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So, you may find yourself asking, what are these important tests so many students take in high school? Well, here’s a quick and simple breakdown for you…

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SAT                                         ACT                                                                  Dual Enrollment (DE)

SAT Subject Tests               Advanced Placement (AP)                        State Standardized Testing

PSAT/NMSQT                    International Baccalaureate (IB)


What? The most common standardized test, and the one most often required for college admission. (As a universal test it helps admission counselors easily compare you to other students, in a way that grades or recommendations can’t.) It’s owned by the College Board. The test is comprised of writing, reading, and math sections. Check out the College Board’s about page here.

When? Usually junior and/or senior year of high school, but can be taken earlier. Tests are held multiple times a year, often at local high schools in your area. You will want to register for this test early, as the price increases for late-registration.

Fee? The 2014-15 registration fee is $52.50.


SAT Subject Tests
What? Usually not a required test like the SAT (check your potential college’s admission requirements), but an optional one to show expertise in a particular subject, ranging from chemistry to Chinese language. There are 20 subjects to choose from, and the number and combination of tests you may choose to take is up to you. It’s also owned by the College Board.

When? Usually junior and/or senior of high school, but can be taken earlier. Tests are six times a year, often at local high schools in your area. Like the SAT, you will want to register for this test early, as the price increases for late registration.

Fee? The 2014-15 registration fee is $26, plus $26 or $16 for each additional test. See details here.


It’s not a required test for college admittance (but highly recommended). The PSAT not only serves as a practice test for the actual SAT, but also enters you into consideration for the National Merit Scholarship (thus the NMSQT in the title of the test).

When? Usually sophomore year (or at the latest, junior year) of high school. Note that these tests are only administered once at each high school each year, usually a weekend in mid-October. Also note that online registration is not available for this test – you have to sign up at your high school.

Fee? The 2014-15 fee is $14.


A multiple subject test (much like the SAT) that can include a writing section. Usually accepted as an alternative to the SAT by most colleges and universities.

When? Usually junior and/or senior year of high school, but can be taken earlier. The test is administered six times a year. Some people prefer the ACT or SAT based on their testing strengths. It is administered by ACT, Inc.

Fee? The 2014-15 fee is $38 (no writing section) and $54.50 (with writing section).



Advanced Placement
What? Refers to the 30+ subject classes and the exams administered by the College Board. APs are the most common way to obtain college credit while still in high school.  It is not normally advised to sit an AP exam without having first taken the corresponding AP class, either in person or virtually.*  The College Board’s Getting Started Guide has some great resources.

When? Both courses and tests can be taken throughout high school. AP courses are taken as either a year-long or semester-long (double the class time) courses. The exams occur during the first three weeks of May each year.

Fee? Each test is $89.


International Baccalaureate
A curriculum of courses offered by International Baccalaureate. Some colleges and universities offer credit for the coursework taken in high school.

When? Depending on the program you are in – between the ages of 3 and 19. Most programs are found within high schools, but require entry into the program from the beginning (not a one-year commitment).

Fee? Fees range depending on the program, but are around $150.


Dual Enrollment
Courses taken in conjunction with the local community college, often for college credit at state universities.

When? Usually junior and senior year of high school (as many courses require a year of non-college level experience in that course prior to registration; example: taking Honors Chemistry in Grade 10 and then DE Chemistry in Grade 11). Courses are normally a year long and examinations are done by the in-classroom teacher to the community college’s standards.

Fee? Ranges depending upon your location and your high school’s policies.



State Standardized Testing (names vary)
Many states have standardized testing for certain subjects that students are required to pass for graduation from high school. Each state’s requirements are different, but all schools should be able to provide you with details if requested.

When? Usually all years of high school (and often periodically throughout elementary and middle/junior high school), and usually taking place during May and June of each school year.

Fee? Normally free.


A note about online, virtual courses: Many high schools offer virtual (online) AP or DE courses and some community colleges offer virtual classes. These classes can be a great, often-untapped, resource! Check with your school to see what they offer. High schools can often offer a wider variety of classes as virtual courses as they do not have to fill them in order to offer them.