College Entrance Standardized Tests

When registering for all tests, use the Paly school code: 052-350

College Entrance Testing

Some colleges are test-optional or do not require college entrance tests for admission. Information about test-optional colleges is available from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fair Test) at

ACT test schedules and preparation:

PSAT, SAT I, SAT II and AP test schedules and preparation:

Differences between SAT (I) and ACT Tests

Both the ACT and the SAT are nationally administered standardized tests that help colleges evaluate applications. There are differences in test structure and the type of content assessed.

  • All colleges and universities accept either test.
  • The CSUs and many private colleges do not require or consider the Writing portion of the SAT or ACT.
  • Some colleges review SAT scores on a 1600 scale (Critical Reading and Math only) or a 2400 scale. (Reference list of colleges requiring the writing section)

In order to create the best application for yourself, you could begin by considering which test might show you at your best. You can check out the ACT and College Board Concordance SAT-ACT Tables. For more specific SAT (I) or ACT test information, see the Testing Information section below.

Overview of the SAT and ACT

This document explains the differences between the SAT and ACT tests.

The C&CC has a number of College Board SAT and ACT free full-length test pamphlets available.   

College Requirements and the SAT (II) Subject Test

Some selective colleges require students also take SAT Subject tests (SAT IIs)—a one-hour test in a particular subject.  If students are considering colleges that require SAT Subject tests, it is important to take these tests in subjects that the student will not be continuing to study in high school.  For example, if the student has completed a third year of a language as a junior, does not plan to take a fourth as a senior, and wants to take the subject test in this language, he/she should plan to schedule the exam in the spring.  The SAT Reasoning test and SAT Subject tests cannot be taken on the same day.  We encourage juniors to take these subject tests in the spring (June), close to the completion of the related coursework. Each test is an hour in duration.

UC and SAT Subject Tests
Students are no longer required to take 2 SAT Subject Tests to be minimally eligible for the UC.  However, some campuses and some majors *recommend* students submit SAT Subject Test scores to be considered for admission.   A few UC campuses have determined SAT Subject Test recommendations for specific colleges or schools, and majors: a major is not listed, then there is no recommendation--at least not at this point. The remaining campuses either have not finalized their position or have chosen to view Subject Test scores, in general, as adding merit to a student's application. Remember, these are recommendations, not mandates. The UC indicates that students will not be penalized for failing to take the SAT Subject Tests. On the other hand, submission of test scores may add positively to the review of their application--especially for selective campuses and majors.

The Compass college chart provides a list of colleges that require, recommend, or consider the SAT Subject Test scores as part of the admissions process. It is always a good idea to check the school web sites for the most accurate information. For an SAT (II) test overview and more specific information, see the Testing Information below.

Some colleges accept the ACT in lieu of SAT Subject tests.

Score Reporting

About Options for Reporting Test Scores

As of March 2009, the College Board has a new, optional Score Choice SAT score reporting feature that allows students to choose which scores from which test date to send to colleges. Score Choice is optional, and if students choose not to use it, all scores will be sent automatically.

    • SAT Score-Use Practices – 53-page booklet with descriptions of practices listed by college, university, scholarship or other organization.
    • Be aware that some colleges require students to report scores from all tests taken.

Tips for Saving Money when Sending SAT or ACT Test Scores to UC or CSU Colleges

  • UC campuses
    In step 8 of the UC application, authorize the release of your application information with all UC campuses (it's the first release on the third screen of step 8, after the affadavits). If you do so, then the official test scores sent to any one UC campus will be shared with the UC Office of the President and accessible to all of the UC campuses system-wide. This can save you money!
  • CSU campuses
    Send scores to multiple campuses for free or the price of one campus! Select one campus during test registration and it’s free; request a score report to one CSU after you take the test (for a modest fee) and later release scores to additional campuses for free.
    • SAT: Use school code 3594. Do so, either when you register for the SAT or after you take the test and request a score report. This code will send your SAT scores to the Chancellor's Office in Long Beach (i.e. all of the CSU campuses for the price of one)
    • ACT: Request that your ACT scores are sent to one of the CSUs and they'll be shared with all the others.

Important Notes

  • Some colleges require students to report scores from all test sittings. Check with the admissions department for each college to find out the specific requirements for reporting your SAT scores in your college application for each school.
  • At the time of SAT test registration, the testing companies offer you 4 free score reports to send to colleges; alternatively, you can request scores to be sent later, at the time of application, for a per-college fee.
  • If you use a fee waiver to register for the SAT, this entitles you to 4 additional free score reports for colleges, at the time of registration. Please note this is 4 total score reports, not 4 per test registration. Also, the SAT registration fee waiver entitles you to 4 college application fee waivers.
  • The ACT offers test registration fee waivers. See a college advisor for more information about fee waivers.
  • If, on your SAT/ACT registration, you list colleges where you want your scores sent, the UCs and CSUs will keep the scores for 2 years.

Test Preparation and Practice

For Paly Students

Paly Family Connection/Naviance includes Naviance Test Prep SAT and ACT test preparation. This free service is available on-line so students have access from any web-enabled computer, making it easy for them to study when it's most convenient. Students just need to login via their own password and click the Naviance Test Prep hyperlink located in the left-hand navigation panel. Using PrepMe test preparation, students can:

  • Access strategy guides for each test
  • Complete full-length, timed practice tests
  • Receive hundreds of practice questions
  • Read easy explanations to every question
  • Track their strengths on each test
  • Receive valuable test-taking tips
  • Take practice quizzes to boost their knowledge
  • Access their courses any time from any web-enabled computer

Students can listen to a professional tutor explain the concepts and questions that they are struggling with, without reading through pages of intimidating text. Students get immediate feedback and a complete explanation for every practice question. And, each student's performance is tracked and strengths and weaknesses are clearly indicated.

For Free

There are many online resources offering study guides, preparation courses, and practice tests at no charge. The following is a partial list in no particular order. You can do an online search for additional resources.

Testing Information

PSAT/NMSQT(Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is given only in October each year. The PSAT is a practice test for the SAT and is also the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship Program. All juniors will take the PSAT at Paly during the school day. After scores are released, juniors will receive help in Advisory interpreting the scores so that you will be able to determine what specific areas may need additional work. Your original test booklets will be available from your Teacher Advisor in January. This test does not count for college admissions. Palo Alto High School, following the guidelines of the College Board, does not release PSAT scores to colleges.
Registration information and dates are announced in the Daily Bulletin. For more information about the PSAT, go to The Paly contact for testing is Dean of Students, Adam Paulson.

SAT I (Reasoning Test) measures verbal, numerical reasoning, and English writing skills. It is used by the University of California (UC), the California State Universities (CSU) and many private colleges as an entrance requirement. It is a 3-hour and 45-minutes test – half verbal and half mathematics. It is advisable to take SAT I in the spring of your junior year. There are two advantages: you will gain experience, and if you wish to take the test again, you may do so in the fall. All scores are recorded on the report form; the colleges will use your best score for admission purposes. (UC colleges, however, use the scores from any single date that you specify.) Be sure to arrange with the testing service to have these and all scores sent to the colleges. Scores are mailed home. There is a fee. You cannot take SAT I and SAT II on the same day. For more information, go to The Paly contact for testing is Dean of Students, Adam Paulson.

SAT II (Subject Tests) test specific knowledge in subject matter. These are one-hour tests and are entrance requirements for some selective colleges (check your colleges). Students should take these tests as late as possible in the sequence of their course curriculum or at the conclusion of the related courses. In particular, juniors thinking of majoring in math or science related fields should consider taking the subject test at the conclusion of their current math or science classes. Math students need to check college admission requirements and confer with their teachers concerning the math level IC or level IIC option. (For the UC system, only Math IIC is accepted.) Both levels require at least a scientific calculator. Review your strengths. If Spanish is your strong point, take the Spanish subject test when you complete the course. Even though you can select your testing subjects at the test site on the day of the test, you would be well advised to have your test choice and sequence in mind.
Students are encouraged to take SAT II tests in the spring of their junior year. Students can take up to three subject matter tests in different areas in one morning (the least expensive way). There is a fee. For more information, go to The Paly contact for testing is Dean of Students, Adam Paulson.

SAT Subject Tests are no longer required to be minimally eligible for the UC; however, some campuses might recommend students submit SAT Subject Test scores to be considered for admission--especially for certain majors. For more information, see:  Remember, these are recommendations, not mandates. The UC indicates that students will not be penalized for failing to take the SAT Subject Tests. On the other hand, submission of test scores may add positively to the review of their application--especially for selective campuses and majors.

ACT (American College Test) tests student ability in English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. The ACT is a college entrance examination that is an acceptable alternative to the SAT I for virtually all colleges, including the University of California and California State Universities. You may take the ACT during the spring of your junior year or in the fall of your senior year. If your math is weak, the ACT may be preferable to SAT I. ACT registration envelopes are available in the College & Career Center. There is a fee. Complete all pages of the form or you may register online at The Paly contact for testing is Dean of Students, Adam Paulson.

AP (Advanced Placement) tests are given in May for college–level courses taken at high school. Most colleges give AP credit to students who make acceptable scores on the AP examinations. Standards are high: grades range from 1 to 5. While a grade of 3 is generally considered to be a passing score, some colleges acknowledge only a 4 or 5. Each college determines its own policy in regard to granting credit, advanced placement, or both, depending upon the AP score. If AP credits are earned in four of five subject areas, some colleges will offer immediate sophomore standing. Even so, a student may choose to enter college as a freshman. The student would have the opportunity to take advanced courses earlier and to enjoy richer programs.

Palo Alto High School offers AP courses in Chemistry, English, Physics, Biology, Environmental Science, French, Spanish, Calculus, Computer Science, Statistics, U.S. History, Art History, Studio Art, Psychology, and Music Theory. The emphasis in AP courses is on developing critical thinking and on writing clear, effective essays using primary research sources. Several studies have shown that AP students on the average do better work in college than do students with equal or greater abilities who have not taken AP courses. Anyone with special strengths in a subject should talk with his/her teacher advisor about getting into AP classes. Students enrolled in AP courses should take the AP tests. In late January or early February, the online registration for AP exams will open and AP teachers will distribute the Bulletin for AP Students and Parents. Even if they are not in an AP course, students with strong interest and demonstrated competency in a subject are also encouraged to take the test. Such students can also register online for any test offered at Paly. There is a fee for each test and payment is made through the online registration. There are also fees for late registration and cancellation.

Additional considerations:

  • An AP test can provide good preparation for an SAT subject test in a related area.
  • The score earned on AP test may enable student to earn course credit at college.
  • If enrolled in AP classes, some colleges may ask for AP test scores (when available) on their applications and may consider them in their application review.

For more information, go to The Paly contact is Assistant Principal Adam Paulson, (650) 329-3701.



Cernobori, Sandra College Advisor, A-K
Deggelman, Ann TA Program Co-coordinator
Gyves, Meri Teacher, Work Experience
Laguna, Crystal Outreach Specialist, Community College & Career Advisor
Larson, Karla Guidance & Career Voc Ed Assistant
Ludemann, Krissy Registrar
Mendoza, Stephanie College Advisor, L-Z

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