Breaking Down College Admissions Tests

Standardized testing may play a large part in your acceptance to college, but there's more than one way to make sure you get the best possible score!

What is college admissions testing?

Most four-year colleges consider applicants’ scores on college admissions tests when deciding whom to accept. Test scores are just one part of your college application.

How important are test scores to colleges?

The importance of test scores in the admission process varies from college to college and depends on an institution’s admissions approach and policies. Each college has its own policy. Some colleges, including more selective colleges, may place a high level of importance on test scores — within the context of the other parts of your application. Other colleges, including many community colleges, may not require a test or use your scores at all. If you have questions about how a particular college uses test scores, check its admissions website or contact the admissions office.

Types of Tests

An entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. The SAT is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test created and administered by the College Board.

An entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. It is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test administered by ACT, Inc.

The TSI Assessment (TSI) is part of the Texas Success Initiative program designed to help your college or university determine if you are ready for college-level course work in the areas of reading, writing, and mathematics.


The SAT and ACT generally cover the same topics and are both used for college admissions decisions and awarding merit-based scholarships. Most colleges don't prefer one test over the other, but students tend to do better on one test over the other. Make sure to do your research to know which one fits you best.

Download the SAT vs ACT comparison poster here

Infographic image of the comparison between the SAT and ACT

Testing Tips


If you are able, plan to take both the SAT and the ACT to see which test format you are better at and then retake that test.


Join a school ACT/SAT study group or make one with your friends.


If you’re on free/reduced lunch or in a college access program like TRIO/AVID, you qualify to take two SAT, two ACT, and four SAT Subject tests for free. The fee waiver also covers the optional essay portion of the ACT/SAT if you want/need to take it.


When registering for the test, make sure to list the colleges you want your test scores sent to.


Print your test admission ticket and check that the name on the ticket matches your picture ID.


Check if there are test prep and practice books available in your school or local public library.


If you are interested in prestigious colleges, like Ivy League Schools, look up if a SAT Subject Test and/or writing portion of the SAT/ACT is required or strongly encouraged for admissions into your dream school.