What tests are the required for college?

Many 4-year U.S. colleges require that undergraduate and graduate students submit standardized test scores as part of their application packages. Standardized tests provide a consistent way for a college to evaluate students and their applications. Most 4-year colleges require you to take one of the most common tests, the ACT or the SAT. Generally, 2-year colleges in Alabama do not require the ACT or the SAT, but may require all students who plan to enroll to sit for the COMPASS Placement Exam. Check with the colleges you plan to apply to for their testing requirements.


The ACT is accepted by almost all colleges and universities. But instead of measuring how you think, the ACT measures what you’ve learned in school. The ACT consists of four multiple-choice tests: English, reading, mathematics, and science. If your college requires a writing test, you can take the ACT Plus Writing, which includes a writing test in addition to the other four tests. These tests are offered several times a year at locations (usually high schools and colleges) across the country. For more information about the ACT visit


The SAT measures your ability rather than knowledge. The 3 ¾-hour test contains three sections: writing, critical reading, and math. Most of the questions are multiple-choice. Some colleges may also require you to take an SAT Subject Test. SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge in specific subjects within five general categories: English, mathematics, history, science, and languages. Specific subjects range from English literature to biology to Modern Hebrew. SAT Subject Tests are primarily multiple-choice, and each lasts one hour. Both the SAT and SAT Subject Tests are offered several times a year at locations across the country. For more information about the SAT and testing dates visit the College Board website:

**These tests all require registration fees that can vary depending on the test options you choose. Check with your high school counselor to see if you qualify for a fee waiver.


Generally, 2-year colleges in Alabama will require students to sit for the COMPASS Placement exam before registering for classes. The test consists of three sections and assesses a student’s achievement level in sentence skills, reading comprehension, mathematics, and algebra. The COMPASS is not a timed test and is administered via computer. This assessment tool helps determine your level of preparedness for college-level work. 2-year colleges use this placement test to help you and your advisor plan the best set of courses for your career goals and skill level. Students who enroll at a 2-year college and have a score of 20 or better on the ACT may be exempt.


When should I take the ACT/SAT?

You will generally want to consider taking the ACT/SAT during the spring of your Junior year.  This will allow you time to retake the test if needed before college applications are due. If you score well on these tests, you may be eligible for merit-based scholarships.

Pick a test date that is at least two months ahead of the application deadlines of all the colleges and scholarship agencies you might want to apply to. Scores for the ACT (No Writing) are normally reported within 3–8 weeks after the test date. If you take the ACT Plus Writing, scores will be reported only after all of your scores are available, including Writing, normally within 5–8 weeks after the test date.

You may want to consider taking the ACT/SAT in your junior year:

  • You’ve probably completed the coursework corresponding to the test material.
  • You’ll have your test scores and other information in time to help you plan your senior year. (For example, you may decide to take an additional class in an area in which your test score was low.)
  • Colleges will know of your interests and have your scores in time to contact you during the summer before your senior year, when many of them are sending information about admissions, course placement, scholarships, and special programs to prospective students.
  • You’ll have information about yourself and the schools you’re considering prior to your campus visits, making your visits more focused.
  • You’ll have the opportunity to retest if you feel your scores don’t accurately reflect your abilities in the areas tested.

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