Intro to Entrance Exams

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Most four-year colleges require entrance exams as part of their admissions process, and some schools will use test scores for determining merit scholarships. Students can choose between submitting ACT or SAT scores. The SAT and ACT can be intimidating, but with studying and preparation, they can also be a great opportunity to highlight your academic strengths.

Unlike previous years, many schools may not require ACT or SAT scores for students applying in Fall 2020 because of COVID-19, although this may change in Spring 2021. It is important to search for the schools where you intend to apply to see if they will require these entrance exams. Even if the exam is not required, but you did well, you should still submit your scores as they may make you eligible to receive additional scholarships.  

ACT Versus SAT




2 hours, 45 minutes (plus 40
minutes for the essay*, which is optional, but highly recommended)


3 hours (plus 50 minutes for the essay*, which is optional, but highly recommended)


  • Math: 60 questions, 60 minutes
  • Reading: 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • Science: 40 questions, 35 minutes
  • English: 75 questions, 45 minutes
  • Essay (optional): 1 prompt, 40 minutes
  • Math without calculator: 20 questions, 25 minutes
  • Math with calculator: 38 questions, 25 minutes
  • Reading: 52 questions, 65 minutes
  • Writing and Language: 44 questions, 35 minutes
  • Essay (optional): 1 prompt, 40 minutes


Consists of one writing prompt that will describe a complex issue and present three different perspectives on that issue. You are asked to read the prompt and write an essay in which you develop your own perspective on the issue.

Tests reading, analysis, and writing skills; students produce a written analysis of a provided source text; given at the end of the test.


Composite score: 1 – 36 (average of four test scores)

  • English: 1 – 36
  • Reading: 1 – 36
  • Math: 1 – 36
  • Science: 1 – 36
  • Essay (optional): 2 – 12
  • STEM Score: 1 – 36 (science and math combined)
  • ELA Score: 1 -36 (English, reading, and writing combined – only available to students who do all 3 sections)

Composite score: 400 – 1600

  • Evidence – Based Reading and Writing: 200 – 800
  • Math: 200 – 800
  • Essay score ranging from 2 – 8 on each of 3 essay dimensions


No penalty for guessing

No penalty for guessing


You can use calculator on all
portions of the math
section; all questions are multiple choice.

Some sections do NOT allow use of a calculator; there are multiple choice, and fill in the blank questions. 


4 reading passages
5 reading passages

* We recommend taking the optional essay for both entrance exams because some schools will require it. Completing the essay will help you keep your options open when deciding on a school.

Study Tips

Take a Practice Test

Both the ACT and SAT websites have free and up to date sample tests. You can also find practice exams, and helpful SAT test prep and ACT test prep resources. Take the time to take a full practice test from beginning to end. If possible, have a friend or family member keep time and be with you during the test. Try to simulate a testing environment as closely as possible. Once you are done, you can mark the questions you have gotten right and wrong to calculate your score on each section. This is your working test score.

What Score Do You Need?

Texas OnCourse has helpful information about both ACT score ranges and SAT score ranges and how your score fits in with other test-takers.

To get some more detailed information, search for the average ACT or SAT score for the schools you hope to attend. How do they compare with your practice test score? This can give you some insight into how much you will need to study each section. 

Set a Schedule and Stick to It

Sticking to a long term goal is hard. Studying for the SAT/ACT is no different! It’s important to set times each week to study and stick to them! Put them on the calendar and, if possible, find someone to check-in and hold you accountable.

Study a Mix of Everything

It can be tempting to focus only on the sections and topics you struggle with most, but it is important to also study and reinforce the sections that are your strengths.

Register for the Exam

Registration deadlines for college entrance exams are usually about four weeks before a test. Make sure to apply in time!

Go to the SAT or ACT website and create an account.

If possible, select your high school as your testing center.  If your high school is not an option or is already full, look closely at the locations of other schools before you select an alternative site. You’ll need to know your high school code for the SAT and ACT (they are different codes). 

You need to upload a photo of yourself for your registration ticket. This must be a photo of you because it is used to verify your identity.

Fee Waivers

 You will need to check with your counselor beforehand to see if you are eligible for a fee waiver. If you qualify for a fee waiver for entrance exams, you also qualify for an application fee waiver.

  • School counselors can provide these fee waivers to you, but be sure to ask with them!
  • You can receive a maximum of two ACT waivers.
  • Each waiver has an individual serial number and cannot be used more than once.
  • If you choose not to take the ACT on the requested date, you can change your registration for a smaller fee. Note that you must change your test date in advance in order to retain your fee waiver.
  • ACT provides information on who qualifies for a fee waiver
  • School counselors can provide these fee waivers to you, but be sure to ask with them!
  • You can get up to two SAT test waivers and six SAT Subject Test fee waivers
  • Each waiver has an individual serial number and cannot be used more than once.
  • If you choose not to take the SAT on the requested date, you can change your registration for a smaller fee. Note that you must change your test date in advance in order to retain your fee waiver.
  • College Board provides information on who qualifies for an SAT fee waiver


What are accommodations?

Accommodations include, but are not limited to, extra breaks between test sections, use of a computer, tests in Braille or large print and/or extended test time. Accommodations through your school, Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can be submitted to qualify, but will not automatically qualify you for accommodations on the SAT or ACT.

ACT Accommodations

Accommodations for students with disabilities and English Learners are available on the ACT. When registering for the ACT online, there will be a question regarding accommodations. If you request accommodations, you will receive an email with further instructions, including an important form to submit to your school, giving the ACT permission to access your information. You need to work with an official at your school who will help submit your request. Learn more about ACT accommodations.

ACT Accommodations must be submitted by the late registration deadline for the ACT testing date. Approval usually takes 10-14 days, but it is a good idea to submit your request as early as possible, since requests that are not approved can be edited and resubmitted.

 Students who have a documented disability that affects their ability to complete the SAT may submit a request for accommodations.

Visit the College Board website to find the forms to request SAT accommodations.

It is essential to start this process early because approval can take up to seven weeks after materials are received.

Test Day Tips

  1. Make sure that you get an ample amount of rest the night before.
  2. Eat a good breakfast!
  3. Bring snacks, water, a sweatshirt, an extra No. 2 pencil and an eraser with you to the exam.
  4. Do some gentle stretching or exercise before the test and during breaks, since you’ll be sitting for so many hours. Don’t overdo it, though!
  5. Read over your testing ticket to make sure you know the exact location, how to get there, and the room it is in. Do this BEFORE the morning of the test!
  6. Make sure to arrive 30-45 minutes before the test. Even if you are a minute late, you will be unable to test. This will result in losing your registration and fee waiver.
  7.  Bring proper proof of identification: driver’s license, school ID, state ID, passport.
  8. The name shown on your identification must match the name on your testing ticket. For example, if you have two last names, be sure that you include both when registering so that your ticket and identification reflect the exact same name.
  9. Triple check to make sure you have your testing ticket with you! If you do not have this you will be unable to take the test. If you used a fee waiver and miss your test, you will not be able to use that fee waiver again.

Next Steps

Now that you know whether or not you need to take an entrance exam, and which entrance exam might be best for you, let’s review how to write a great resume!

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