Mosaic Admissions

Standardized Tests

An important part of your college application is your standardized test scores, for they help put your high school grades into context and enable college admissions counselors to make more “apples-to-apples” comparisons among students.  It’s critical to not only familiarize yourself with these tests, but also to plan well in advance when you are going to take them.   Here are the tests you will most likely take, and a summary of what they’re all about.

PSAT | SAT | SAT Subject Tests | ACT | SAT / ACT Comparison


The PSAT, or Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), is a standardized test administered by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC).  Approximately 3.5 million students, primarily high school sophomores and juniors, take this test each year. The most common reason for taking the PSAT is to prepare for the SAT test, which students typically take in their junior and/or senior years of high school.  PSAT scores are also used to determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program.  The College Board will not send PSAT scores to any college admissions office.

The test is comprised of three sections:  Math, Critical Reading, and Writing Skills.  Each of the three sections is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points, with a total maximum score of 240.  The test takes two hours and ten minutes to complete, and the registration fee is $13 (some schools also charge an administrative fee).

The test is mostly multiple-choice, but there are ten open-response math questions that require students to enter their responses on a grid.  Students are permitted to use a calculator for the math section.

For more information on the PSAT, including test dates and locations, click on the link below:

Standard College Admission Tests


The SAT Reasoning Test (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test) is a standardized test that measures a student’s critical thinking, mathematical reasoning, and writing skills.  These measures, along with a student’s high school grade point average, may help determine whether a student is ready for college-level work.  The test is typically taken by high school juniors and seniors, although there are no age restrictions.  At least half of students take the SAT twice – during the spring of their junior year, and in the fall of their senior year.  In 2009, more than 1.5 million students took the SAT.  The test is owned, published, and developed by the College Board, and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS).  The SAT contains 3 hours and 45 minutes of material, although with breaks, it usually runs four and a half hours long.  The registration fee is $45 for students in the United States.

The SAT Reasoning Test is comprised of three major sections:  Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing.  Each section is scored on a scale of 200 – 800, and is divided into three sub-sections.  In addition, there is an additional experimental section that may be in any of the three major sections (this section does not count toward the final score).  The specific sections offered, the content they cover, and the average scores are as follows:

Section Skills Tested Average Score (2013)*
Critical Reading Understand and analyze what is read.Recognize relationships between parts of a sentence.Understand word meaning in context. 496
Mathematics Solve problems involving:Algebra and functionsGeometry and measurementNumber and operations 





Data analysis, statistics, and probability

Writing Comprehend Standard Written EnglishIdentify sentence errors.Write an essay and develop a point of view. 488
Total Score 1498

*Source:  The College Board

The Critical Reading section of the SAT is comprised of three scored sections, two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section. The questions vary, and include sentence completion and questions about long and short reading passages.

The Mathematics section consists of two 25-minute sections and one 20-minute section.  One of the 25-minute sections is comprised entirely of 20 multiple choice questions, while the other 25-minute section contains 8 multiple choice questions and 10 grid-in questions.  The 20-minute section is all multiple choice, with 16 questions.  Students are permitted to use a calculator during the Mathematics section.

The Writing section includes multiple choice questions and a short essay.  The essay comprises 30% of the total score, while the multiple choice questions contribute 70%.  The multiple choice questions include error identification questions, sentence improvement questions, and paragraph improvement questions.  The essay section, which is always administered first, is 25 minutes long.  All essays must be in response to a given question, which is designed to be accessible to all students, regardless of their socioeconomic and educational backgrounds.

In 2013, the strongest performers on the SAT on average had three things in common:

(1) They had completed a core curriculum in high school, (2) they challenged themselves by taking their school’s most rigorous courses, and (3) they had familiarized themselves with the test.

The SAT is offered seven times a year.  For more information on the test, including specific dates and locations, click on the link below:

Standard College Admission Tests

SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests, formerly known as Achievement Tests or SAT IIs, is the collective name for 20 standardized tests that measure knowledge of individual subjects such as English, history, mathematics, science, and foreign language.  Typically, students choose which tests to take according to the colleges to which they are planning to apply.  A student may take up to three SAT Subject Tests on any given test date.  Most SAT Subject Tests are offered on the same day as the regular SAT test.  However, the language tests with listening are generally available only once a year, in November.

The SAT Subject Tests are all multiple choice and are an hour long.  Each test is scored on a scale of 200-800.  The specific tests offered, the subjects they cover, and their corresponding average (mean) scores are as follows:

Test Subject Average Score (2013)*
SAT Subject Test in Literature Literature 613
SAT Subject Test in United States History United States history 651
SAT Subject Test in World History World History 624
SAT Subject Test in Mathematics Level 1 Mathematics (algebra, geometry, basic trigonometry, algebraic functions, elementary statistics and a few miscellaneous topics) 621
SAT Subject Test in Mathematics Level 2 Mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, functions, statistics, and a few miscellaneous topics) 686
SAT Subject Test in Biology E/M Biology (students may take either an ecological (“E) or molecular (“M”) biology- oriented test E-626 M-655
SAT Subject Test in Chemistry Chemistry 666
SAT Subject Test in Physics Physics 667
SAT Subject Test in Chinese with Listening Chinese 759
SAT Subject Test in French French 635
SAT Subject Test in French with Listening French 654
SAT Subject Test in German German 622
SAT Subject Test in German with Listening German 624
SAT Subject Test in Modern Hebrew Modern Hebrew 620
SAT Subject Test in Italian Italian 684
SAT Subject Test in Japanese with Listening Japanese 688
SAT Subject Test in Korean with Listening Korean 767
SAT Subject Test in Latin Latin 615
SAT Subject Test in Spanish Spanish 656
SAT Subject Test in Spanish Listening Spanish 668

The SAT Subject Tests are offered six times a year.  The test requires a $20 registration fee and a $9 per test fee (except for language tests with listening, which cost $20 each).

For more information, including specific dates and locations, click on the link below:

Standard College Admission Tests

ACT Test

The ACT is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions.  It is the primary competitor to the SAT Reasoning Test, and is widely used in the Midwestern and Southern United States.  The ACT is a multiple choice test comprised of the following subject areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning.  The ACT Plus Writing test includes these four subject areas plus a 30-minute writing test.

Students who take the ACT receive a composite score that ranges from 1 to 36, and a score for each of the four subject areas, also ranging from 1 to 36 (the composite score is an average of the subject area scores).  The Writing section is scored on a range of 2 to 12 points.  Students who take the Writing section also receive a “Combined English/Writing score” that ranges from a score of 1 to 36.  The writing score does not affect the composite score.

In 2013, the national average ACT composite score was 20.9. The specific sections, the content they cover, and the national average scores are as follows:

Section Content Average Score (2013)*
English Standard written English (punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure)Rhetorical skills (strategy, organization, style) 20.2
Mathematics Pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry,.and trigonometry 20.9
Reading Reading comprehension, including direct statements and implied meanings 21.1
Science Reasoning Skills required in the natural sciences: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving.  Students should complete a course in Earth science and/or physical science and a course in biology. 20.7
Optional Writing Test Writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and entry-level college composition courses 7.1

*Source:  ACT, Inc. 2014

The ACT is offered six times per year in the United States. The registration fee for the ACT test is $32, while the ACT Plus Writing is $47.  For more information, including specific test dates and locations, click on the link below:

Standard College Admission Tests

SAT / ACT Comparison

While the SAT and ACT tests are both used widely by U.S. colleges, the tests differ in several fundamental ways.  Overall, the SAT Reasoning test is more of an aptitude test of reasoning and verbal abilities, while the ACT is more of an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school.  Also, the ACT includes a Science Reasoning section, while the SAT does not.  The SAT essay is mandatory, and comprises the first section of the exam, while the ACT essay is optional, and appears at the end of the exam.  In general, SAT essay questions are far more broad and open-ended than are ACT essay topics.

It is important to note that there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT test, unlike the SAT.  If you answer a question incorrectly on the ACT, no point is deducted from your score.  However, if you answer an SAT question wrong, a quarter point is deducted from your raw score (you receive one raw point for every correct response).  If you leave an SAT question blank, no point is added, yet no point is deducted.  Many test prep centers recommend that you omit a question if you cannot eliminate at least two of the answers.

How do SAT and ACT scores compare?  While there is no official conversion chart, the College Board developed a chart based on results from students who took both tests between October 1994 and December 1996.  Since both tests have changed significantly since then, this chart doesn’t reflect how the tests truly correlate today.  Several colleges and test prep services have released their own charts.  The following is based on the University of California’s conversion chart:

SAT (Prior to Writing Test Addition) SAT (With Writing Test Addition) ACT Composite Score
1600 2400 36
1560–1590 2340–2390 35
1520–1550 2280–2330 34
1480–1510 2220–2270 33
1440–1470 2160–2210 32
1400–1430 2100–2150 31
1360–1390 2040–2090 30
1320–1350 1980–2030 29
1280–1310 1920–1970 28
1240–1270 1860–1910 27
1200–1230 1800–1850 26
1160–1190 1740–1790 25
1120–1150 1680–1730 24
1080–1110 1620–1670 23
1040–1070 1560–1610 22
1000–1030 1500–1550 21
960-990 1440–1490 20
920-950 1380–1430 19
880-910 1320–1370 18
840-870 1260–1310 17
800-830 1200–1250 16
760-790 1140–1190 15
720-750 1080–1130 14
680-710 1020–1070 13
640-670 960-1010 12
600-630 900-950 11

*Source: University of California Scholarship Requirement, June 26, 2006

Standard College Admission Tests


SAT Score Choice allows students to decide which test scores to send to colleges.  Specifically, students may choose which SAT Reasoning Test scores by test date to release.  For example, if you take the SAT Reasoning Test in March, you may choose to send all of your section scores (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing) from that test date or none of your scores.  You cannot pick and choose scores by section.

Students may send any SAT Subject Test score from any individual test.  For example, if you take took both the World History and Math Level 1 tests in October, you could release the scores for World History while holding back Math.

While Score Choice was originally instituted to reduce student stress, it often causes confusion (and stress) among test takers.  Individual colleges have different policies regarding Score Choice, so you should check the web sites of the colleges you are considering.  Many colleges already consider applicants’ highest test scores only, so Score Choice may suppress scores that may benefit you.  In short, many schools already pick and choose scores by section…Score Choice prevents you from doing so.

For more information on Score Choice, click on the link below:

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