What Are College Entrance Exams?

If you're looking to enter a 4-year college or university following high school, you'll probably need to take a college entrance exam. Scores on college entrance exams are used for admission decisions, academic placement and even determining a student's course of study.

College Entrance Exams

College entrance exams are used to assess a student's college-level abilities in general and in specific academic areas. Acceptable scores on college entrance exams usually differ from one school to another. The following are the most common college entrance exams:

  • SAT
  • SAT II
  • ACT

Important Facts About College Entrance Exams

Subjects Literature, U.S. and world history, Spanish, chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology, English, French
Required Skills Reading, listening, speaking and writing (TOEFL)
Online Availability Test prep and practice available online
Scores 200-800 (SAT), 1-36 (composite, ACT)


The SAT may be the most widely-recognized of all college entrance exams, and SAT scores are accepted at nearly all U.S. colleges and universities. The SAT has three sections: math, writing and critical reading. The SAT was once called the Scholastic Aptitude Test or the Scholastic Assessment Test, but is now known as the SAT Reasoning Test. The SAT is administered seven times per year and is generally given to high school students in the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year.


The SAT II, or SAT Subject Test, differs from the SAT in that it offers testing in more specific areas. While the SAT measures mostly math and verbal or reading comprehension skills, the SAT II contains sections in English, social sciences, history, physical sciences and foreign languages. Scores on this exam may be used to determine a student's course of study.


Using multiple-choice questions, the ACT measures a student's skills in English, reading, science and math. It also contains an optional writing test. The ACT, first administered in 1959, is more common than the SAT in the Great Plains and Midwest regions.


The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is required of students who do not use English as their primary language. This exam is used to measure international students' understanding and use of the English language to make sure they have the skills to be successful in a U.S. postsecondary institution. The TOEFL is accepted in colleges and universities in the U.S. and around the world.

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