A Breakdown of the Different College Entrance Exams

Getting into college isn’t as easy as submitting your high school transcript and writing a few essays. One very important element to a college application are college entrance exams and your scores. The most well-known college entrance exams, of course, are the ACT and SAT, but let’s break down the others as well.

A calculator laying on top of a textbook.


Think of the PSAT as the Pre-SAT, but this test can be so much more than just practice for the real SAT. That’s where the NMSQT comes in: the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test. Scoring high on the PSAT may make you eligible to enter the National Merit Scholarship competition and win scholarships and academic accolades.

What it tests: Reasoning skills, SAT preparedness

Section breakdown: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing, Math


The SAT has the PSAT, and the ACT has the aptly-named PreACT. Formerly known as PLAN, this test is an excellent tool to prepare for the full ACT. Students are permitted to keep their test booklet for review and study, so they can focus on areas that need improvement. Unlike the PSAT, the PreACT does not qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship program.

What it tests: Test-taking skills, ACT preparedness

Section breakdown: English, Reading, Math, Science


As the elder of the Big Two, the SAT is well-known. The test underwent major renovations in 2016, now on a 1600 scoring scale with the essay portion now being an optional one (though we still recommend you take it). The SAT focuses more on reasoning and critical thinking skills and is less straightforward than the ACT. Students who prefer literature, history, and language tend to prefer this test.

[Keep in mind, colleges DO NOT prefer one test over the other. The SAT is not secretly regarded as “better” or “more academically elite” than the ACT.]

What it tests: Reasoning skills, college readiness

Section breakdown: Reading, Writing & Language, Math, Essay (Optional)

SAT Subject Tests

Subject Tests are unique to the SAT. These are additional, optional tests that focus on a particular subject. There are twenty tests total, within the following categories: Math, Science, English, History, and Languages. So even though the SAT itself doesn’t test Science, you could still take a Subject Test in Physics or Chemistry. If you know which major you want to study, taking a Subject Test in that area can give you kudos points.

What it tests: Academic knowledge of certain subjects

Section breakdown: Varies per test


The ACT may be the younger of the two main entrance exams, but it is the more popular option. The ACT format and content is much more similar to the material you learned in school. The questions are more straightforward. Students who favor math and science classes tend to favor the ACT, as those two sections are given more emphasis than on the SAT.

What it tests: Test-taking abilities, college readiness

Section breakdown: Math, Science, Reading, English, Essay (Optional)

Check out how your ACT / SAT scores affect your acceptance odds with College Raptor’s free match tool!


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