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College Entrance Exams: A Guide to Junior Year Tests

High school juniors are typically well-versed in their ABCs; however, the eleventh grade is positively alphabet soup when it comes to standardized testing. Keeping your child's tests straight can be tricky, so we have developed this guide to help you navigate the transition into the busiest testing year of your child's life. Knowing what to expect can considerably reduce anxiety for both you and your child during this time. Save this in your inbox or keep it in your child's college folder to refer to as-needed.
PSAT (also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT))
What it covers: The PSAT covers reading, vocabulary, grammar and usage, writing, and math (Arithmetic, Geometry and Algebra 1). There is not an essay portion included in the writing section of this exam.
Why it's offered: The PSAT offers college-bound students a practice shot at standardized testing. A superior score on the PSAT can also lead to recognition as a National Merit Scholar during a student's junior year. This scholarship offers a monetary award and looks excellent on a college transcript.
When it's taken: PSATs are administered in October, primarily to juniors since only they are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship. However, it's becoming more common for younger students to take them exam as a means to familiarize themselves with the exam and the testing process.
Registration Dates: Unlike the SAT and ACT, registration for this exam is done through a student's high school. Students must contact their guidance office in September to register.
How it's scored: Each of the three sections on the PSAT (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing) is scored out of 80 points. The maximum total score a student can achieve is 240. Students get one point for each correct answer and lose ¼ point for each incorrect answer. Because the test is standardized, students are given a scaled score. Scores are distributed to school guidance departments from the College Board; students typically receive scores from their guidance departments between December and early January.
SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)
What it covers: The SAT tests reading, vocabulary, grammar and usage, writing (including an essay) and math (Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra 1 and 2)
Why it's offered: The SAT is offered as a tool used by college admissions officers to quantitatively gauge the college-readiness of students continuing their education after high school.
When it's taken: The SAT is offered seven times per year: August, October, November, December, March, May and June. It's traditionally taken in the spring of junior year and fall of senior year although advanced students may complete testing by the end of junior year.
Registration Dates: Regular registration is done no later than 5 weeks in advance; late registration, which incurs an additional charge, must be completed no later than 3 weeks before the test date. Click here to register.
How it's scored: Each of the two sections on the SAT (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math) is scored out of 800 points (students seeking to compare their PSAT scores can simply add a zero to each PSAT individual section or composite score to get an equivalent SAT score.) The maximum total score a student can achieve is 1600. Students get one point for each correct answer. Since the test is standardized, students are scored on a scale. The essay portion of the writing section is one third of the total score in that section. Two graders will score the essay and award between 1 and 6 points each, yielding a total score between 2 and 12 points. If essay scores differ by more than one point, a third individual will score the essay.
ACT (American College Test)
What it covers: The ACT tests reading, grammar and usage, science reasoning, and math (Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra 1 and 2, and limited Trigonometry). It also has an optional writing section.
Why it's offered: The ACT is a tool used by college admissions officers to quantitatively gauge the college-readiness of students continuing their education after high school.
When it's taken: The ACT is offered six times per year: September, October, December, February (except in NY), April and June. It is traditionally taken in the spring of junior year and fall of senior year. For a list of this year's test dates, click here.
Registration Dates: Regular registration is done no later than 5 weeks in advance; late registration, with an extra charge, can be done no later than 3 weeks in advance of the test date. Click here to register.
How it's scored: Each of the four sections on the ACT (Math, Reading, English and Science) is scored on a scale between 1 and 36. Students receive 1 point for each correct answer and do not lose any points for incorrect answers. Therefore, it is to the student's advantage to guess on any question he or she doesn't know. The raw score of each section is then scaled. Scores from each section are averaged to yield a composite score between 1 and 36. The optional essay is scored by two readers who award between 1 and 6 points each, yielding a totally score between 2 and 12 points. If essay scores differ by more than one point, a third individual will score the essay.
SAT Subject Tests (formerly known as the SAT IIs)
What it covers: There are 20 SAT Subject Tests including math (level I and II), literature, several foreign languages, history and the sciences. The complete list can be viewed here.
Why it's offered: SAT II Subject Tests are offered to assess a student's mastery of a particular subject area. They are used as additional criteria by particularly selective colleges or to gain admittance into majors that require a specific background or skill set.
When it's taken: All SAT II Subject Tests are offered on the same dates as regular SATs, however there are no SAT Subject Tests in March. The exception to this is the foreign language listening exam which is only offered in November and World History which is offered twice annually. Students may not take the SAT and SAT subject tests on the same day. However, students may take up to three SAT IIs on one day. Subject tests are usually taken after a relevant course is completed or near completion, particularly with AP classes. For example, if a student takes Biology or AP Biology as a sophomore, they should plan on taking the SAT II in May or June of their sophomore year. This means many students will take an SAT subject test before they take a full SAT. Juniors typically take SATs in March and June of their junior year and focus on SAT Subject test in May around the same time as AP exams.
Registration Dates: SAT II registration dates and deadlines are the same as those of the regular SAT. Most juniors typically take the SAT Subject tests in May at the same time as AP exams since there is content overlap. Click here to register.
How it's scored: The number of questions on each exam varies, but these tests are scored in the same manner as the SAT. The maximum score for each subject is 800. Students get one point for each correct answer and lose ¼ point for each incorrect answer. The exams are scaled, since the exam is standardized.
AP Exams
What it covers: An Advanced Placement course is a college-level accelerated course that is taught in high school. The test covers the curriculum from the entire year. There are AP exams in over 30 subjects including the sciences, foreign languages, math and English. A complete list of AP subjects can be viewed here. AP exams consist of a multiple choice section and a free response section.
Why it's offered: AP exams are given to students to allow them to gain college credit or receive advanced placement for satisfactorily completing a college-level course in high school.
When it's taken: AP exams are usually taken during the second and third weeks of May. Since AP courses typically replace standard classroom courses, some subjects may only be available during certain years of a student's academic career. Students may take multiple AP exams and classes each year. Students may register to take an AP exam, even if they are not formally enrolled through a school course, as schools are not required to offer courses in all or any AP subjects. For example, some AP English courses focus on the AP English Language exam, but students may elect to also enroll in the AP English Literature exam.
Registration Dates: Students must contact AP services no later than March 1 and register with a local AP Service Coordinator by March 15. For more information about registration, click here.
How it's scored: AP exams are given a rating 1 through 5 based on how successful the student would have been in a similar course taught in college. Many colleges offer course credit for AP exams scoring 3 or higher, but this depends greatly on the college and the subject.

Deciding which tests to take and when to take them can seem tricky, but by planning ahead for junior year, students can pace themselves accordingly. Developing a testing timeline can significantly increase the likelihood that your child will be a successful tester. If you have additional questions about any of these exams, visit our Testing Resource Center, or contact any of our experienced testing consultants at 1-87STUDYPOINT (1-877-883-9764).

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