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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Teens: Preparing for the SAT, ACT & PSAT

Aug 09, 2006 12:00AM

If you are thinking about college—which you should start doing by your freshman year of high school—you are probably also thinking about admissions tests. Knowing what tests are out there and when to take them is the first step in your college process. Find out about college prep tests here.

What is the PSAT?

The Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a two hour and ten minute exam given in October. There are three sections: 1 critical reading, 1 math, and 1 writing skills section. Each subject is scored on a scale from 20 to 80 points for a total of 240 maximum points. Scores from the PSAT are not used in college applications.

Students often take the exam as sophomores and again as juniors to get a preview of how well they may do on the SAT. Also, the PSAT is the qualifying test for National Merit Scholarships and Letters of Commendation.

Upcoming Testing Dates:

  • Regular Date: Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
  • Saturday Date: Saturday, October 15th, 2017

What is the SAT?

The SAT or Scholastic Assessment Test is a college admissions exam given seven times a year. There are two big sections: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (EBRW) and Math. Each section is scored from 200 to 800 (scaled score) and added together (composite score) for a total of 1600 possible points. There is also one Essay section (optional).

The SAT takes almost 4 hours — approximately 3 hours not including the optional essay, which adds about 50 minutes, or breaks.

Many students take the SAT the fall/winter of their junior year to allow time for retesting, if necessary. Students can register for the SAT at or with the school counselor. 

Upcoming Testing Dates:

  • Jan 21st, 2017 - Deadline: Dec 21st, 2016 - Late Deadline: Jan 10th*, 2017 - Online Score Release: Feb 23rd, 2017
  • March 11th, 2017 - Deadline: Feb 10th, 2017 - Late Deadline: Feb 28th*, 2017 - Online Score Release: April 13th, 2017
  • May 6th, 2017 - Deadline: April 7th, 2017 - Late Deadline: April 25th*, 2017 - Online Score Release: June 8th, 2017
  • June 3rd, 2017 - Deadline: May 9th, 2017 - Late Deadline: May 24th*, 2017 - Online Score Release: July 12th, 2017

*Late registration deadline is one week earlier if registering by mail.

Scores for the different sections fall in a range of roughly 30 to 40 points above or below your true ability. Colleges know this, and will receive the ranges along with your exact scores.

What is the ACT?

The ACT or American College Test was developed in 1959 as an alternative college entrance achievement test to the SAT and is given six times per year. There are four sections: English, Reading, Math and Science. Each of the section is scored from 1 to 36 (scaled score) and averaged to the nearest whole number (composite score). There is also one Writing section (optional).

The ACT takes almost 3 hours without the optional Writing portion, and approximately 3 and a half hours with. 

Students can register for the ACT at or with the school counselor. 

Upcoming Testing Dates:

  • Feb 11th, 2017 - Deadline: Jan 6th, 2017 - Late Deadline: Jan 7th-20th, 2017 - Scores Released Beginning: Feb 22nd*, 2017
  • April 8th, 2017 - Deadline: March 3rd, 2017 - Late Deadline: March 3th-17th, 2017 - Scores Released Beginning: April 18th*, 2017
  • June 10th, 2017 - Deadline: May 5th, 2017 - Late Deadline: May 6th-19th, 2017 - Scores Released Beginning: June 20th*, 2017

*Estimated dates based on past history.

SAT vs. ACT: Which College Entrance Test is Right for You?

Historically, the SAT has been the dominant college entrance test on the East and West coasts and the ACT was the more common choice in the Midwest. But these traditions have been changing, and today, most schools will accept either test. (It is always best to confirm which tests your colleges want before applying.) While both the ACT and SAT share some characteristics, i.e. both allow the use of calculators, it is important to understand the special features and structures of the test to determine which would be your best choice.

  • The ACT includes a science-reasoning test; the SAT does not.
  • The SAT allows for an average of 1 minute and 10 seconds per question; the ACT allows for an average of 50 seconds. However, the questions are different.
  • The SAT tests reading ability for a wider range of levels than the ACT.
  • The SAT is not all multiple choice.
  • The ACT does not have a wrong answer penalty; the New SAT also doesn't either.
  • The ACT is more of a content-based test; the SAT test critical thinking and problem solving.
  • The SAT essay questions are usually more abstract than the ACT.

Another difference between the SAT and the ACT if a student request his test scores be sent to a specific college, the scores from every SAT test taken will be sent, whereas students can choose which ACT scores the college will see. For more information on college prep testing, start with your counselor at school, or visit websites such as,, or