Your Guide to College Entrance Exams

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jan 13, 2022

Are you thinking about going to college? From the SAT to ACT to CLT, you have a variety of options when it comes to which (if any) entrance exam to take.

[Featured image] A student sits at a desk next to a bright window in a library studying for a college entrance exam on her computer.

When it comes to college entrance examinations you have a number of options, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The three most common entrance exams are the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), the American College Test (ACT), and the Classical Learning Test (CLT). To help determine which of these exams is the right choice for you, let’s explore the format and content of each. 

Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)

More than two million students take the SAT every year. The SAT is a standardized test introduced in 1926, administered by the ETS (Educational Testing Service) on behalf of the College Board. Typically, high school students take the SAT during their junior year or early in their senior year. 

If you're interested in taking the SAT, check with your high school to see if they offer it on-site. Many schools offer the SAT at varying times throughout the year. If your school doesn't provide testing, they can direct you to an official test center nearby. 

Read more: What Is a Good SAT Score? Finding Your Goal Score


If you take the SAT, you'll have three hours to complete it, and it consists of two key parts: 

  1. An evidence-based reading and writing section 

  2. A math section

For the evidence-based section of the SAT, you'll complete a reading test and a writing and language test. In the math section, you'll have the option of using a calculator during the first part of the test, but you'll need to put it away for the second part. Although the SAT doesn't include a formal science section, questions on science are interspersed throughout. 

After you've completed the SAT, you'll earn separate scores from 200 to 800 for each of the two sections. Your composite score can range from 400 to 1600.

You should receive your SAT scores approximately two to three weeks from your completion date. Usually, scores are sent to your chosen schools within ten days of receipt.   

Why take the SAT?

If you have strong math skills, you may want to take the SAT. The math section covers a wide range of math subjects, including:

  • Algebra

  • Data analysis

  • Geometry

  • Pre-calculus

  • Trigonometry

Strong math skills also help during the no-calculator section of the test. However, when comparing the SAT to ACT, the former allows more time per question for mental calculation. 

American College Test (ACT)

Prospective college students looking for another testing option can take the ACT, which was introduced in 1959. ACT is a non-profit educational organization of the same name and administers this examination. 

Typically, high school students take the ACT in their junior year to allow for retesting if needed. You can find registration information on the ACT website, and the test is given in the months of: 

  • September

  • October

  • December

  • February

  • April

  • June

  • July

If you’re interested in taking the ACT, many high schools offer on-site testing, so check with your guidance counselor to find out if your school is a testing location. 

For each section of the ACT, you'll receive a score from one to thirty-six. The average of these scores makes up your composite score. Generally, you'll receive ACT scores two to eight weeks after testing. 

Read more: What Is a Good ACT Score in 2022? Finding Your Goal Score


The ACT consists of multiple-choice questions, which are broken into four sections: English, reading, math, and science. Participants have two hours and fifty-five minutes to complete the test. Calculators are allowed on the math portion. 

Why take the ACT?

Math subjects covered on the ACT include algebra, data analysis, geometry, and trigonometry. If you tend to rely on a calculator to solve math problems, you may benefit from taking the ACT because you can use one for all math questions. Because the ACT allows less time per question than the SAT, it helps to have strong skills in reading comprehension and recall when taking this test. 

Classical Learning Test (CLT)

An alternative to the two customary entrance exams became an option with the introduction of the CLT in 2015. Designed for high school juniors and seniors, roughly 150 colleges across the country accept the results of this test. 

Unlike the SAT and ACT, this test is administered in two ways:

  1. You can take the test online with a remote proctor. This allows you to test from the comfort of your own home, using your desktop or laptop computer.

  2. You can take the test at a designated testing site, which will be supervised by an in-person proctor. To register for an online exam or find testing sites in your area, you can visit the CLT website.

This entrance exam features very straightforward scoring: one point for each correct answer for a possible score of 120. You should receive your CLT score one to two weeks after testing. 


The CLT offers a two-hour total completion time with three forty-question sections divided in the following way:

  • Verbal Reasoning: 40 minutes

  • Grammar and Writing: 35 minutes

  • Quantitative Reasoning: 45 minutes

Why take the CLT?

With a focus on classical education, the CLT exam emphasizes reading and logic and reasoning as opposed to calculation. If you have strengths in these areas, this test might be the one for you. 

The CLT is primarily accepted by private or religious colleges and universities. If you hope to attend one of these, you might benefit from taking this exam. 

If you're an overachiever, the scoring possibilities with the CLT are higher than those of the SAT or ACT. The highest scores you can earn on the SAT and ACT equate to a 114 on the CLT. However, a perfect score on this test is 120. The simple scoring method and quicker score delivery time also make this test an attractive option.

Preparing for a college entrance exam

No matter what type of college entrance exam you take, knowing how to prepare can make a world of difference when it comes to your score. Here are a few tips and strategies that can help:

  • Begin preparing about three months prior to your exam, and study for at least three hours per week.

  • Purchase one of the test prep guides on the market to learn about the type of test you're taking.

  • Look into test-prep apps that offer simulated testing, and practice often. 

  • Re-familiarize yourself with standard math concepts and formulas. 

  • Read challenging articles or books and look up unfamiliar words. 

  • Enroll in a test-prep class, work with a study group, and/or hire a test-prep tutor. 

  • Give yourself enough time to retake an entrance exam if needed.

  • If you're an adult taking a college entrance exam, visit the College Board, ACT, or CLT website to get specifics about testing sites, dates, and times.

What's next

Interested in pursuing an online degree after completing your college entrance exam? On Coursera, you'll find bachelor's degrees from colleges and universities around the world covering many areas, from computer science and business to engineering.

Related articles

Written by Coursera • Updated on Jan 13, 2022

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

Learn without limits