What’s the Difference Between the PSAT, SAT, & ACT?
Last updated September 28, 2023
As a high school student, you will come across a few different standardized tests that are intended to measure your readiness for college: the PSAT, SAT, and ACT. While these tests don’t always perfectly or fairly capture a student’s abilities and intelligence, they can be a powerful addition to their college application. Here’s what you need to know about the PSAT, SAT, and ACT!
Do I need to take the SAT or ACT?
For a long time, a student’s scores on the SAT or ACT were a crucial component of their college applications. However, in response to COVID-19, many colleges and universities (almost 2,000!) have gone test-optional, test-flexible, and test-blind. This means that these schools will no longer require (or in some cases, consider) a student’s SAT and ACT test scores when reviewing their applications for admission.
There are pros and cons to this. A pro is that colleges will now take a more comprehensive and in-depth look at a student’s application beyond their test scores. A con is that colleges may not consider or acknowledge a student’s test scores, which could be a strength of their application.
The SAT and ACT may be optional for you to take, depending on what colleges you decide to apply to. We recommend talking with an educator or your school counselor to determine what will be best for you.
Want to learn more about what test-optional means and how it impacts the SAT and ACT? Read here!
The PSAT is the practice version of the SAT, administered to students during their sophomore or junior year of high school. (Some schools may even offer the PSAT 8/9, which is taken by eighth and ninth graders to prepare them to learn about college and career readiness in high school.) The purpose of the PSAT is to help students measure their readiness to take the SAT when the time comes. Although a student’s PSAT scores aren’t sent to colleges or taken into consideration for admission, they can qualify them for the National Merit Scholars program, which can help fund their college education through scholarships.
The PSAT is administered each October; many students take it during the school week. There are 3 required sections within the PSAT: Writing and Language (35 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), and Math (70 minutes) - a total of 2 hours and 45 minutes. PSAT scores range from 320-1520; average scores are between 920-1050. Scores are typically released online 4-6 weeks after taking the test.
The PSAT costs $18 - but many school districts administer it for free. If your school doesn't offer the PSAT for free, you may qualify for a fee waiver, so be sure to check in with your school counselor about how to receive one.
Click the image below to download our free comparison guide on the SAT and ACT!
Students take the SAT to measure their readiness for college and to send their scores to potential colleges and universities. The SAT is offered 7 times a year; test dates are typically on the weekend. There are 3 required sections within the SAT: Writing and Language (35 minutes), Reading (65 minutes), and Math (80 minutes) - a total of 3 hours. SAT scores range from 400-1600; average scores are between 1050-1060.
While it typically costs $60 to register for the exam, fee waivers are available to eligible students. These waivers cover both the cost of taking the exam and sending your scores to schools. Registration deadlines for the SAT are typically about a month before the test date, so be sure to register as soon as possible.
Students take the ACT to measure their readiness for college and to send their scores to potential colleges and universities. The ACT is offered 7 times a year; test dates are typically on the weekend. There are 4 required sections within the ACT: Reading (35 minutes), Science (35 minutes), English (45 minutes), and Math (60 minutes) - a total of 2 hours and 55 minutes. There is also an optional essay section students can complete. If taken in addition with the rest of the ACT, the test time is 3 hours and 35 minutes. ACT scores range from 1-36; the average score is 21.
ACT registration costs are $63 without the essay and $88 with the essay; however, fee waivers are available to eligible students. These waivers cover both the cost of taking the exam and sending your scores to schools. Registration deadlines for the ACT are typically about 5 weeks before the test date, so be sure to register as soon as possible.
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