Important Things to Know About How Colleges Use Admission Tests

sign pointing to college admission office

It can help you prepare for the test so that you are not completely surprised when it comes time to take them. Plus, if you are applying to a college, it’s best to have this information at your fingertips to be prepared in advance and hopefully avoid any surprises when they come time for testing.

This article will give you some insight into what schools want from their applicants and why they require these tests for someone to apply or get accepted. Hopefully, by the end of this article, there should be no more questions about how colleges use admission tests and why they matter in your application process!

Exams to Remember

The SAT and the ACT are the two most popular standardized tests used by colleges and universities to measure academic aptitude. They are both accepted by most colleges in the United States, but only one of these tests will ever be required. Colleges can choose to require either or both of these tests for all applicants or just some of their applicants. The schools that accept the ACT also accept the SAT subject test in place of an actual SAT section.

There are two different exams that each focus on a different set of academic skills needed for college-level work at that institution. Taken together, they offer a complete picture of how students’ brains operate when tackling complex problems and situations. Schools want to know what type of problem-solving your brain does best, so they can determine where you would best fit in school, academically.

SAT & Act - A Way to Compare Applicants’ Qualifications

The ACTs are what students learn in school, while the SAT assesses reasoning skills.

If you are applying to colleges that only require the SAT, your test results will be considered on their merit. However, if a university requires both exams, they may ask for both of them (which means you’ll take both tests).

Many schools use either or both of these exams depending on which courses you want to study at their institution. Some schools also base admissions decisions on your high school average and class ranking, so it’s best to check with specific schools to determine their application requirements.

Additionally, some specialized programs like music conservatories may require an audition rather than standardized testing. If this is the case, that school will look at other aspects of your application aside from grades.

More than 2000 colleges in the United States don’t require applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores. You should check with your school counselor if this is the case because some schools may still recommend sending them. Your counselor’s main concern is whether or not you’re on track to be ready for college work next year, so they can help guide you towards what tests (if any) make sense for you to take over the summer before senior year.

Do I Need to Take the SAT or Act?

The only way to know if you need to take one of these exams for sure is if a particular college or university requires it on an applications list.

You don’t have to take the SAT or ACT if you’re applying to schools that don’t require them. Many colleges use these exams as a simple way of comparing applicants’ qualifications even though all schools do not require them.

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to take one of these two tests, ask yourself this, “Do I want to attend college next year?”

If the answer is yes, then taking the SAT or ACT will help make sure your application stands out from other applicants since it demonstrates your readiness for college-level coursework (but keep in mind that it’s more about which test you do better on than how many total points you get). If admission evaluations are based only on high school GPA and class rank, you may not need to send your scores.

Why Should You Care About Sending in Your SAT & Act Scores?

The short answer is that it will help get you into the college of your dreams. The longer answer is that colleges use these standardized tests to compare applicants’ qualifications, so getting good results on their shows how well you’ll be able to handle college-level work.

Regarding what is considered a good SAT score, the average SAT score for the class of 2021 is 1060, compared to 1051 for the class of 2020, a slight increase from the previous year. The average composite ACT score for 2020-2021 is 20.7, according to the College Board. Approximately half of those who take the test earn at least a 20.7 on the test.

When it comes down to what you need for your application depends on which university you’re applying to because not all of them require both tests. Some schools only want one while others want both, so be sure to check with specific colleges before sending either test score if you have any doubts.

Why Should Students Take the SAT or Act at Least Once in High School?

Standardized tests are a fairly common requirement for college admissions, so taking one of the two most popular exams—the SAT or ACT—at least once as a high school junior could benefit your application. If you’re planning to apply as a senior, you should take it early because some schools require scores from an earlier year.

There are definite benefits to doing well on either exam, even if colleges don’t have a preference between them, since both the SAT and ACT provide measures of how likely you’d be able to succeed in college-level courses regardless of which test(s) you decide to send.

Why Aim for About 1500 Total Points on Both Exams?

There’s not a “right” score to aim for because how much weight your scores carry varies from school to school.

While there are some differences between the two tests, students should aim for about 1500 total points on each one of them. Students with this score or above have a 65% chance of earning a “B” average in their first year of college. If you do better, then that’s awesome but what’s more important is demonstrating your readiness for freshman-level work since that’s why these tests exist in the first place.

What if I Get a Perfect Score on the SAT? (Or Act?!)

For many students, getting a perfect score on one or both exams would likely make their application stand out enough that it wouldn’t matter if admission evaluations were based only on high school GPA and class rank. Getting such an impressive result is a sign of your academic ability and could help put you ahead of other equally impressive students in high school but didn’t earn quite as high a score on the SAT or ACT.

In short, no two college applications are alike, so there’s no single thing that can guarantee your admission. However, submitting strong SAT or ACT scores and a well-rounded application will likely make it easier for admissions officers to see you as a promising candidate. If you have any questions about which test to take or how they work, be sure to contact colleges directly for more information.


Taking the SAT and/or ACT is strongly encouraged if you plan to attend college next year. If you take one (or both) of these exams, getting a score representing your abilities can help set you apart from other students once applications are reviewed.

If you have any doubt about which test to take or whether or not specific colleges or universities require them, then be sure to check with them for advice on this matter.

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