Take the necessary exams
Colleges use standardized tests to as a common means to measure students' abilities and knowledge. Most colleges require some form of entrance examination which may be a factor in both the admissions process and when applying for financial aid.
For four-year colleges, the most accepted tests are the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Tests (ACT). Typically, colleges on the coasts prefer the SAT, while colleges in the middle of the country like the ACT. Most colleges will accept either test. However, it should be noted that the ACT is actually quite different from the SAT. While the SAT is a "reasoning test" designed to test critical thinking skills as well as knowledge, the ACT is an "assessment test" designed to test how much a student has learned in four years of high school. In practice, this often means that questions on the ACT are less "tricky" than those on the SAT.
The SAT (Reasoning Test) is a three-hour-and-forty-five-minute test that measures the critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills that students need to do college-level work. The SAT consists of nine sections, including a 25-minute essay, each timed separately. Each SAT section is scored on a scale of 200-800. Some of the questions are easy, and some are hard, but the majority are of medium difficulty. The SAT is typically taken by high school juniors and seniors. It is administered seven times a year in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and U.S. Territories, and six times a year overseas.
SAT Subject Tests are required by many colleges, usually the more competitive institutions, and are a battery of one-hour, mostly multiple-choice tests that measure how much students know about a particular academic subject and how well they can apply that knowledge. Students take the Subject Tests to demonstrate to colleges their mastery of specific subjects like English, history, mathematics, science, and language. The tests are independent of any particular textbook or method of instruction. Many colleges use the Subject Tests for admission, for course placement, and to advise students about course selection. Some colleges specify the Subject Tests they require for admission or placement; others allow applicants to choose which tests to take.
Many colleges use the test instead of or in addition to the SAT to help make admissions decisions about their applicants. It assesses high school students' general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work.
The ACT is made up of four Subject Tests: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. In addition, the ACT contains an "optional" Writing section. That "optional" is in quotes because it isn't really up to you whether you should take it; it's up to the colleges you're going to apply to. And since at least a few of those colleges are likely to insist you take the Writing section of the test, you should take the Writing portion of the test.
Community colleges and technical schools may require a different standardized test, such as Assessment Testing (ASSET). The ASSET program is a series of short placement tests developed by ACT that identify your strengths in specific subject areas. ASSET has three tests of basic skills in writing, reading, and numerical reasoning, plus more advanced tests in algebra and geometry. The ASSET is not used like a traditional test battery. There is generally no “passing score.” They are primarily used as placement exams, basically determining if you need a refresher course in writing, reading, or basic mathematics prior to enrolling in their courses.
Preparing for the tests
The best way to prepare for the required examinations is to use some of the practice tests that are available online. It is important to become familiar with the content and format of the tests. You might want to consider taking some preliminary examinations to better prepare you for the real tests. The PLAN, typically administered in the fall of the sophomore year, is the preliminary ACT test. The preliminary SAT/national merit scholarship qualifying test (PSAT/NMSQT) is not only a preliminary test for the SAT, but also may help you qualify for scholarships.