Testing 1, 2, 3. You have officially entered the jungle of standardized testing shorthand. You are probably familiar with the SAT, the ACT and even the PSAT, but you're probably beginning to feel some anxiety when you hear NMSQT, CLEP and the PLAN.

It's time to tame, untangle and de-stress the tests.

College Board ( is the parent organization for the SAT; PSAT/NMSQT -- the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test; CLEP -- College Level Examination Program; and the SAT Subject Tests.

The SAT is offered seven times a year and takes three hours and 45 minutes. It has three sections: critical reading, with reading passages and sentence completions; writing, with a 25-minute essay and multiple-choice questions on identifying errors and improving grammar and usage; and math, with arithmetic operations, algebra, geometry, statistics and probability; plus a 25-minute experimental section on writing, math or critical reading.

Upcoming test dates: March 12, May 7 and June 4.

The PSAT/NMSQT is a program co-sponsored by the College Board and National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC). The PSAT/NMSQT has two 25-minute critical reading sections, two 25-minute math sections and one 30-minute writing section.

Students receive feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to focus on their need areas. Students taking the test as juniors are entered into the competition for scholarships from NMSC ( The PSAT is offered through high school in October.

The CLEP, College-Level Examination Program, offers the opportunity to receive college credit with qualifying scores on any of 33 examinations. The CLEP is an appropriate test for top college students who want to advance toward their degrees, home-schooled students who want to demonstrate their knowledge, military service members and veterans who can take advantage of their military education benefits and other nontraditional students.

SAT Subject Tests are hourlong tests that allow students to demonstrate their achievement in specific subject areas. Some colleges use Subject Tests in the admissions process and some utilize them to place students into courses. Based on testing performance, students can potentially fulfill basic requirements or receive credit for introductory-level courses.

There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science.

Upcoming test dates: March 12, May 7 and June 4.

The ACT ( is a national college admission and placement examination with five sections: English (75 questions/45 minutes), math (60 questions/60 minutes), reading (40 questions/35 minutes), science (40 questions/35 minutes) and an optional 30-minute writing section.

Upcoming test dates: April 9 and June 11.

The Plan is a pre-ACT test for 10th-graders with four multiple-choice tests: English: punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure; math: mathematical reasoning (pre-algebra, first-year algebra and plane geometry); reading: comprehension, referring to details in a passage, drawing conclusions and making comparisons and generalizations; and science: scientific-reasoning skills including data representation.


Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit