The SAT math section covers basic arithmetic, algebra I and II and geometry. The critical reading portion focuses heavily on vocabulary.
Standardized test scores are required on just about every college application. The tricky part for some students is figuring out what to study for each test. In this article, we’ll cover the basics about PSAT, the SAT, the ACT and SAT Subject Tests along with providing some helpful sample test questions to guide your study sessions.
The Preliminary SAT (PSAT) is a test that allows students to get firsthand practice for the SAT. It’s also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) and is co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Students take the PSAT/NMSQT in their junior year. Each year, about 8,300 Merit Scholarships worth $2,500 each are awarded to the top-scoring students throughout the country.
The PSAT test students in three areas: critical reading, math and writing. Each section is scored on a scale of 20 to 80. In 2012, the average scores in each section were as follows:
- Critical Reading Score: 48
- Math Score: 48
- Writing Score: 46
- Average Composite Score:142
According to The Princeton Review, students need to score at least 210-215 in order to qualify for a Merit Scholarship.
The following is a sample question from the critical reading section of the PSAT (see answers below).
The practice of storytelling for entertainment and instruction was at one time so widespread that it was virtually _____ .
The following is a sample question from the math section of the PSAT.
If y = (x + 3)2, then (-2x - 6)2 must equal which of the following?
The following is a sample question from the writing section of the PSAT.
Select the answer that produces the most effective sentence.
Hearing that the Statue of Liberty did not have a pedestal, a campaign was begun by Joseph Pulitzer to raise money for the construction of one.
A. a campaign was begun by Joseph Pulitzer to raise money
B. a campaign to raise money was initiated by Joseph Pulitzer
C. money was raised in a campaign by Joseph Pulitzer
D. Joseph Pulitzer began a campaign to raise money
E. Joseph Pulitzer had campaigned to raise money
The SAT test students on three subject areas: math, critical reading and writing. Multiple-choice questions are used in all three sections, while the writing section requires students to complete an essay as well. The SAT Math section covers basic arithmetic, algebra I and II and geometry. The critical reading portion focuses heavily on vocabulary.
Each of the three SAT sections is scored from 200 to 800. Those scores are added together to create a final score, so the highest someone can score on the SAT is a 2400. Subscores (which aren’t reported to schools) are also given for the writing section.
According to the Institute of Education Sciences, the average section scores for students in the 2010-11 school year were as follows:
- Critical Reading Score: 497
- Math Score: 514
- Reading Score: 489
- Average SAT Composite Score: 1500
In fact, New York University reports that about 50% of high school seniors score between 1400 and 1500 on the SAT. However, if you want to get into one of the top colleges or universities, you’ll need to score higher since the average student at those schools has a score of about 1800 to 2000 on the test.
The following is a sample essay topic for the writing portion of the SAT:
What is your view of the claim that something unsuccessful can still have some value?
The following is a sample question from the reading section of the SAT:
There is no doubt that Larry is a genuine _____: he excels at telling stories that fascinate his listeners.
The following is a sample question from the math section of the SAT:
If k is divisible by 2, 3, and 15, which of the following is also divisible by these numbers?
A. k + 5
B. k + 15
C. k + 20
D. k + 30
E. k + 45
The ACT includes multiple-choice questions and covers four sections: math, science, English and reading. Each section is scored from 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest. The average of these four section scores is the composite ACT score. The national average for ACT composite scores is about 21, but students who get into the top schools in the country regularly score somewhere between 27 and 33 on the test. Subscores, which are not reported to colleges and universities, for English, math and reading give more detail about how you did in these sections.
Students can opt to take the ACT Plus Writing, which also includes a 30-minute writing test. If you take the writing test, you’ll receive a writing subscore along with a combined English/writing score.
The ACT math section covers basic arithmetic, algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry (making it slightly more advanced than the SAT in this area). The ACT also differs from the SAT in that it has a science section. Questions in this section test students on their reading and reasoning skills based on a given set of facts.
The following is a sample essay topic for the writing portion of the ACT:
In your view, should high schools become more tolerant of cheating?
The following is a sample question from the English section of the ACT:
Surrounded by the ancient city of Rome, Vatican City is an independent nation on the west bank of the Tiber River.
Given that all of the choices are true, which option for the underlined portion of the passage above best supports the sentence’s claim about Vatican City’s status as an independent nation?
A. NO CHANGE
B. with an interesting past.
C. with its own government, banking system, postal service, and army.
D. that has to import most of its supplies, even such necessities as food and water.
The following is a sample question from the math section of the ACT:
A car averages 27 miles per gallon. If gas costs $4.04 per gallon, which of the following is closest to how much the gas would cost for this car to travel 2,727 typical miles?
The following is a sample question from the reading section of the ACT:
Refer to the passage here to answer this question.
One of the author’s main points about the legal concept of responsibility in the passage is that:
A. the phrase “not guilty by reason of insanity” has made our legal system more efficient.
B. responsibility and guilt are legal concepts, and their meanings can be modified.
C. knowing right from wrong is a simple matter of admitting the truth to oneself.
D. people can become severely disturbed without a word of warning to anyone.
The following is a sample question from the science section of the ACT:
Refer to the passage here to answer this question.
In general, the results of Study 1 suggest that peony seeds that are placed in a petri dish containing damp paper are most likely to germinate when they are maintained at which of the following temperatures?
SAT Subject Test
SAT Subject Tests are hour-long tests that allow students to show off their skills in a specific subject area. Though some schools require certain SAT Subject Test scores on applications, these tests are mostly taken on a voluntary basis by students who want to impress the admissions staff at prospective schools or try to earn college credits in this area.
There are a total of 20 SAT Subject Tests available covering five general subject areas. Each test contains a series of multiple-choice questions and is scored on a scale of 200 to 800. Most students score somewhere in the low- to mid-600s, though the average score for each SAT Subject Test varies.
The CollegeBoard website offers practice questions for each of the SAT Subject Tests. The following are sample questions from two of these tests (answers can be found at the bottom of this page):
From the U.S. History Subject Test:
One purpose of the Marshall Plan of 1948 was to:
A. rebuild European economies to make communism less appealing
B. aid the depressed agricultural economies of Latin American nations
C. aid communist nations that would agree to embrace democracy
D. give military aid to those nations resisting communist subversion
E. help the peoples of Asia establish heavy industries
From the Biology Subject Test:
The pH of human blood is slightly basic. Which of the following is most likely to be the pH of human blood?
- There are several options for standardized test preparation, including in-person courses, online courses, study guides and tutors.
- With the ACT and SAT, students have the option of automatically sending their scores to the schools they’d like to attend. Find out how this works and whether you should send your scores to colleges.
- Planning to attend community college or get your degree online? Contact the school you want to attend before signing up since they may not require standardized test scores.
Answers to Sample Test Questions:
- PSAT Sample Test Questions: B, E, D
- SAT Sample Test Questions: E, D
- ACT Sample Test Questions: C, D, B, B
- SAT Subject Test Sample Test Questions: A, B