Exploring College Entrance Exams: The Different Types of Admissions Tests

Different College Entrance ExamsFor many schools, a large part of the college admissions process revolves around standardized test scores. While all parts of an application are important—transcripts, essays, interviews—college admission test scores often carry some weight. As you consider enrolling in college, it is important to be aware of the different types of college entrance exams you may encounter. Below we have provided an overview of some of the more popular tests.



Administered by the College Board, the PSAT, or the Preliminary SAT, is one of the first college admissions tests that students typically take. It is also a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. The test measures writing, critical thinking, and math problem-solving skills. It is a multiple choice exam with two 25-minute reading sections, two 25-minute math sections, and one 30-minute writing skills section. The scores range from 20 to 80.



Also administrated by the College Board, the SAT is the “most widely used” college admission test that is given to students. The SAT has three sections—reading, math, and writing—and takes three hours and 45-minutes to complete.


The critical reading section tests your reading comprehension and vocabulary. The math section asks questions based in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, and probability. The writing section includes both a short answer component and a multiple-choice grammar section.


Each section is scored out of 800 points, with a total possible 2,400 points, and a quarter of a point is taken off for each incorrect answer. Starting in 2016, there will be a redesign of the SAT that will change some of the current testing practices.


Scored on a scale from 200 to 800, the SAT IIs are hour-long subject tests administered in a multiple-choice format. There are 20 subject tests spanning English, history, math, science, and languages. The SAT IIs are more in depth than the SAT, as the exams focus on specific areas of knowledge. Although sometimes colleges specifically request the SAT II, these tests are often a voluntary way for students to round out their admissions materials.

PLAN Test and ACTs


The PLAN test is a precursor to the ACT, much in the way that the PSAT is a precursor to the SAT. The PLAN test is a multiple-choice exam made up of four sections including a 30-minute English section, a 40-minute math section, a 20-minute reading section, and a 25-minute science section. Typically given in the sophomore year, the test is meant to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses.



Much like the SAT, the ACT is a college standardized tests that is primarily for undergraduates. Some students, particularly those applying to schools in the Midwest, may choose to take the ACT test in place of (or in addition to) the SATs. Students can score from a 1 to 36 on the ACT.


The ACT is made up of four required sections. First, there is a 45-minute English test that tests grammar and written English. Next, there is a 60-minute math section testing the math skills that high school students in grade 12 should be able to complete. The third section is a 35-minute reading comprehension test. The last required section is a 35-minute science test that focuses on scientific analysis and reasoning.

Optional 5th Section

There is also an optional fifth test for writing. The 30-minute writing section is not officially required, but some colleges do require you to take it, so keep that in mind when signing up for the exam.


The TOEFL test is primarily for international students looking to study abroad. It tests English-language skills at a university level and is accepted by many colleges. The test is broken down into sections for listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills, specifically targeted towards performing academic tasks. Each section is out of 30 points for a total of 120. TOEFL scores are valid for two years after the test is taken.

Determining the Right Test for You

With so many different types of college entrance exams, it can be difficult to keep straight which tests are scored in which way, what they measure, and how they are formatted. However, familiarizing yourself with the different types of exams available can help you to determine the tests that are right for you.