College Entrance Exams: Which One, When and Why?

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Students prepare for standardized college entrance exams

Standardized tests are an essential part of the college admission process. But with all the options available, students often have questions about which one to take.

Most colleges in the United States require students to take a standardized test in order to make admission decisions and to determine if the student is eligible for any academic-based financial aid.

When it comes time to choose which test to take, students can choose from the SAT, the ACT or the CLT.  Students might also want to consider taking the PSAT during their sophomore or junior year.

The Differences Between Tests

The most common standardized tests for college admission are the SAT and the ACT. The SAT is a three-hour test that contains sections in reading, math, writing and language. The ACT also takes three hours to complete, but the sections are different. The test has English, math, reading and science reasoning sections.

The College Board recently removed the optional essay writing section from the SAT. It made the decision in order to adapt to the changing needs of students and colleges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACT, however, still offers students the opportunity to submit an essay along with their tests since some colleges recommend or require it.

Once a student has taken the SAT or ACT, they will receive their results within a couple of weeks.

In 2015, the Classical Learning Test (CLT) was launched as an alternative to the SAT and ACT. As the years have passed, the CLT has gained popularity and is now accepted by over 150 colleges across the U.S., including BJU.

The CLT is a two-hour test that contains verbal reasoning, grammar and writing, and quantitative reasoning sections. Once a student takes the CLT, they will receive their score within 24 hours.

Students might also hear about the PSAT during high school. The PSAT is a practice test for the SAT that is offered to high school sophomores and juniors. The test does not count towards your college admission but does serve as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program which awards scholarships to high-scoring students.

Which Standardized Test Should You Take?

Students who are unsure which test they should take should consider the following questions:

  • How much time will I have to answer each question? The SAT and ACT give the same amount of time to complete the test, but the SAT has 154 questions and the ACT has 215. With 61 fewer questions, the SAT gives you more time to answer each question. For the CLT, you have two hours and 120 questions to answer.
  • Am I better at math or science? In the ACT, the math section makes up 25% of your total score, while it makes up 50% of your SAT score. If you tend to perform well in science, the ACT science reasoning section might benefit your score. In the CLT, math makes up 30% of your score and there is no science section.
  • Will I be eligible to receive scholarships and grants? South Carolina residents who are hoping to earn the Hope, Life or Palmetto Fellows Scholarships must take the SAT or ACT. The CLT is not recognized by the S.C. Department of Education at this time.
  • Which test does my university require? Most schools tell prospective students which tests they require. For example, BJU required the ACT for many years and didn’t accept the SAT until 2017. In 2019, BJU gave prospective students the option to take the CLT, as well.

Laura Woodruff, an admission counselor at BJU, says the choice is up to students. “It depends on the student. Some students find they do better with the ACT over the SAT and vice versa. Some students prefer the CLT because it can be done remotely or online.”

This year, BJU has encouraged students to register for the CLT because it can be completed online. Students who choose to take the CLT for admission to BJU must also take English and math placement tests to be placed into their freshman courses.

When Should You Take the Test?

Students can take the standardized test of their choice during their junior and senior years of high school. While the tests are not available to younger grade levels, students can start preparing at any age.

“You can start taking pre-tests as early as the eighth grade. When you reach your junior year, take one of each of the standardized tests. Study and prepare ahead of time. You can take one of the tests or each test multiple times if needed,” Howie Schlichting, an admission counselor at BJU, said.

Students that are applying to BJU are encouraged to take the test several times. To be eligible for an Academic Excellence scholarship, students must send their scores to BJU by July 1 after they have graduated from high school.

“Despite the fact that there are advantages and disadvantages to each of the tests, do not be afraid to attempt each one at least once. If you find that you perform better on one particular test, make plans to retake it later in your high school career,” Schlichting said.