College Prep

Discover the Terms Every College-Bound Student Should Know

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Navigating college admissions can be tricky, especially if this is your first time. This handy glossary will help you better understand the necessary terminology as you face the college admissions experience.


Acceptance Rate – College selectivity is often measured by the school’s acceptance rate. Acceptance rates are measured as the number of accepted candidates divided by the number of total applicants.

Accommodations – Eligible students with documented disabilities, IEP or 504 plans, other school-based plans, or who are English Learners, may be eligible for accommodations to support their test-taking experience. These can include extra time, the ability to take the test in a native language, or a duo-language dictionary.

ACT – One of the two most common standardized tests (with the SAT) for college admissions in the U.S. Scored on a scale of 1–36, it consists of four sections, which they call “tests,” including English, reading, math, and science.

ACT English – One of the 4 sections on the ACT, the ACT English test is a 75-question, 45-minute test. It consists of three single and one paired passage, each followed by multiple-choice questions.

ACT Math – One of the 4 sections on the ACT, the ACT math test is a 60-question, 60-minute test. You may use a 4-function, scientific, or graphing calculator to solve the problems, which range in content from pre-algebra through basic trigonometry.

ACT Reading – The ACT reading test is a 40-question, 35-minute test. It typically contains three single passages and one paired passage with 10 questions per passage. The first passage is a prose fiction or literary narrative piece, and the other three are on social science, humanities, and natural science.

ACT Science – One of the 4 sections on the ACT, the ACT science test is a 40-question, 35-minute test. 

ACT Student Report (ACT Score Report) – The ACT’s student report is issued online when ACT scores are posted. It includes: 

  • Your composite score. 
  • Individual test scores.
  • Corresponding U.S. and state ranks to indicate how your scores compare to others.
  • A detailed breakdown by category. 
  • Superscore information (if the student has taken the ACT more than once).

Advanced Placement (AP) Exams – Most commonly taken as the culmination of a yearlong AP class taken in high school. Some colleges use AP exam scores for placement, or to waive prerequisites, while more selective institutions may consider them as part of admission decisions.

Calculator Policies – Both the College Board (SAT) and ACT publish distinct policies on their websites, which describe the type of calculator (make and model), and when it may be used. See the ACT calculator policy here, and the SAT calculator policy here.

College Board – A non-profit organization which develops and administers the SAT tests. The College Board also develops the course curriculum and certifies schools to teach and administer AP exams.

Composite Score (ACT) – The average of your four ACT test scores: English, reading, math, and science. Composite scores and individual test scores are both important for college admissions. 

Common Application (Common App) – A college application management tool that is accepted by more than 800 schools. It enables you to fill out an application form once and make it available to multiple schools electronically, while helping you track deadlines and requirements.

Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success (Coalition App) – A college application system that provides a single, centralized toolkit for you to organize, build, and refine your applications to numerous institutions. The Coalition brings together more than 150 public and private colleges and universities across the U.S., with an increased focus on helping those from underrepresented groups, including low-income and first-generation households.

College Prep Summer Courses – Sometimes called Summer Enrichment Programs, these courses provide the opportunity for motivated high school students to take classes at a college and experience college life during the summer.

College Scholarship Service Profile (CSS Profile) – An online application that collects information used by nearly 400 colleges and scholarship programs to award non-federal aid.

Early Acceptance – A type of early admission policy used in college admissions in the U.S. for freshmen applying to undergraduate programs. There are two types of early college admissions: early decision and early action.

Early Action – A non-binding attendance commitment to the university of your choice. Meaning that if admitted, you are not obligated to attend the institution. This holds the advantage of not being obligated to attend that particular school. 

Early Decision – A binding school attendance commitment. Meaning if you apply early decision, you are obligated to attend the selected college if you’re accepted. You can only apply to one school early decision because of the binding commitment. Experts recommend only applying for early decision if you have a clear top-choice school. 

Expected Family Contribution (EFC) – This is an estimate of how much the student is able to afford for college. The EFC is used to determine an applicant’s eligibility for need-based aid, and is often used in state and college-based financial aid decisions. 

Experimental Questions – Test makers add experimental questions (also known as “Section 5”) to their tests to gather statistical data to ensure the tests’ validity, and to ensure a reliability in fairness across demographic subgroups. Experimental questions will not count toward your score, but are often not made known to you during the test. 

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – An online application used by many states, colleges, and universities in making their financial aid decisions. Families must also use it to apply for federal financial aid.

Graphing Calculator – These devices help you perform statistical and algebraic functions. You are permitted to use approved graphing calculators on a portion of the SAT math section, and on the entire ACT math sections. Each testing company publishes its list of approved graphing calculators on its website. See the ACT calculator policy here, and the SAT calculator policy here.

Summer Enrichment Programs – Sometimes called College Prep Summer Courses, these courses provide the opportunity for motivated high school students to take classes at a college and experience college life during the summer.

Match School – Also referred to as “target” or “50/50,” this term is part of the “match, reach, safety” school choice concept. A match school where a university you feel fairly confident you’ll be admitted to because your GPA and test scores are similar to the average admitted student.

National Merit Scholarship Program – High school juniors who take the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (PSAT/NMSQT) are automatically entered into this annual competition that recognizes and awards scholarships. 

Non-Need Based Aid – A type of financial aid that doesn’t necessarily consider your finances. Often, it comes in the form of a merit scholarship. Examples might include a football scholarship, a guitar scholarship, or an art scholarship.

Online Immersion Courses – Also called Pre-College Online Courses, these are tech-forward, engaging online courses available to students. Prelum, powered by Kaplan, specifically partners  with several universities to offer these online pre-college courses to students 13 and older. 

Practice Tests – Used to give you exposure to the question types, formats, and pacing of the ACT and SAT exams. Practice tests are a crucial component of any test prep program, as they monitor the progress of test preparation.

PreACT – The ACT’s analog to the PSAT, the PreACT is offered as a means to practice and predict performance on the ACT. Students in grades 9-12 can take the PreACT. This test is not associated with the National Merit Scholarship.

Pre-College Online Courses – Also called Online Enrichment Courses, these are tech-forward, engaging online courses available to students, like the ones that are offered through Prelum university partners.

Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) – Administered to high school students in the fall of junior year, the College Board’s PSAT/NMSQT is offered as a way to practice for the SAT. Students with high scores qualify for National Merit Scholarships. However, PSAT scores are not viewed by college admissions officers. 

Prelum, Powered by Kaplan – A comprehensive resource designed specifically for high school students and their parents/guardians, offering valuable information and guidance to navigate the pre-college landscape, explore college majors and careers—and pave the way toward a successful career.

Prelum Partners – Leading universities and colleges offering Pre-College Online Courses. These include Georgetown University, William & Mary, Rice University, and the University of Notre Dame, to name a few.

Prerequisite – In college, a prerequisite (often abbreviated as “pre req”) refers to specific courses or subjects that you must complete (and obtain a passing grade in) before you can enroll in higher-level courses within the same subject.

Prerequisite Scholastic Assessment Test (PSAT) – A standardized test for 10th and 11th graders that serves as a practice for the SAT, and a qualifying test for National Merit Scholarships

Reach School – Part of the “match, reach, safety” school choice concept, a reach school is one where your academic profile puts you at the lower end of the admitted spectrum, making it less likely that you'll be admitted. Also considered your dream school, a reach school should still be considered a possibility.

Safety School – Part of the “match, reach, safety” school choice concept, a safety school is one where you're confident you’ll gain admission based on your academic profile, and your GPA and test scores are notably higher than the average admitted student.

SAT – The SAT, along with the ACT, are the two most common standardized tests for college admissions in the U.S. The SAT is scored on a scale of 400–1600; and it consists of four sections: math with a calculator, math without a calculator, reading, and writing & language.

SAT/ACT 25-75% Range – In practical terms, aiming for an SAT/ACT score at or above the 75th percentile is considered favorable for college admissions. It reflects a strong performance relative to other applicants. Anything below the 25% mark could indicate difficulty in gaining admittance.

SAT Math – The math portion of the SAT is divided into two sections: a 25-minute, 20-question section with no calculator allowed; and a 55-minute, 38-question section on which you may use a calculator. The two math sections together are worth 800 points (50% of your score). 

SAT Reading – The SAT reading section has 52 questions and is 65 minutes long, with 400 available points. It accounts for half of the evidence-based reading & writing score, and consists of four single passages and one paired passage. Each passage is followed by multiple-choice questions.

SAT Score Report – The online report issued by the SAT committee and the College Board. It includes your: 

  • Total score.
  • Section scores.
  • Essay scores (if relevant).
  • Cross-test scores.
  • Percentiles indicating how your scores compare to other students’ scores.

SAT Writing & Language – One of the four sections of the SAT, the SAT writing & language section has 44 questions and is 35 minutes long. It accounts for half of the evidence-based reading & writing score with 400 available points. It consists of 4 passages with multiple-choice questions.

SAT-ACT Score Concordance – The College Board and ACT collaborated to develop a concordance table as a tool to convert SAT and ACT scores to show equivalencies. This helps colleges compare applicants who’ve taken different tests, and also helps you determine which test to prepare for, and which results to send. 

School Day Testing – The College Board and ACT offers schools, districts, and states the option to administer the SAT or ACT during the school day to improve access and equity.

Score Choice — A reporting policy set individually by the College Board and the ACT, score choice gives students control over which tests colleges will see. The SAT sends all scores by default, unless you choose to activate the score choice option. The ACT sends only scores you request. Note: some schools do not follow score choice policies and will request all test scores.

Section Score SAT – SAT takers receive two section scores: one for math and one for evidence-based reading and writing, each worth 200-800 points.

Section Score ACT – The ACT refers to each of its four sections as individual “tests.” ACT takers receive four individual test scores (for English, math, reading, and science), with one composite score. Test scores and the composite are each worth 1-36 points. The composite score is the mathematical average of the four individual test scores.

Selection Index Score – The PSAT Score Report (part of the National Merit Scholarship program) includes this number. You must achieve a minimum Selection Index Score cutoff for the state in which you reside, as well as attain other academic and SAT/ACT score requirements in order to be eligible for a National Merit Scholarship. 

Submission Percentage – SAT and ACT submission percentages indicate the percentage of applicants sending SAT scores versus ACT scores to a particular institution. 

Superscoring – Colleges with the superscoring admissions policy consider the best section score from each test you submit, for either the SAT or ACT. For example, if you score better on math on one SAT attempt, and better on verbal in another, you can submit both test results to maximize your overall SAT score for their records. Note: If you choose to superscore, you must send the complete score report from each relevant test date. 

Test Information Release (TIR) – After receiving your ACT score, you can review the questions and answers and compare it against your own responses. The ACT offers this “service” as a separate option for purchase during the test registration process and within a limited window following test dates (typically available for the December, April, and June test dates).

Test Flexible – A college or university with a test-flexible admissions policy accepts a broader variety of standardized test scores with an application. This may include AP, IB, or SAT subject test scores, in addition to SAT and ACT scores. Which tests are accepted varies by institution.

Test Optional – A college or university with a test-optional admissions policy does not require an SAT or ACT score with an application, but will consider those scores if submitted. Institutions with this policy generally prioritize other aspects of the application, such as GPA, personal essay, and recommendations. Currently, about one out of three universities are test optional

Test Blind – A college or university with a test-blind admissions policy does not accept standardized test scores with an application. Note: Some of these institutions may still require SAT or ACT scores for certain programs, and to apply for certain scholarships or grants.

Test Information Release (TIR) Test Booklets – After receiving your ACT score, you can review the questions and answers and compare against your responses. The ACT offers this “service” as a separate option for purchase during the test registration process and within a limited window following the test date (available for its December, April, and June dates).

Test Percentage – SAT and ACT submission percentages indicate the percentage of applicants sending SAT scores versus ACT scores to a particular institution. 

Test Preparation – The process of preparing for a standardized test. Elements of test prep include building a strong knowledge of the material; gaining familiarity with the test style; and practicing on timed, real tests while mimicking test-day conditions.

Testing Strategy – A set of best practices for test-taking that will help you maximize your score by making the most of the allotted time. Pacing, process of elimination, working backward, and question-type recognition are types of testing strategies.

Test Plan – A test plan determines the choice of test, the target test date, and the timeline for preparation. The best test plans are tailored to each individual student’s goals, current preparedness, and personal commitments.

Question and Answer Service Test Booklet (QAS) – After receiving your SAT score, you can review the questions and answers and compare against your own responses. The College Board offers this “service” as a separate option for purchase during the test registration process and within a limited window following test dates (typically available for the October, March and May test dates). 

Wristwatch Policy – Both the College Board and the ACT prohibit smart watches and any other type of wristwatch that can be used to record or transmit information. Watches with audible alarms are also prohibited. 


Yield – A measure of the school’s ability to enroll its accepted candidates. While the most selective schools, notably the top Ivy League universities, yield a very high percentage of candidates, many competitive schools enroll fewer than half of their admission candidates.

Downloadable Glossary of Terms by Prelum

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