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PSAT SAT & ACT Terminology [Must Know Terms]

Posted by Suniti Mathur on Thu, Jul 06, 2017

psat sat and act terms you should know

As you’re preparing to take your college admissions standardized tests, you might be coming across some unfamiliar terms and thinking, “what the heck does this mean?” This guide will be your lifesaver throughout the process. In it, we define the most common terms you’ll come across. Understanding these terms is essential to making your test prep process as smooth as possible.

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An adjustment in traditional testing conditions for students with special needs. For example, students with processing speed deficiencies can be accommodated with extended time. Students with visual impairments can be accommodated with questions being read out loud. Students must have proper documentation of their special need in order to receive accommodation. Although the test conditions for students receiving accommodations are different, the test content and scoring are the same.

For an entire guide on test accommodations see this post. 

Answer choice

The potential answers given in a multiple choice question on a test.

Most questions on the SAT and ACT are multiple choice. This means you will be given 4 answer choices on the SAT and 5 on the ACT. Only one of these will be correct, and you will need to clearly indicate your answer choice. The other three choices often represent common errors and are there to trick you. Don’t fall into that trap. Always look for evidence to support your answer choice.

Composite score

Averaging out a scaled score between all sections within a particular test.

ACT scores range between 1 and 36. For each of the four required sections, you get a raw score, which is the number of questions you get right. Your final score, known as the composite score, is the average of your four raw scores.

To understand more about the ACT, read our post about frequently asked questions. 



Cramming refers to studying everything at the last minute.

Don’t do it. While this approach might have worked for you on a smaller quiz or test, it is absolutely the wrong approach for the SAT and ACT. We have an entire list of study strategies you should NOT do in this recent post. 

Diagnostic Test

A test taken to see where you benchmark for a particular test.

Typically students will take a diagnostic test before they start studying in order to assess their current level of knowledge of the material on the SAT or ACT. The results of your diagnostic test give you an idea of where you’re doing well and where you need to improve so that you can tailor your studying accordingly.

Take TestRockers diagnostic test to understand where you need to improve for to score well on the SAT, ACT or PSAT. 

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Grid-In questions


Image from Clear Biology

An answer system sometimes used on scantron tests that which require multiple bubbles to be filled for a complete answer. Typically it is used to answer math problems with specific decimal answers. The SAT has 5  grid-in questions on the no calculator math section. 

Multiple-choice question

Questions that give you a set of answers of which only one is correct. On the SAT, you will be given 4 answer choices, and on the ACT, you will be given 5.

No calculator section

Math section of the SAT on which you may not use a calculator, even one that is approved. It is 25 minutes long and consists of 20 questions, making it the shortest section on the SAT. Fifteen of the questions are multiple choice and 5 are grid-in. As opposed to the calculator sections, this section focuses more on reasoning than on figures.

Learn more about the SAT in this post.

Percentile rank

A measure of how you scored compared to other students who took the same test. Your percentile rank ranges from 1 to 99 and tells you the percentage of students who scored the same as you or lower. For example, if your percentile rank is 95, that means that 95% of students who took the test scored the same as you or lower.


An adult supervisor in the test room who administers the test and makes sure everything goes smoothly. The proctor’s responsibilities include handing out and collecting materials, checking admissions tickets, making sure everyone is quiet, and ensuring that test takers are following all the rules.



Image from Tribune India

Another word for the essay question or assignment. Take the time to read the prompt carefully and understand what it’s asking and then outline your response before writing.

Raw score

Simply the number of questions you answered correctly. Raw scores are translated into scaled scores (defined below), which are the scores you will report to colleges.

Registration deadline

The deadline by which you must register to take the test. Registration deadlines are about 1 month before the actual test date for the SAT and 5-6 weeks before the test date for the ACT. It is recommended that you register as early as possible to ensure that you get your preferred test date and location. In the event that there are spots available, you may be able to register late, but you will have to pay a late registration fee.

The SAT is holding a brand new August SAT. Learn how and why you should take advantage of it here before it is too late.  

Scaled score

A score that is converted from your raw score (defined above), taking into account question difficulty and the performance of your peers. On the SAT, your scaled score ranges from 200 to 800 on each section (400 to 1600 total). On the ACT, your scaled score ranges from 1 to 36.

We have an entire post all about the SAT here. It goes deeper into SAT scoring and other SAT topics. 

Student-produced response 

Responses for non-multiple choice questions. In other words, students fill in these responses themselves. This will be the case for the essay and for the math grid-in questions on the SAT. Read the question carefully to make sure you’re providing the answer in the requested format.


Within the math and reading sections on the SAT and the math, reading, and science sections on the ACT, different types of skills are tested (for example analysis in science and expression of ideas). You are given a subscore for each of these skills, which together make up your section scores.



If you take the SAT or ACT more than once, some colleges allow you to superscore, which involves taking your highest score from each section across all of your test sittings and using those highest section scores to calculate your new total score (SAT) or composite score (ACT).

Total Score 

The total of your two section scores on the SAT. Each section (math and reading) has a score range from 200 to 800, so your total score will be between 400 and 1600.


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Tags: For Students, For Counselors, sat, act, International Students

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Suniti is the creator of TestRocker, an online learning platform that helps you unlock your dream SAT and ACT scores. TestRocker is based on Suniti’s highly successful and proven method of teaching students how to maximize their SAT and ACT scores, a method she has perfected through tutoring thousands of students globally for more than a decade. 

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