takes nearly four hours to complete and is offered seven times throughout the year. The highest score that can be achieved is 2400.

Taking College Level Examination Program tests may allow first-year students to skip some prerequisite courses.
Taking College Level Examination Program tests may allow first-year students to skip some prerequisite courses.

Another type of college admissions tests is the ACT exam. The ACT tests English, math, reading, and science, and also has an optional essay portion. An ACT exam takes less than four hours to complete, and requires pre-registration for one of the six times it if offered throughout the year. Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not count incorrect answers towards the overall score. The highest possible score achieved on an ACT is a 36, and students can retake the test up to 12 times and only send the highest score to the university or higher education institute of their choice.

Choosing a college to attend can be an exciting experience.
Choosing a college to attend can be an exciting experience.

In parts of Asia, entrance exams vary by country and sometimes the region. Chinese high school students will take the National College Entrance Examination, also known as Gao Kao, before applying to higher education institutions. In Japan, students take the National Center Test for University of Admissions. South Korean college admissions require the very competitive and difficult College Scholastic Ability test for acceptance to a university. In India, colleges and specific program admissions have individual standards and test results that they require and sometimes each province will have a specific test for entrance into the state colleges.

In European countries, national admissions tests are required for entrance into a university. United Kingdom universities usually administer their own college entrance exams, but some only require that students have completed their Advanced level (A-level) or Advanced Subsidiary (AS) qualifications. In France, the Baccalaureat must be completed to obtain a diploma that certifies that the student has completed their secondary education studies. The Abitur is a final exam in Germany, Estonia, and Finland that provides students with a certificate to attend high level education facilities or to apply for trade apprenticeships.

The SAT test features multiple-choice questions.
The SAT test features multiple-choice questions.

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Discussion Comments

I’m a former college admissions advisor and a college admissions consultant.

Just to make a small clarification to the article above, just about all schools (I'm sure there could be a few exceptions out there somewhere though I don't know of any) accept the ACT or SAT. These are interchangeable from the perspective of the university’s need for a standardized test metric.

Additionally, I didn’t see the SAT Subject Exam (SAT 2) mentioned. The SAT 2 is offered in a range of disciplines and is a chance for a student to showcase their knowledge in that specific field. What a particular college requests will depend on the selectivity of that school. This can range from a school simply asking for the SAT or ACT, a school asking for the SAT plus Subject Exam (SAT 2) -or- the ACT, a school asking for the SAT or ACT –plus- two to three subject exams (SAT 2s), or lastly, a particularly selective school or program within that school may ask for the SAT or ACT –plus- two to three specific Subject Exams. For example, if you are applying to a selective engineering program, you will likely be required to take a Math 2 SAT Subject Exam in addition to one or two other SAT 2s, likely one of which will need to be in a science.

Further, if a school does not ask for a specific SAT 2, but you are applying to be a Math major, then be smart about your strategy. If you are asked to take some kind of subject exam, doesn't it make sense to take one in which you are strongest and allows you to demonstrate your aptitude in that field? Additionally, if you are not asked to take a subject exam but know you could knock one out of the park, by all means, take it! Don’t be shy to show what you can do!

Lastly, “required” comes in different forms. You will either be straight out required to do something for a college application (be it take a test, write an essay, etc.), or you will be told it is “strongly recommended” or “optional”. Any time you see any of these terms, even the word “optional”, it means do it.

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