Important tests in the admissions process

The SAT and ACT are college entrance exams designed to test what you’ve learned in high school and assess your readiness for college. Depending on the colleges you’ve applied to, these test scores can be important factors in the college admissions process, and they are sometimes used in awarding scholarships. Some colleges have minimum score requirements for admission, others do not.

Be sure to open your account at now, it’s free! Once you have taken your SAT/ACT tests you can quickly and easily send your transcripts and essays to multiple schools from one location.

Most colleges will accept either the ACT or SAT. Taking practice tests may give you an idea of which test is a better fit for you. Here’s a brief overview of the two tests along with some helpful links.


The SAT test underwent significant scoring, content, and format changes in 2016. The new test is designed to better test what students learned in high school, and there is no longer a penalty for wrong answers.

Time: 3 hours, plus 50 minutes for the optional essay.


  • Reading and Writing, possible score 200–800
  • Math, possible score 200–800
  • Essay, optional, scored separately

Total score range: 400–1600

Penalty for guessing: None

Answer format: Multiple Choice

Fee: $43.00, $54.50 with essay

View sample questions for the SAT and PSAT, download an app for your phone, take a practice test, and more here.

Get personalized recommendations for SAT preparation and take full-length interactive practice tests with Khan Academy.


The ACT test differs from the SAT in two major ways. First, it has a dedicated Science section. The SAT measures scientific ability more generally, testing things like the ability to read data charts. Second, the scores are not combined but averaged to get the final score. These differences may be a hindrance or a help, depending on where your strengths lie.

Time: 2 hours 55 minutes, plus 40 minutes for the optional writing test


  • English, possible score 1–36
  • Math, possible score 1–36
  • Reading, possible score 1–36
  • Science, possible score 1–36
  • Writing (optional), possible score 1–36

Total score range: 1–36, a composite of the scores from the 4 required sections.

Penalty for guessing: None

Answer format: Multiple Choice

Fee: $39.50, $56.50 with writing test

Download ACT’s study guide, learn test-taking tips, and check out the ACT Question of the Day here. also offers ACT test prep tools, sample questions and tests, as well as study tips. Create a CFNC User Profile to access these at any time.

Whichever test you decide to take, you’ll want to prepare. Start by taking a look at the links on this page for the SAT and ACT. Talk to your school counselor about any test prep courses at your school.

Once you’ve prepared, sign up and take the actual test. Most students take the exams for the first time sometime during their junior year, to allow time to retest. Check to see if your college(s) allow the combination of your best scores from different test sittings; this is called “superscoring,” and it can be a nice opportunity to increase your total.