Undergrad Exam Cave

Overview of College (Undergraduate) Admissions Tests

Students who want to apply to colleges can show their knowledge and ability in an undergraduate admissions test. High school students usually take one or two standardized tests, along with AP tests and IB tests before they go to college.

High school students take their college admissions test during their junior year. Some states require every high school junior in a public school to take one standardized test, and some districts require students to take the test as a graduation requirement.

The two most common standardized tests are the SAT and ACT. The College Board owns the SAT while ACT, Inc owns the ACT. Students have to pay to take the test, but most school districts provide one free test during the junior year. Both organizations offer free or discounted tests for students with financial challenges.

Both the SAT and ACT have multiple choice questions. In the reading portion of the SAT, students have some two-part questions where they have to answer the first question, then tell where they found the answer in the second. ACT questions stand alone and do not tie questions together.


Originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT changed a few years ago and has two major scoring sections: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. Students can score between 200 and 800 in each section for a total score between 400 and 1600.

In 2016, SAT changed the test, making it align with the Common Core standards school districts across the United States use in classrooms. Before 2016, more students took the ACT, but when the SAT aligned with the Common Core, the tests shifted.

To make the test standardized, students have to complete the different sections in timed sessions. The SAT has two math tests, one with a calculator and one without. It also has three language arts sections: reading, writing, and language. The SAT takes three hours to complete.

SAT also offered an essay test, but as of January 2021, the College Board said it would no longer offer that portion of the test.


Students who take the ACT earn a score between 1 and 36 based on math, English, reading, and science tests. Like the SAT, the ACT is timed to keep it standardized and students get three hours and 55 minutes to complete the test. ACT offers an optional writing test with 40 minutes to complete it.

After the 2016 SAT change, students who took both the SAT and ACT decided that the ACT was more difficult. Students felt like the ACT timing barely gave them enough time to finish, while very few students ran out of time while taking the SAT.

Preparing for Standardized Tests

Ideally, high school courses should prepare students to take the SAT and ACT. To get an edge, students take test-prep courses, take practice tests, and learn about the tests online.

Test prep agencies teach students how to maximize their time and how to choose an answer using what the test provides. Test prep work teaches students to take the test – no matter what the questions asked.