Posted in HS4CC

When to take College Admissions Tests

Many teens choose to take one or more college admissions tests in high school – if you’re wondering when each exam should be taken, here’s a quick guide to get you planning.

College Admissions Tests

College admissions tests are optional tests- so you don’t have to take them unless you target a college that requires them for admissions.  A large percentage of our HS4CC community attends college without ever taking an admissions test.

Don’t assume your teen must take a standardized test!  Although it seems like “everyone is doing it,” the truth is that most teens take the test before knowing whether or not they need to.   Simply- you might not even need to worry about it.

Sometimes, dual enrollment programs administer a placement test, which replaces the need for a PSAT or SAT exam at that moment.  (Accuplacer or Compass are popular).  Since students who earn college credit in high school will still apply to college as a freshman, remember that earning college credit does not generally waive a college’s admissions test requirement.  If you’re trying to avoid a standardized exam, the best solution is choosing a college that doesn’t require them.  There are many!!

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing maintains a database of over 900 bachelor-degree-granting-colleges that do not require standardized exams for admission, are “test-optional” or “test flexible.” See full listIn addition to the bachelor’s degree colleges above, there are 1,200 community colleges in the United States, most of which provide open enrollment admission – that is to say admission is granted without test score benchmarks. In most cases, colleges use a placement tool (Accuplacer and Compass) to determine the level for placement, not whether or not you can earn admission.

Placement Tests

A placement test indicates what level course to start your teen – if they “place” high enough, they can begin college-level courses that count toward their degree. If they don’t, they aren’t denied admission, rather they are placed in the level that they need. It’s important to remember that scoring high on a placement test will save your teen time and money, but it is not an admissions exam.  Community colleges do not deny admission, they simply “place” your student according to their placement test score.

If your teen’s college goals are met through a certificate, diploma, license, or degree obtained through a community college, it is unlikely that they will have to take a college admissions exam.

We are planning to test – what’s next?

If you know your teen is targeting a college that requires a solid exam score for admission or uses standardized exams for scholarships, then you’re going to want your teen to “practice” taking standardized tests along the way.  Homeschool families don’t always have as many opportunities to develop their test-taking skills, so can be at a disadvantage without enough practice.

The College Board and Classic Learning Test (CLT) each have a sequence of tests that “lead up to” the SAT / CLT, and while they aren’t required, the PSAT can lead to scholarships while providing valuable practice opportunities.   Note that the ACT brand doesn’t have this string of tests leading to the exam, but you can choose either the ACT,  SAT, or CLT for your college admissions exam based on your teen’s strengths and the requirement of their target college.


PSAT 8/9  (or CLT^8)

  • Who: Eighth and ninth graders
  • Where: At school
  • When: Schools choose a date to offer the PSAT 8/9. Testing is available during:
    • September 21, 2020–March 26, 2021*
    • April 13–30, 2021
    • *Orders can’t be placed between January 30–February 21, 2021
  • Why?  To gauge whether or not your teen is on track for the SAT.

PSAT 10 (or CLT^10)

  • Who: 10th graders
  • Where: At school
  • When: Schools choose a date to offer the PSAT 10. Testing is available during:
  • Scholarships: Scores are used by scholarship programs to look for eligible students, but are not considered for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
  • CLT^10 Scholarships are available at these schools 
  • Why?  To gauge whether or not your teen is on track for the SAT.


  • Who: 11th and 10th graders
  • Where: At school
  • When: Wednesday, October 14, 2020. Other options are Saturday, October 17 and Wednesday, October 28. (View the PSAT/NMSQT calendar.)
  • Why?  Scholarships: Scores are used by scholarship programs, including the National Merit® Scholarship Program, to look for eligible students.
  • Why?  To gauge whether or not your teen is on track for the SAT.


  • Who: 11th and 12th graders
    • Most common taken Spring semester 11th grade or Fall semester 12th grade
  • Where: At school
  • When: SAT dates for 2021, ACT dates for 2021, CLT dates for 2021
  • Why?  Required by some colleges for admissions.
  • Why? Scholarships- some colleges use scores to award merit aid.

College Entrance Exam Comparisons

Features CLT SAT® ACT®
College/University Acceptance Some Most Most
Method Online Paper Paper
Estimated Time 2:00 3:00 2:45
Costs $54 $45 ($57) $39.50 ($56.50)
Scoring 0-120 400-1,600 1-36
Science Included no no yes
Trigonometry Included yes yes yes
Essay/Writing Test Optional Optional Optional



Other posts you might like to read:

SAT & CLEP from Home? Not in 2020.

SAT: Stressing About Testing


Executive Director of Homeschooling for College Credit