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College Entrance Standardized Tests

* Paly does not endorse any of the organizations referenced below but is sharing this information as a service to our families.  

PSAT

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 November. Students who listed a mobile phone number in their PSAT registration are texted 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.

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.

Students can release their PSAT scores from the College Board to Khan Academy to receive customized SAT test prep; find more info, here.

SAT and ACT

Some colleges require students to submit SAT or ACT test scores as part of the college application process, in senior year; many are test-optional. 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.

Digital SAT Test Content (scoring in parentheses)

The digital SAT (starting March 2024) is a computer-adaptive test.  

Reading and Writing (200-800)
  • 52 questions/tasks
  • 64 minutes (two 32-minute modules)
Content:
  • Craft and structure
  • Information and ideas
  • Standard English conventions
  • Expression of ideas
Math 58 questions (200-800)
  • 44 questions/tasks
  • 70 minutes (two 35-minute modules)
Content:
  • Algebra
  • Advanced math
  • Problem solving and data analysis
  • Geometry and trigonometry

Calculator in Blue Book application allowed; some other brands also approved

ACT Test Content (scoring in parentheses)

English: one section, 75 questions, 45 min (1-36)
Content:
  • 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)
Content:
  • 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)
Content:
  • Key ideas and details
  • Craft and structure
  • Integration of knowledge and ideas
Science - Reasoning: 40 questions, 35 minutes (1-36)
Content:
  • 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)
Content:
  • 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

In addition to differences in content, the tests have different pacing; the time per question on SAT is ~ 65 seconds; the time per question on ACT is ~ 45 seconds.  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. 
  • Many colleges are test-optional (www.fairtest.org).
  • The CSUs and UCs will not consider test scores for admission or scholarship decisions.
  • The essay portion of the SAT was removed in 2021. Most private colleges, don’t require or consider the essay portion of the ACT; it is required by 2 and recommended by a few. For a searchable list, see

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:
  •  
  • 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 scores might not be kept for more than one admission cycle.
  • 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 and 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, 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.  Learn more, here. 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 November with late registration in March; 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; information can also be found on paly.net/campus-life/ap-exams.

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!