Home > Academics > College Counseling > SAT / ACT Testing

SAT / ACT Testing

An important part of the college application process is the completion of standardized tests.  Their level of significance, however, really depends on the colleges you apply to.  For most highly selective institutions, the standardized tests are weighed heavily, while other colleges completely deemphasize standardized testing.

We encourage students to start preparing for standardized testing as early as sophomore year.  Most students will take their first SAT and/or ACT in spring of their junior year.  We do work with several test prep companies to provide on-campus programming and additional resources, including practice tests, but we also encourage you to seek test prep options outside of school.  For current Pacifica students on financial aid, Revolution Prep has agreed to offer you the same financial aid percentage to utilize their programs.  Please contact Justin Sherman at 310-593-6842 for information.

A list of additional local test prep companies can be found in the College Counseling Handbook.

An additional resource to consider is Khan Academy.  Khan has partnered with the College Board to provide free SAT prep resources for students, including information about the new SAT.  To access the Khan Academy resources, visit www.khanacademy.org.

The following is a brief overview of the exams.  You can find additional information on their respective websites.


Two Critical Reading sections, two Math sections, one Writing Skills section 

Total time: 2 hrs, 10 min

The preliminary SAT is essentially a practice SAT Reasoning Test.  The questions are similar and will give students a taste of what to expect on the SAT.  The test is taken in the fall of both the sophomore and junior year.  Although it is not a direct factor in the admission process, your PSAT score as a junior will be considered for National Merit Scholarship competition qualifying.  The National Merit Scholarship competition recognizes the top ½ of 1% of the state’s scorers on the PSAT in their junior year, and they are named National Merit Semi-Finalists.  Some colleges offer scholarships based solely on National Merit Semi-Finalist status, but that varies from school to school.

SAT Reasoning 

Three Critical Reading sections, three Math sections, three Writing sections (2 grammar, 1 written essay), one Experimental section 

Total time: 3 hrs, 45 min

The SAT’s three sections (critical reading, math, and writing) are each scored on a scale of 200-800, for a total possible score of 2400.  For the writing section, there is a timed writing sample that is scored by two separate readers in addition to the grammar concepts tested by the PSAT.  Some colleges will consider all three sections in the admissions process while others will only use the critical reading and math scores.  Most schools will “superscore,” meaning they will take the highest score in each section even from separate test sittings. Students are responsible for sending official SAT scores to colleges, but they have the option of choosing which scores to send.  Please note that the SAT is currently undergoing a redesign and the first new SAT will be administered in the spring of 2016.

SAT Subject Tests  

Hour-long exams offered in 5 different subject areas (20 exams total)

Each subject test is scored on a scale of 200-800.  Although there are 20 different subject tests to choose from, it is slightly misleading because over half the exams are foreign language and some of those exams can be taken with or without listening, which count as two different exams.  Subject tests are optional for most colleges, but some highly selective schools require or recommend two subject exams.  Students applying to engineering may also be required to take the Math II as well as one or two science subject tests.  Review each school’s testing requirements before registering for subject tests.

For more information about the PSAT, SAT or Subject Exams, please visit www.collegeboard.org.

ACT Assessment (Plus Writing)  

75 English questions, 60 Math questions, 40 Reading questions, 40 Science questions, 30-min Writing Test

Total time: 3 hrs, 25 min

The ACT is an alternative to the SAT and is accepted by nearly all schools.  The ACT has a reputation of being based more on what a student has learned at school.  There are four sub-sections scored out of 36, which lead to a composite score (also out of 36).  There is an optional writing test, and students are strongly encouraged to add the writing component when they register.  There are a growing number of colleges that superscore the ACT, but that is not yet standard practice.  In general, your highest composite score will be taken into consideration.

For more information about the ACT, please visit www.actstudent.org.


There are a growing number of colleges that have decided that standardized testing should not be used as a significant factor in the admissions process.  Colleges that are “test optional” do not require test scores to be submitted.  You may still submit them if you feel that they would help you. Colleges that are “test flexible” give you the option of mixing and matching certain test results to satisfy certain categories.  For example, you may use an SAT math score for one category and an AP English exam score for another category.  For a list of test optional colleges, please visit the link below:

Test-Optional Colleges & Universities » 

Office of College Counseling


At Pacifica, we believe that the college counseling process begins and ends with the students. It is our goal to demystify college admissions and help them find their voice in the process of discovering the ideal place for the next chapter of their story to unfold.

Ben Lah
Director of College Counseling

B.A. Economics, Pomona College
M.A. Postsecondary Education, Columbia

T: 310.828.7015 ext. 111

Bio & Contact