ACT and SAT testing

Getting Started with ACT and SAT Testing

Is the world of ACT and SAT testing new to you? Sometimes parents just need a primer to get started. We’ve put together a quick jump-start overview guide for those who are new to ACT and SAT testing.

But first…does my student need to take an ACT or SAT exam? I thought colleges weren’t using these anymore.

The test-optional movement has received lots of press since COVID hit and students could no longer safely sit for an exam. Many colleges moved to make ACT/SAT test scores optional. However, there are very real situations when an exam score is still needed. Some majors require one. Some colleges are moving back to requiring test scores like Dartmouth and Purdue. In reality, students are still submitting test scores–even with a college is test-optional. You can read more about test-optional in our blog post.

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So you need to test ASAP….which test should you choose?

All colleges will accept either the ACT or the SAT. When we were students, most colleges had a preference for one or the other, but that is no longer the case.

If you have a younger student, we often recommend having your student sit for each test and see which they prefer. You can read more about the subject area differences here. The biggest difference between the two is SAT’s digital format. After your student decides which they prefer, they can focus on that for future test dates. With an older student, they might have taken the PSAT and/or ACT as part of a state-sponsored test opportunity during junior year – that experience can lead them to select the best-fit test for them.

How do you register?

Upcoming dates and deadlines can be found on our webpage. Each test has its own registration page: ACT and SAT. Don’t go through this process without your student. They need to be part of this process to answer questions and to be aware of how it works.

The student will create their own account for each with a username and password (if they don’t already have one). Be sure to write these down. It is easy to forget them! You’ll also need a photo of the student when registering (see below).

Side note: your student should consider creating a unique, professional email address to use going forward for all college-related matters. Make sure your student turns on notifications for this email so they stay aware of incoming messages. Use it for college visits and fairs and future college application matters.

For the ACT, you’ll choose the test type (with or without essay), select a date, and then you’ll see and choose a testing site. You’ll be given the option to add prep books and other services to your cart. You will then be stepped through pages providing demographic data and high school resume (classes and grades) information. You’ll be asked for some information about college plans. You’ll finalize the process by indicating colleges to send the scores to (see our note below) and pay!

For the SAT, the order is a little different. You will provide demographic information first including information about high school grades, coursework, and activities/extracurriculars. You’ll provide some details about potential college plans and college criteria you may be interested in. After providing those details, you’ll choose a test date, find a test site, and check out. You’ll be given the option to add prep books and other services to your cart.

Why do I need a photo?

The photo you provide will appear on the printout you will use to enter the site on the day of your test. The best choice for a photo is your most recent school picture. The ACT and SAT have specific picture requirements to guide you when you register.

Should I choose to send the free score reports to colleges when I am registering for the test?

This decision is a personal one based on your family’s situation. However, we often suggest a family not send those free score reports you get when registering for the test because you are electing to send scores before you know what they are. Choosing to pay and send score reports when you are applying to college allows you to control the scores they will see. The ACT score report is $18.50 per report per school. The SAT score report is $14 per report per school. Fee waivers may be available for those with financial need.

How much do tests cost?

The ACT is $68 (no essay) and $93 (with essay). The SAT is $60. The ACT’s optional essay has fallen out of use with most colleges. Some still recommend it. Very few require it.

Need help with the registration process?

Click here for SAT tips on registration. This ACT page provides additional details.

How can I get accommodations for my 504/IEP student?

Your school counselor will assist you with this process. It can take time so be proactive in getting started. SAT states on their page that it can take up to seven weeks for accommodations to be approved! Click here for the ACT with accommodations page and here for the SAT page.

How can my student prepare for the exams?

Don’t forget the free resources on ACT’s test prep page and Khan Academy. Paid resources can vary from a minimal cost to a much larger price tag. Friend referrals are often helpful. Be sure to consider your child’s ideal learning style. Our Friends of At The Core webpage has some companies we like to recommend that families turn to first.

An additional student tool we like to recommend is the Test Information Release (TIR) for the ACT (addl. $32/$40 after test day). You add it to your cart when registering for an exam. You’ll receive the test questions and your student’s answers. This information can be used for review and to identify weak areas as the student prepares for a future test date.

Still have questions? Wondering about other college-related stuff?

Our ACT/SAT/PSAT: The Ultimate Family Planning Guide® webinar digs deep into all things testing. (Yes, we have much more to share about the topic beyond what is above!) Visit our Educational Programming page to read more and register. You’ll find lots of other valuable programming on that page.

If you realize you have lots more questions about the tasks and process ahead, we are happy to support your family with our Private Consultation meetings. During the summer before the senior year, our Senior Private Consultations help families understand the college application tasks ahead, and our standard Private Consultation for juniors and younger can help answer your questions on a wide range of topics like high school scheduling, testing, preparing for college, and more.


Updated 2/2024

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