If your child wants to get into a good college, intentional test prep is essential. Your kid’s ACT or SAT score will determine which colleges and scholarships are available. It’s best to start preparing for these tests as soon as possible.
Let’s talk about the different tests—ACT, ASVAB, PSAT, SAT—and look at the abundance of resources available to help your child study.
Types of Prep Tests
- ACT – An entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. It is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test administered by ACT, Inc..
- SAT – An entrance exam used by most colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. It is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test administered by the College Board.
- PSAT/NMSQT – The qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. This exam is not for college admission, but it’s a great pre-test for the ACT or SAT. The fees are paid by your kid’s school. I won’t discuss this test in great detail, but you can find great online practice tests here, as well as some below.
- ASVAB – The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery is a qualification test to enlist in the military and determine your child’s job, if he chooses to go this route.
ACT Vs. SAT
Growing up, I had always heard that the South requires an ACT score, while the North requires an SAT. That’s only partially true.
Most colleges will actually accept either test.1
The ACT is 2hrs and 55min (add 40 minutes if taken with the writing portion). The ACT is broken down into four sections (not including the writing section):
The max score possible is 36, while the average is 21.
The SAT is 3hrs (add 50 minutes if taking the essay portion). The SAT is broken down into two sections (not including the essay):
- Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
The highest SAT score is 1600, while the average is 1060.
Which is Right for Your Child?
When it comes to deciding between the ACT and the SAT, the best thing to do is determine the college(s) your child wants to get into, and see what their specific qualifications are.
Some colleges prefer the ACT, some prefer the SAT, but again, most will accept either one.
Fees for the ACT & SAT
As of 2019, cost for the SAT is $47.50; if you take the SAT with essay, the cost is $64.50.2 The cost for the ACT is $50.50; if you take the ACT with essay, the cost is $67.00.3 There are some additional fees for certain circumstances.
In certain cases, the basic fees can be waived.
While the ASVAB isn’t a college entrance exam, it’s an entrance exam for an alternate life choice that I felt was worth addressing. I’m sure I’m biased, but this option gets overlooked by so many parents. It’s worth at least considering the military, whether for education benefits, or simply for your child to experience the feeling of serving her country.
The ASVAB paper and pencil test is roughly 3hrs long, while the computerized version (CAT-ASVAB) takes about half as much time to complete.
The ASVAB is broken down into 10 sections:
- General Science
- Arithmetic Reasoning
- Word Knowledge
- Paragraph Comprehension
- Mathematics Knowledge
- Electronics Information
- Auto Information
- Shop Information
- Mechanical Comprehension
- Assembling Objects
Your child’s scores from four of the tests — Word Knowledge, Paragraph Comprehension, Arithmetic Reasoning, and Mathematics Knowledge — are combined to compute his AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test) score. The AFQT score determines your child’s eligibility to enlist in the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Navy. Scores from the other ASVAB sections determine the job your child would best serve in.
If your child wants to join the military, it’s important to take the proper steps to study for the ASVAB. There are plenty of study resources available for the ASVAB, and your child can take it more than once.
Since the minimum scores to enter specific branches and career fields are constantly changing, you will have to check with a local recruiter to figure out what score your child needs. For example, when I came into the Air Force, the minimum entry score was technically a 50, but I was told that they weren’t interested in anyone who scored below a 75.
Prep Test Study Resources
Many websites offer free practice tests and study guides. Sometimes, they “bait and switch” from offering free resources to offering paid resources. And sometimes the once-upon-a-time free resources are now only paid. It can get confusing.
I’ve put together a complete list for you to skim over. Browse through all of them. Many of these resources are free, some are paid, but they’re all valuable.
- College Board – SAT practice, registration and scores. They also offer free practice questions and tests here.
- BWS Education Consulting – All kinds of free resources for the ACT and SAT.
- Princeton Review – Free ACT and SAT practice tests.
- Method Test Prep – Free study guide and some great paid classes for ACT and SAT prep.
- Kaplan – Free quiz to determine whether your child should take the ACT or SAT. Paid classes for both tests as well.
- ACT.org – The official ACT website. Provides everything you need to know about the ACT.
- Learn How to Become – Great resources and practice for the ACT.
- Best Colleges – All kinds of information and test prep for the SAT.
- EBSCO Learning Express – Resources and study materials for the ACT and SAT.
- Prep Factory – More free and paid resources to study for the ACT and SAT.
- McGraw-Hill Education – Complete free ACT practice tests.
- Khan Academy – SAT practice tests.
- Test Prep Practice – Free online practice tests for the ACT, SAT, and PSAT.
- Varsity Tutors – Free and paid practice tests, and other resources, for the ACT, SAT, and PSAT.
- Power Score – Free and paid resources for the SAT.
- Peterson’s – Affordable test prep for the ACT and SAT.
- 4 Tests – Free online practice tests for the ACT, SAT and ASVAB.
- Online College Plan – 50 free resources each for the ACT and SAT.
- Your Child’s School – Most schools have an abundance of free resources and practice exams to help your child study for whichever test makes the most sense. Check with the school to see what’s available.
- Number2 – Formerly, the best resource on the internet for Free ACT and SAT Prep. Sadly, it’s no longer available, but for more resources, see the books below.
Preparation makes all the difference. While there are so many free study resources, it may actually pay to pay. The paid classes are going to be more in depth than the free ones. Spending a little money now could change the course of your child’s college plan, depending on her goals and dreams.
Physical Study Guides
- The Official ACT Prep Guide by ACT
- ACT Prep Plus 2019 by Kaplan
- The Official SAT Study Guide by College Board
- Cracking the SAT by The Princeton Review
- ASVAB Prep Plus by Kaplan
- ASVAB Study Guide by Test Prep Books
Last Updated: June 13, 2020
- Phoenix High School. College Admissions Testing.
- College Board Staff. (2018, May 18). How Much Do the SAT and SAT Subject Tests Cost? The College Board Blog.
- ACT Guidelines. Current ACT Fees and Services. ACT.org.
- ASVAB Fact Sheet