Module 8: Standardized Exams

The objective of Module 8 is to know what the PSAT, SAT and ACT are. Know when you would take each exam.

PSAT: What is it and why should I take it?

The PSAT is intended to be a practice test/predictor for the SAT. The types of questions on the PSAT are the same, but the PSAT has no essay, and it is a much shorter test.

Another difference is that colleges you apply to don't see your PSAT score; they see only your SAT score (or of course the ACT, if you choose to submit that instead).

Most students take it because in addition to being the PSAT, it's also the NMSQT, or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Scoring above a national cutoff earns the student "Commended" status; scoring above the individual, annually adjusted state cutoff earns the student National Merit Semifinalist status and the opportunity to become a Finalist and possibly a Scholarship winner. Another reason to take the PSAT is by checking “yes” to the Student Search Service, you will receive information from colleges. Plan to take the PSAT in October of your junior year.

SAT vs. ACT: Do I need to take these?

For entrance to the University of Arizona (and many other universities), it is not required to have taken either of these exams. Completing the required academic classes in high school is sufficient. Although a score on the ACT or SAT is not required by the UA, we recommend that you do take one of these exams, so that you can be considered for scholarships. It’s also helpful to take one of these exams and do well on them for another reason: an above-average ACT or SAT score can help balance out your application if you have a low GPA from high school. Finally, you can use your results to help prepare for college. If you score low on a particular area or areas, know that you should work on that area before college.

Which test should I take?

Although many universities don’t require scores from one of these exams, some do. You really have to check the school’s website to find out. Do they require scores from one of these exams? Which one? Or do they accept either one?

If the school you’re interested in doesn’t require a particular exam score, you might consider reviewing the basics about the two tests. Which one will play more to your strengths? For example, science is not a part of the SAT. If science is a really strong subject for you, you might consider taking the ACT. Writing a short essay is required on the SAT and optional for the ACT. If you’re a good writer, you might consider taking the SAT.

Now let's go to Activity 1 to explore this further.