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College Entrance Exams

Most four-year colleges require students to take a college entrance exam. And, Idaho public high school students are required to take one to meet state high school graduation requirements. Learn about the differences between the exams and how to prepare for the test(s) you plan to take.

Testing Basics


Key differences between the SAT & ACT
  • The ACT has four subject areas with multiple choice questions: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The writing portion is optional. Conversely, the SAT starts with a required essay and follows with Critical Reading and Math sections. These have multiple-choice sections, but there is also an area in the math section where you must show how you arrived at your answer (show your work).
  • The SAT has 140 questions, while the ACT has 215. Both tests take around 3 hours to complete.
  • The ACT focuses more on grammar and punctuation, while the SAT does more to test your vocabulary.
  • The ACT tests more advanced math subjects, including some trigonometry.
  • The SAT questions may not seem as straightforward as those on the ACT.
  • The SAT is known more for testing reasoning ability and the ACT for actual subject knowledge.
Practice Improves Scores

The old adage “practice makes perfect” may not necessarily apply here, but studying and practicing for college entrance exams can dramatically increase your scores.

For example, data from The College Board has shown that just 6-8 hours of practice using their free prep tools can result in a 90 point boost and scores increase relative to the number of hours test-takers study. Higher test scores can mean you may have more college options and potentially qualify for more merit-based scholarship opportunities.

The SAT has partnered with the Khan Academy to provide tips, videos, practice tests (with real-time results), and more to help you prepare for the test. The ACT also offers test prep tools online, but most require a paid subscription.

Idaho SAT Day

To help high school students meet the graduation requirement, the Idaho State Department of Education has contracted with the College Board to fund a statewide SAT day, when the test is offered at every Idaho public high school (usually in the spring).

Registration for the statewide SAT School Day administration will occur at your high school. Contact your school counselor if you have specific questions regarding registration.

Because the Idaho SAT School Day is funded by the Legislature through public education appropriations, home school and private school students cannot participate with the SAT School Day administration at a local high school.

All publicly-supported colleges and universities in Idaho accept either SAT or ACT scores for admission. While many high school students in Idaho will take the SAT because it’s provided at their school for free, you can also choose to take the ACT. You can find testing centers, dates, and costs on the ACT site.

For students who want to get a jump start on practicing for the test, the PSAT can be taken in 10th grade. This pre-SAT exam can help you assess areas where you need extra focus or help before taking the SAT exam as a Junior.

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