College Prep, High School Tests, Admission Advice and Tips
Instructional tips and advice on how to prepare for the ACT, SHSAT, SAT, PSAT, or AP exams. In addition figuring out the world of standardized testing, we tackle other topics related to the admissions process such as application essays, being wait-listed and the pros and cons of online tutoring. Read our blogs for more information about the test-taking process, test scores in different states and tips for top colleges admission essays.
- Test Prep tips on how to improve your score in Colorado
- Test Prep tutoring advice and tips in NYC
- College Admission acceptance advice
- College submission tips
The ACT is one of two standardized tests that high school students take before applying to colleges. Unlike the SAT, the ACT tests students on science, as well as math, English, and reading. The addition of a science section allows the ACT to cater to students looking to pursue an education in STEM, and these students typically do better on the ACT than the SAT. While the two exams serve the same purpose, they are scored differently. The ACT’s formulas award points to students in each of the four sections based on overall performance, and then averages all the scores on each section into one final score. This score can range from a one to a 36, and just like the SAT, more competitive colleges require higher scores. For most relatively competitive universities, a score of 26-28 will stand out in admissions. For extremely selective schools, however, students should aim for a 34 or higher score to be on par with other applicants.
The Advanced Placement exams, abbreviated as AP exams, are optional tests that conclude a high school Advanced Placement course. There is an AP exam that correlates to every Advanced Placement course. As a result, there are AP tests available for a variety of subjects, including Calculus, Biology, and US History, among many others. These exams are notable because students can receive substantial college credit for reaching a certain score on them. The exams are scored from one to five, with a five being the best possible score. Depending on their selectivity, colleges will accept a score between three and five, meaning that a student that scores up to that number will receive college credit for that course Note this selectivity, however: most competitive colleges will only accept a four or five, and the most selective ones, such as the Ivy Leagues schools, will only accept a five. Students should always aim for a five to ensure that their scores will be high enough for their college of choice.
A major player in receiving a license to practice law in the United States, the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) is one that all prospective lawyers must take to practice law in their state of choice. The Bar Exam is part of the American Bar Association’s judgement of competence, and to take it, most candidates first must receive a J.D degree by graduating from an accredited law school. The exam itself is broken into two days, with each day focusing on different topics. The first day contains material on various aspects of law, such as constitutional and criminal. The second day’s material can vary from state to state, but can also be one of two recently developed nationwide tests, the MEE or MPT. Regardless, both days’ content adds up to 400 points, and test-takers need to reach a minimum score to pass the exam. This fluctuates from state to state but is usually around 270. The test is pass/fail. Thus, so long as both are passing scores, there would be no additional recognition for scoring a 330 versus a 290.
A key entry into any MBA program, the Graduate Management Admission Test—or GMAT—is a necessary step toward entering business school. Just like any standardized test, it is designed to give business schools a uniform score to equally assess all applicants. Following the trend of exams like the ACT and Bar, the GMAT is split into four sections that all test different skills. The sections include Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated reasoning, and Analytical writing. Each section is scored individually, with an aggregate score being determined on a 200–800-point scale. Most business schools use this score over other scores provided (such as individual section scores) to judge overall performance on the exam. The score test-takers receive on this exam will be a major determining factor in what business schools they can reasonably get into. Extremely competitive business schools will almost certainly require a score above 730. However, most business schools regard a score of 650 as solid enough to stand out.
The Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, is a standardized test taken prior to Graduate school that allows Graduate programs to discern differences in student ability. Since learning material varies across different undergraduate programs, the GRE enables the comparison of graduates from different schools in specific areas. The GRE consists of two different test options, and students can take either one depending on their area of study. The first, the GRE General Test, is comparable to the SAT in that it tests students’ general math and language skills, which can apply to nearly every area of study. The second, the GRE Subject Test, is a test in one of six specific subjects: Biology, Chemistry, Literature, Math, Physics, and Psychology. Students applying to a graduate program that directly relates to one of these subjects will want to take that respective subject’s test instead of the general test. Note that the scoring scale differs between the two test options. The General Test’s scoring mirrors that of the GMAT, with a score above 320 being very competitive. The Subject tests are scored on a 200–990-point scale, but due to their inherent difference in difficulty, a competitive score varies from subject to subject. However, aiming for a score of around 700 will place you in the top percentile for most of the subject tests.
ISEE (Upper Level)
Students applying to independent high schools will almost certainly need to prepare for the Upper Level Independent School Entrance Exam, or ISEE, as many independent schools compare students’ scores on this test to determine who gets admitted. The test consists of five sections that test different skills: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Reading, Math, and an Essay, administered in that order. While the essay requires a several-paragraph response, the other sections all consist of exclusively multiple-choice questions. These sections are scored on three different scales, but out of the three, the Stanine score is the one that will be most important and influential in a private school application. The Stanine score is an aggregate score based on overall performance on the exam, and ranges from a 1 to a 9. While a Stanine score of 5 or 6 is a high enough score to remain competitive, a score of 7 or higher is recommended for more selective schools.
Administered by the Law School Admission Council, the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, is an essential step for prospective lawyers moving on to Law School. The exam is required for almost all law schools, and consists of four sections: Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and an Essay. The exam is scored on a scale of 120-180 points, with an average score of 152. However, like most entrance exams, the nation’s most competitive law schools will mainly consider applications with a higher score, usually a 165 or greater. Interestingly, most competitive law schools will look at all LSAT attempts, regardless of score. Thus, unlike other exams, students should aim to only take the test once. Additional attempts can potentially harm a student’s application, so a one-and-done approach is the best way to view your LSAT preparation.
The Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT, is one of the more grueling postgraduate exams that students can take, and for good reason. This test determines which students are granted admission into medical colleges in the US and Canada, and is the starting point for the doctors and surgeons of the future. The exam is graded on a point scale that results in a final score between 472 and 528. Reaching those higher scores can be extremely difficult. A 515, for example, is a score higher than what 90% of MCAT test-takers receive. This difficulty mainly comes from the variety and challenge of the test material. Rather than testing knowledge on individual subjects like Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, or others, most questions combine elements of multiple subjects to test true mastery. Doing well enough on the exam to stand out to your dream med school will be a substantial challenge; it is not uncommon for students to prepare for up to a year!
Prospective lawyers in each state need to be entered into a bar of that state; however, this requires more than just a Juris Doctor. The Bar Exam is the test that grants lawyers entry into the bar for their state. One portion of the Bar is the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, or MPRE, which examines the ethics of the to-be lawyer to determine if they are morally fit for the profession. This section thus focuses less on objective rules of law, and more on the morally grounded application of laws in a given scenario. The MPRE addresses both rules of law and judicial ethics. While there is no set series of subjects that are tested, general themes that questions pertain to include lawyer-client confidentiality, lawyer roles and responsibilities, and general competence. The MPRE is scored as one portion of the overall Bar Exam, and thus, the score students receive on the MPRE is only part of their total Bar score. Nonetheless, states have certain thresholds that lawyers need to reach on the MPRE alone to enter that state’s bar. The MPRE is scored on a scale of 50-150 points, but note that the exam may be curved depending on the overall average results.
The Practice SAT, or PSAT, is exactly what it sounds like. Available to take in both 10th and 11th grade, the PSAT is a preliminary test taken prior to the SAT that allows students to get hands-on practice with the material present on the real SAT. As such, the PSAT is very similar to the SAT, with reading and math sections that have their individual points added for a final composite score. The point scaling is a bit different—the PSAT has a maximum score of 1520 rather than 1600—but the general process is very similar, and a great way for students to familiarize themselves with the content and format of the SAT. Students should not slack off studying for the PSAT, however, as the test serves to be more than just practice. Exceptional scores on the PSAT can qualify these high-scoring students for national scholarships, as well as company or college scholarships. In short, success on the PSAT is a great way for students to set themselves up for higher education.
Despite the tumultuous previous years of closed test centers and a fully digital test going live in 2024, the SAT remains one of the most common college admissions tests for high school students, alongside the ACT. While it is worth noting that many universities no longer require an SAT (or ACT) score, a fantastic SAT score can still help students who may be lacking in other credentials stand out. This still makes the SAT an essential consideration for students. The SAT is split into English and Math sections, with an additional optional essay also available. The two sections are scored individually on an 800 scale, with a final composite score being created by combining the scores on both scales. A maximum score of 1600 is possible, but any score above 1300 will allow students to be competitive when applying to most colleges. For the most selective schools, a score of at least 1500 is almost essential. The essay, if students choose to take it, is scored separately out of three sections of eight points, for 24 points total.
For students looking to enter one of New York City’s specialized high schools (apart from the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School, which is audition-based), scoring well on the Specialized High School Admissions Test, or SHSAT, is critical. The test, available for 8th and 9th graders, tests students’ general knowledge and preparedness for these elite high schools, which have a much greater focus on specific subjects than regular high schools do. The test is split into English and Math sections, with each being graded separately and the two grades combined for a final composite score. The tests are scored out of a maximum of 800 points. Not all the schools have a harsh score requirement, as some are more selective than others. However, across the board, students generally need a score of 500 to be considered, and a score above 600 to be a competitive applicant.
SSAT (Upper Level)
The Upper Level Secondary School Admission Test, or SSAT, is an exam required by nearly all private high schools in the U.S. The test, which students take in 8th grade, determines general knowledge and competency, and allows private schools to more easily compare applicants. While test content has a focus on English and Math, questions often require more analytical thinking, which can be seen in the SSAT’s sections. The exam consists of two Quantitative sections (which are graded as one), one Reading Comprehension section, one Verbal Reasoning section, and an essay. Each section is graded out of 800 points, with a maximum possible score of 2400. It is important to note that, unlike most other entrance exams, the SSAT scorers will deduct a quarter of a point for a wrong answer on a question. Being punished for giving a wrong answer can make scoring high a difficult affair, but thankfully, most schools will be glad to see a score of around 2030. Even extremely selective schools will be impressed by any score above 2200, so there is certainly some room for error. Note that the essay is unscored, but is sent to schools along with the overall score for schools to look at on their own.
All Catholic high schools within most of the New York City area require applicants to take the TACHS (Test for Admission into Catholic High School) exam. Results on the exam are used to more easily compare applicants, alongside other common factors like GPA. Students will take the test in 8th grade in preparation for applying to these Catholic high schools. Like other high school entrance exams, the TACHS focuses on primarily English and Math, with an additional focus on logic and problem-solving. Instead of a numeric score, students are given their percentile score as their result, which tells them what percentage of other test-takers they performed better than. For instance, a student that receives a percentile score of 60 did better than 60 percent of other students who completed the TACHS. Most Catholic high schools are looking for a percentile score of 50 or above, but a score of 70 or above will help students’ applications stand out.
Required for many international students by most universities in the U.S, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, is an exam that assesses a student’s mastery of English. The test is designed to test English comprehension, particularly in terms of its usage in an academic setting. As such, the test is primarily intended to be taken by non-native speakers who plan on studying in a U.S college, but can also be taken by anyone who needs to prove their proficiency in English. The test consists of four sections: reading, speaking, listening, and writing. Each is scored out of 30 points, and then the scores are averaged for a final score, which can range from 0-30. A score over 16 is considered mildly proficient, and 24 is considered very competent. Different colleges will have varying expectations of what a students’ score should be, so curious students should look schools up individually to determine the score they should aim for.