SAT, PSAT, ACT, CLEP, CLT . . . high school testing can feel like a giant game of Boggle! Which tests should your teen take, and when? This series will help you sort out the three main categories of high school testing.

College entrance tests—the SAT, ACT, and CLT (Classic Learning Test)—are used by most colleges for admissions purposes. Scholarship organizations and state scholarships may also require these test scores to determine qualification for financial aid.

Most colleges accept both the SAT and the ACT for student admissions. Just introduced in 2016, the CLT is now accepted at more than 140 highly regarded colleges. Although most aspiring students who plan to begin attending a four-year college as freshmen will need to take one of these exams, over 850 colleges do not use college entrance test scores as an admission factor.

You’ll want to check individual colleges’ websites to find out which tests a college accepts, whether the optional essay section is required, and whether the college does super-scoring. (Super-scoring means using the highest score from each section of a test that a student has taken multiple times to compute the student’s highest possible composite score.)

Usually, students take one or more of these exams in the spring of their junior year, repeating an exam the following fall if they are attempting a higher score. Because of college application deadlines, fall of the senior year is usually the latest a student can take a college entrance exam. But graduates applying to college after a gap year can take these tests, too—there is no age limitation.

Click here to learn more about the SAT, ACT, and CLT.

What constitutes a good score?

Most colleges publish the median test score ranges of their admitted students or list a minimum test score as a requirement for admission. Look on a college’s website to find this information, which will help you determine whether to have your student retake a test, try a different test, or accept a current score. If your student has taken more than one of the tests, you may find this score comparison chart helpful.

Retaking a college entrance test is no guarantee that a student’s scores will improve. Some teens will find that their scores stay the same or even decrease upon taking the test again. We highly recommend that students prepare in advance for these tests in order to maximize their chances of a good score.

How to help your student prepare for a college entrance test

Start by thoroughly reading the test provider’s test-day information on its website. If you decide to obtain test prep materials, be aware of differences in approach: some prep materials review subject matter, while others teach logical patterns, which help test takers to quickly eliminate wrong answers and more easily identify the correct ones.

If your teen plans to attend college but struggles with test taking, you do have options! Students with special learning needs may seek testing accommodations. (See our series on everything you need to know about accommodations.)

You might also consider having your student enroll in test prep instruction, take the exam multiple times to improve scores, begin their postsecondary education at a community college so they can transfer to a four-year school without ACT or SAT scores, or apply to a four-year college that doesn’t require these scores for admission.

Each test is unique. You could have your teen take more than one test to find out which best suits them, as some students perform better on one test over another.

Now that you have an overview of college entrance tests, you can explore each one in more detail by clicking here. Or, move ahead to find out about college preparatory and scholarship tests (the most well-known is the PSAT).