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College Entrance Standardized Tests

Printable PDF (All information is also in text below): ACT vs SAT


The PSAT is a pre-SAT, a practice SAT test; it is given only in October on a date chosen by the high school. The test doesn't count for college admission.  It is also used as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

The College Board indicates that students will be able to access their scores online in December. Students who listed an email address on their PSAT score sheet are emailed an access code from the College Board.

Students without access codes should still be able to access their PSAT scores by logging in to a previously initiated account created with the College Board (from AP/SAT test registration) or creating an account and then clicking "add scores" and "verify personal info now". If this doesn't work, you’ll need to call the PSAT line: 1-888-477-PSAT. This information from the College Board helps you interpret PSAT scores.

PSAT test booklets will be returned during junior advisory so students can review them when they access their score reports, a learning tool. PSAT scores aren’t sent to colleges. Once received, Paly will upload PSAT scores into Naviance which will help you begin to use college admission Scattergrams. In keeping with the guidelines of the PSAT, Paly doesn’t release PSAT scores (nor any other test scores) to colleges.

The PSAT taken in junior year is also used as the qualifying exam for the National Merit scholarship program. In the Fall of senior year, National Merit Corp. will announce students whose scores have earned semifinalist status in the scholarship program.


Many colleges require students to submit SAT or ACT test scores as part of the college application process, in senior year. March, May, and June are optimum testing months for juniors. Students should register well in advance to secure availability at a local testing center.

When registering for these tests, use Paly's school code: 052350. If you qualify for the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program, ask your College Advisor for a fee-waiver to register for the SAT and ACT.

SAT Test Content (scoring in parentheses)

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (200-800)
  • Reading 52 questions, 65 min
  • Writing and Language 44 questions, 35 min
  • Reading passages
    • Passages: social science, science, class/contemporary work, US founding documents of inspired work
  • Examine hypotheses, interpret data, consider implications
  • Command of evidence
    • Support an answer or basis for conclusion
    • How used to support claims
    • Interpret data in info graphic or understand relationship between graphic and passage
  • Words in context
    • Meaning
    • How word choice shapes meaning, style, tone
Math 58 questions, 80 min (200-800)
  • Problem solving
  • Data analysis
  • Algebra
  • Advanced Math

Calculators only allowed sometimes.

ACT Test Content (scoring in parentheses)

English: one section, 75 questions, 45 min (1-36)
  • Production of writing
    • Topic development
    • Organization, unity & cohesion
  • Knowledge of language
    • Word choice
    • Style
    • Tone
  • Conventions of standard English
Math: one section, 60 questions (1-36)
  • Preparing for higher math
    • Number and quantity
    • Algebra
    • Functions
    • Geometry
    • Statistics & probability
  • Integrating Essential Skills
  • Modeling
Reading: one section, 40 questions, 35 min (1-36)
  • Key ideas and details
  • Craft and structure
  • Integration of knowledge and ideas
Science - Reasoning: 40 questions, 35 minutes (1-36)
  • Interpretation of data
  • Scientific investigation
  • Evaluation of modes, inferences & experimental results
Writing - Optional, 40 minutes (Subscore 2 - 12; will count for 1/3 of the English/Writing score)
  • Essay-analyze and evaluate perspectives given, state and develop your own perspective and explain the relationship between your perspective and those given
  • At end of ACT

Converting SAT scores to ACT scores

For more information see:

SAT Reasoning vs. ACT

You should consider the kind of test that bests suits you -your academic strengths and learning (testing) style.

Some other things to consider:

  • All colleges and universities accept either test. Some colleges prefer the ACT (e.g. Cal Poly, S.L.O.).
  • Some colleges are test-optional ( However, we suggest students take either the SAT or ACT in order to be eligible for many colleges; if you apply to a college that doesn’t require test scores, don’t send them.
  • The CSUs, UCs, and many private colleges, don’t require or consider the Writing portion of the SAT or ACT; for a searchable list, see

SAT Subject Tests (a.k.a. SAT IIs)

The College Board has discontinued the SAT Subject test as of January 2021.  A few selective colleges used to require SAT Subject Tests as part of students’ college applications or recommend them for STEM majors as a way to demonstrate subject proficiency.

Information about score reporting

  • Paly doesn’t report test scores to colleges. Students need to order official test scores from the testing agencies (i.e. College Board or ACT) to send to colleges or scholarships requiring them, as well as the NCAA. Note: official AP test scores are not required as part of the college application process; after students are admitted and choose where to matriculate, they will order official AP scores to be sent to that college
  • While both the SAT and ACT have a Score Choice reporting policy allowing students to choose which scores from which test administration, some colleges require students to report scores from all tests taken. Check the colleges’ websites for their requirements or see:
  • Tips for Saving Money when Sending SAT and/or ACT Test Scores
    • UCs
      When preparing to submit the UC application, authorize the release of your application information with all UC campuses (it's the first release on the screen with the affidavits). If you do so, then the official test scores sent to any one UC campus will be shared with the UC Office of the President and accessible to all of the UC campuses system-wide. This can save you money!
    • CSUs
      Send scores to multiple campuses for free or the price of one campus! Select the Chancellor's Office to receive scores during test registration and it’s free, or, request a score report to be sent to the Chancellor's Office after you take the test (for a modest fee). The Chancellor's Office will release scores to all campuses for free.
      • SAT: Use school code 3594. This code will send your SAT scores to the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach (i.e. all of the CSU campuses for the price of one).
  • At the time of registration, the testing companies offer you 4 free score reports to send to colleges; you can request scores to be sent later, at the time of application, for a per-college fee. Please note that if, on your SAT/ACT registration, you list colleges where you want your scores sent, the UCs and CSUs will keep the scores for 2 years.
  • If you qualify for the Federal Free or Reduced Lunch Program, ask your College Advisor for a fee waiver to register for the SAT and/or ACT. Registering for the test with a fee waiver entitles you to unlimited, free SAT score report and 20 free ACT score reports, to complete your college applications. In addition, having used a registration fee waiver entitles you to college-application fee waivers, as well.

SAT and ACT Test Prep

Both the College Board and ACT provide free test prep; you will find sample questions on their websites, Khan Academy (for SAT), and ACT Academy. You can also pick up a full-length practice test brochure in the College Center. In addition, you can borrow an SAT, ACT, or AP test-prep book from the C&CC for a week at a time.

There is also free test prep available in Naviance. Naviance Test Prep for SAT and ACT is an adaptive learning platform that helps students build their math, reading, writing, and SAT/ACT test prep skills by identifying each student’s individual strengths and weaknesses to create a customized study plan based on their needs and timelines. With Naviance Test Prep, students can take diagnostic pre-tests, work on targeted lessons, and take a full-length, timed practice test. Students can listen to a professional tutor explain the concepts and questions that they are struggling with, as well as get immediate feedback and a complete explanation for every practice question. From the Naviance Home page, scroll down to the Resources to Get Ready section and click the Naviance Test Prep hyperlink.

Personalized SAT practice is also available through Khan Academy. After receiving PSAT scores in December, students login to the College Board website and select to send their PSAT score report from the College Board to Khan Academy; Khan Academy will analyze the score report to create a personalized road map to help improve your skills and then offer practice tests. The practice test assessments are dynamic and change as students acquire skills. ACT offers similar, customized practice via ACT Academy.

AP (Advanced Placement) Tests

AP tests (and courses) are not required for college admission in the U.S. However, AP test scores can sometimes be used to satisfy college eligibility subject requirements; they can also demonstrate academic achievement when reviewed as part of a college application. In addition, many colleges award students advanced college course placement, as well as college course credit, for earning passing scores on AP exams; each college determines its own policies. Note: if enrolled in an AP class while in high school, some colleges may ask for the correlating AP test scores when students apply to college-and consider them in the application review.

AP tests are given at Paly, during the school day, in May. Interested students will register in February; there is a fee per test (fee waivers are available for eligible students). Students should listen for announcements from InFocus and look for an email in Schoology from the overseeing Assistant Principal, for instructions how to do so.

Official AP test scores are not required as part of the college application process; after students are admitted and choose where to matriculate, they will order official AP scores to be sent to that college.

Ten Brief Test Taking Tips for Standardized Tests

  1. Be sure to read and pay careful attention to all directions.
  2. Read every possible answer because the best one could be the last one.
  3. Work as rapidly as possible, but don’t work carelessly.
  4. Eliminate answers that you are certain are incorrect.
  5. Don’t spend too long on any one question. Instead, skip difficult questions and move on. Mark the questions in the test booklet to which you need to return. Be careful to skip that same question on the answer sheet. Return to these questions if time permits.
  6. Make sure to record every answer in the correct place on the answer sheet. If you change an answer, be sure to erase changes completely.
  7. Because the ACT test and SAT do *not* subtract points for incorrect answers, you should make an “educated guess” and not leave questions blank.
  8. Use every minute of the time given for the test. If you finish early, go back and complete questions skipped, make you sure have not mis-marked the answer sheet, and check your work.
  9. Being familiar with the testing format and procedures will help you do your best. Best sure to take some practice tests prior to test day.
  10. Don’t forget to bring your ID, pencil, calculator, and Admission Ticket (be sure you’ve uploaded your photo by the deadline!) to the test!