Getting into College

Getting into College: PSAT, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests


The PSAT is a preliminary version of the SAT that tests virtually the same skills as the SAT. Students generally take the PSAT in October of their junior year and receive scores in December. Used by scholarship committees to determine award eligibility, the PSAT also provides valuable practice and experience for the SAT.


In many ways, the PSAT is a shorter version of the SAT. Like the SAT, it is comprised of four timed sections that are grouped under two main headings: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (ERW) and Math. ERW contains two sub-sections, Reading and Writing & Language. Students complete one Reading section that assesses their ability to think critically about reading passages; one Writing & Language section that tests grammar and effective writing concepts; and two Math sections (one that permits use of a calculator and one that does not) that test concepts such as algebra, basic statistics, and logic. There is no Essay section on the PSAT.


Students receive a point for each correct answer. There is no penalty for wrong answers. The raw scores from the two sections of the PSAT – Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math – are converted to scaled scores between 160 and 760, and these scores are added together to create a total score between 320 and 1520. Students are also assigned a percentile ranking that compares their scores to those achieved across the nation.

Preparing for the PSAT

In addition to providing valuable practice for the SAT, the PSAT is also used to determine National Merit Scholarship qualification. At Pinnacle Prep, the PSAT is incorporated into a student’s overall test plan in order to provide a solid foundation for upcoming tests and to maximize scores on the PSAT itself. Contact us to discuss how PSAT preparation can best fit into your individualized test plan.

For more information on the Pinnacle Prep approach, click here.

National Merit Scholarship Corporation

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation uses PSAT scores to determine the recipients of its scholarship awards and merit recognition. Approximately 50,000 students who achieve above a certain score on the PSAT are recognized as commended students or semi-finalists. The exact score that qualifies students for commendation is the same nationwide, and it can vary slightly from year to year. Semi-finalist qualifications are determined by the scores within each state, and again they can change from year to year.

Registration and Test Dates

The PSAT is offered each October. In general, schools automatically register students for this exam. Virtually all juniors take the PSAT, and some schools offer it to their sophomores as well. Only juniors are eligible for National Merit Scholarship consideration.
For more information on the PSAT, click here.


Colleges use SAT scores to help determine admission and assess a student’s capacity for college-level work. The SAT is offered many times throughout the year, and students can take it during their junior or senior year. Many students take the SAT more than once to achieve a maximum score.


The SAT is comprised of four timed sections that are grouped under two main headings: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing (ERW) and Math. ERW has two sub-sections, Reading and Writing & Language. The Reading section asks students to read several fiction and nonfiction passages and asks questions that assess a student’s ability to think critically about them. The Writing & Language section analyzes a student’s command of grammar concepts and ability to identify effective writing. There are two Math sections, one of which permits use of a calculator and one of which does not. Both Math sub-sections test arithmetic, algebra, and some higher math concepts.  In addition, there is an optional Essay that asks students to read a nonfiction passage and then analyze and explain how the author crafts his or her argument.


Students receive a point for each correct answer. There is no penalty for wrong answers. The raw score for each section is converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800, and these scores are added together for a total score between 400 and 1600. Students are also assigned a percentile ranking that compares their scores with the national average. Most competitive colleges look for scores of 1200 and higher, and the top schools typically look for students with scores of 1400 and up.

Preparing for the SAT

The SAT is a major component of a student’s test plan. Preparation ideally begins with the PSAT and continues with multiple SAT tests throughout the year so that students have the opportunity to send their top scores to colleges. To help students maximize their SAT scores, Pinnacle Prep tutors analyze individual needs and prepare a learning plan that incorporates math, reading, and grammar fundamentals and writing skills. Test practice is emphasized through homework and periodic mock exams.

For more information on the Pinnacle Prep approach, click here.

Registration Dates and Test Dates

Each test date has a registration deadline and a late registration deadline, for which an additional fee applies. If a student misses the late registration deadline, he or she may apply for waitlist status up until five days before the test date. Because of enhanced security measures implemented in 2012, standby testing is no longer available.

To register for the SAT, click here.


The ACT is designed to determine students’ general educational development and to predict their ability to complete college-level work successfully. Covering four skill areas (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science), the test also includes an optional Writing assessment. Most students take the ACT during their junior and senior years, and many students take the ACT more than once to increase their chances of reaching their goals.


The ACT is divided into 4 multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The English section contains passages that require editing for grammar and usage, as well as questions that evaluate overall comprehension. The Math section tests concepts such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and basic trigonometry, while the Reading section contains four individual passages, each followed by reading comprehension questions. Finally, the Science section, while incorporating scientific concepts, does not require scientific knowledge – all the necessary information is there. Rather, the section tests a student’s ability to read charts and graphs and to draw logical conclusions and inferences from the data given.


Students receive a point for each correct answer and, like the SAT, incorrect answers are not penalized. The raw score for each of the four sections is converted to a scaled score between 1 and 36 points. A composite score is calculated from the average of the 4 section scores. Students who write the optional essay will receive an additional score between 1-36 on the essay. The essay score does not factor into the composite score.

Preparing for the ACT

Since all colleges accept both SAT and ACT scores, and since the SAT and ACT utilize many of the same concepts and skills, it makes sense to incorporate the ACT into a student’s test plan. To help students prepare for the ACT, Pinnacle Prep tutors create a learning plan that incorporates math, reading, and grammar fundamentals, as well as ACT-specific strategies and skills.
For more information on the Pinnacle Prep approach, click here.

To register for the ACT, click here.

SAT Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests cover a variety of academic subjects and are designed to measure a student’s knowledge of specific disciplines. SAT Subject Tests are “curriculum-based,” which means they test material learned in high school classes. Many top colleges require scores from one or more Subject Tests.

Subjects Offered:

United States History
World History
Mathematics Level 1
Mathematics Level 2
Chinese with Listening
French with Listening
German with Listening
Modern Hebrew
Japanese with Listening
Korean with Listening
Spanish with Listening


Students receive a point for each correct answer and lose a quarter of a point for each incorrect answer. The raw score is then converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800. Each test uses a slightly different conversion table; the more advanced tests, such as the Mathematics II test, have a more forgiving curve.

Preparing for the SAT Subject Tests

SAT Subject Tests are a valuable addition to a student’s application portfolio, and they are a required for some colleges. At Pinnacle Prep, we help students analyze which tests would make sense to incorporate into their individualized test plans, and we match students with tutors who specialize in each subject test area.

Registration Dates and Test Dates

For a complete list of test dates and fees, click here.