Frequently Asked Questions


3 hrs 40min with essay


  • 75 questions, 45 minutes

  • This section primarily tests grammar and rhetorical skills.


  • 60 questions, 60 minutes (calculator active)

  • Questions draw from Pre-Algebra, Algebra I and II, geometry, and trigonometry.


  • 40 questions (over 4 passages), 35 minutes

  • Passage-based reading comprehension


  • 40 questions, 35 minutes

  • Passages-based questions test ability to interpret and analyze charts and graphs and problem solve.


  • 40 minutes (optional)


Each of the four above sections is scored on a 1-36 scale.  Those are averaged to create a composite score.  The essay is scored separately.



3hrs 50min, with essay

Evidence-Based Reading:

  • 52 questions (over 5 passages), 65 minutes

  • Passage-based reading comprehension

Writing and Language:

  • 44 questions, 35 minutes

  • This section tests grammar, sentence structure, and style

Math, section 1:

  • 20 questions, 25 minutes (calculator inactive)

  • This section tests problem solving, algebra, and advanced topics. Students see 15 multiple choice problems and 5 "grid-in" problems.

Math, section 2:

  • 38 questions, 55 minutes (calculator active)

  • This section tests problem solving, algebra, and advanced topics with a calculator. Students see 30 multiple choice problems and 8 "grid-in" problems.


  • 50 minutes (optional)


Reading and Writing and Language are scored together out of 800 and the two math sections are scored together out of 800 for a total score of 400-1600.  The essay is scored separately.

Some students perform equally on the SAT and ACT, while some students do significantly better on one test over the other.  A student should take a full-length SAT and ACT practice test and compare results to see which test is a better fit. Both ACT and College Board offer free, full-length practice tests on their websites.  

Use the score conversion chart to compare scaled scores.

Good is relative here since college test requirements vary tremendously.  A better question is what score do you need to be competitive for your top choice schools?  Look at schools your child is interested in and find the average test scores of matriculating students to give you an idea of what s/he needs to be a competitive applicant.  Keep in mind that higher test scores can also help a student’s eligibility for some merit-based scholarships.

Looking at North Carolina Schools?  Here is some additional information:

Duke University, class of 2019:
25%-75% percentile (middle 50%):
  SAT Critical Reading: 690-790
  SAT Math: 730-800
  ACT Composite: 32-35

UNC Chapel Hill, class of 2020:
25th-75th percentile (middle 50%):
  SAT Critical Reading 600-700
  SAT Math 610-720
  ACT Composite 28-30

Elon University, class of 2020:
  SAT range: 1120-1270
  ACT range: 25-29

Appalachian State, class of 2020:

25th-75th percentile (middle 50%):
  SAT Reading and Math 1120-1290
  ACT Composite 22-28

Standardized tests, by nature, are different than those tests administered in a high school classroom. Generally, school subject tests are designed to test for content mastery, usually through questions that allow for individual thought and partial credit.  In contrast, standardized test questions generally have only one correct answer and offer no partial credit and aspects of the test are purposefully designed to be difficult to finish in the allotted time.  As a result, success on standardized tests requires the development of test-specific skills that go beyond content mastery.  Additionally, although there are many similarities between the SAT and ACT, strategies for these tests are not wholly interchangeable; thus each test deserves dedicated, test-specific prep.

Success on standardized tests requires both content competency AND a comprehensive, test-specific strategy.  A student with excellent math content will likely do very well on the math section of the ACT or SAT, but will also likely not reach his/her full score potential because s/he doesn’t fully understand how the test works and how to avoid common traps that the test writers build into each test section.  A student who has a solid test strategy but lacks significant content mastery will encounter similar problems.  Quality test prep is customized for the specific strengths and weaknesses of the student, and it marries content review and test-specific strategy for all subject areas.

There are a variety of ways to structure prep and students ultimately must find a prep schedule that accommodates their schoolwork, extracurriculars, etc.  Ideally, students should begin prep during the summer between sophomore and junior year and aim to take an official test in the fall of junior year. This allows students to focus on test prep outside of the rigorous demands of schoolwork and extracurriculars.  Students can test in August/September and then again in October/November as needed. Additionally, students can do extra prep/review for the NC spring state test and have an additional, free test opportunity.

Frontloading test prep in this way allows the student to focus on AP exams in the spring and avoid the need to prep for both simultaneously.

Conventional wisdom says that students should take the ACT or SAT in the spring of their junior year and retest at the beginning of their senior year.  While this scenario can work, it also requires students to balance ACT/SAT prep with school work, AP exams, and potentially SAT subject tests. Further, waiting to test until the end of junior year often means that students must test again in the fall of senior year which, in turn, compresses the timeline for college applications, essay writing, etc.

North Carolina offers a free ACT test during the school day in the spring of each year.  The test is part of the state accountability program and therefore is only offered to public and charter school students.  Generally, schools offer the ACT on the last Tuesday of February. (In 2017, students tested on February 26, and in 2018 students tested on February 27.)  These scores are valid for college submission and offer a supurb opportunity to take an additional test free of charge and outside of a weekend.

There are many schools nationwide (over 1000) that don’t require applicants to submit standardized test scores.  Here are a few:

  • American University

  • Arizona State University

  • Bates College

  • Bryn Mawr College

  • Franklin & Marshall

  • George Washington University

  • Temple University

  • Trinity College

  • Wake Forest University

  • Wesleyan University