College Series: ACT & SAT 101



I receive a lot of questions regarding the ACT and SAT tests. What they are, when best to take them, what it means for college admissions. While some schools are moving away from using standardized test scores for college admission, for most schools it is a big part of the college admission application. Not only is admissions connected to your score, but often times scholarships as well. A few extra points here and there can make a big difference.

For this blog post, I am not going to into the theology of the test and all the arguments for or against. The thing you should know is that they are necessary for most four year universities. Two year state or community colleges will also use it, but may have other tests you can take such as the PERT.

Here are some basic questions I get frequently.

1. Should I take one of these tests?

Consider the path that you're planning after high school to determine if you should take the ACT or SAT. While it may not be a requirement, depending on the school you're attending, consider taking the long-term view when making the decision. You may be planning to attend a school or program that doesn't require the ACT or SAT (some schools are even test optional), but your plans may change down the road and having taken these in high school will be much easier than later in life.

2. What's the difference between the ACT and the SAT tests?

While the ACT and SAT are both standardized tests that can help you get into college, they do differ a bit from each other. The ACT is focused on achievement, measuring the bigger picture of what you've learned in school, while the SAT measures aptitude, testing your reasoning skills and verbal abilities.

Check out the Princeton Review at for more information on the two tests and their differences.

My suggestion is to take both tests early on, see how those scores compare against what you need for the colleges you are looking at, and then take the "better" score test again after more preparation.

3. How do I prepare for the ACT/ SAT?

There are a number of different ways to prepare. While your school may have test prep courses for you, going private can often be extremely costly. This is one of the issues people have with the test. There are several good websites out there that can give you diagnostic tests, flashcards, practice tests, and overall guidance. Here are a few I have found and liked.

Be careful of private tutors; make sure they are legitimate. Just because they charge a lot, does not mean they are good or can get you results. On the other hand, there are certain strategies students can learn to be able to do better on the test. Knowing what the test makers are seeking for answers and shoring up some academic weaknesses could prove beneficial for students. Private tutors or computer programs can often help in this area. One suggestion is to take test first and see how your student does as a baseline. On the second attempt have your child study on their own using some outside resources (online, book, at school, etc). If there scores are still not where they need, then on the third attempt consider some private, specialized tutoring to try and increase a few more points.


College Board

4 free practice tests through College Board


Khan Academy

Has ACT and SAT prep- ACT primarily focuses you on Math using Algebra, Trigonometry, and Geometry principles with short quizzes. It also has study plans to get you thinking ahead for the big day. Khan has partnered specifically with SAT to do their prep. This course is fantastic and is free. It has both Math, Reading, and Writing examples and full tests available.



The ACT just launched their ACT Online Prep. For $39.95 a year, you get an amazing diagnostic test that helps you be hone in on your weaknesses.


This website offers highly individualized SAT and ACT preparation as it chooses questions based on what the student has answered correctly or incorrectly to guarantee that she/he is always appropriately challenged.


Princeton Review

Number one is SAT and ACT Prep books. These books are tried and true. They often connect students with free online versions of the full test. It also gives feedback on what your score would be, the correct answers, and a whole lot more. These books are worth the $10-15 investment to review the material.

Other Helpful Apps

Edupath (Mobile iOS App)

Edupath makes mobile apps with practice questions for the SAT and the ACT. The apps provide an extra dose of motivation by showing students what scores their top-choice schools require.

ACT Question of the day (Android)

ACTStudent (iOS)

The Official SAT Questions of the Day (iOS and Android)

SAT Up (iOS)

4. When should I take the test for the first time?

Typically, students will take the ACT or SAT no later than Spring of their 11th grade year. This is to strengthen your math, reading and writing. However, some students start earlier to begin practicing, and sometimes it is needed for certain high school programs like dual-enrollment.  

5. How many times can I take the test?

It's generally advised to take the test no more than three times, to avoid raising red flags with admission counselors. Prepare for the test as though you're only going to take it one time, and do your best. If you're not satisfied with your score, you can take it again.

6. What is the cost for the ACT and SAT tests?

There are several price ranges- one includes the full test with the writing portion. I highly suggest you do both. There is also a late fee registration is you miss the regular deadline. 

ACT= $39.50

ACT with writing= $56.50

SAT= $43.00

SAT with essay= $54.40

SAT subject tests- $26 (to be taken if specific programs ask for it)

If you are on free and reduced lunch, there are waivers for both tests. You may use two. You will need to see your high school guidance counselor for this waiver. You are also entitled to waived application fees at some school universities, so be sure to ask!

7. Should I send my scores directly to the college/ university I am thinking of?

It will ask you in the beginning part of the two tests if you want to send your scores to a college/ university of your choice. At this point, it is FREE! However, you do not know how you will score- especially if it is your first time. My suggestion is to not do it the first time, after you feel more confident, know approximately what you might get, then I would send it using the free service. If you decide NOT to do so, and send it later, you will have to pay. It's $12 for ACT for each school sent, SAT is $11.25.

8. How do I sign-up?



You will need your 6 digit school code. You select which date you want to take it and which high school.

I hope this helps provide some basic background information on these tests. If you feel I’ve left any other questions out that should go here, please let us know in the comments below!