Tests You May Need

Getting into art school requires more than an excellent portfolio and good grades. Potential art school students also need to score well on one or more aptitude tests. The purpose of these tests is to allow art schools to see that you have the minimum reading, writing, math, and reasoning skills you’ll need to excel in college courses. When you get accepted into art school, you won’t only be taking art classes. You’ll also be required to take at least one-third of your classes in the humanities, including world literature, history, the natural sciences, and math classes.

You will probably take one of the following aptitude tests:

  • COMPASS or ASSET tests assess your skills in algebra, reading, and writing. Scores from these tests are most commonly used for entry into community and technical colleges.
  • SAT and ACT are the two main aptitude tests that most colleges and universities in the U.S. use to assess the reading, writing, and math skills of their applicants. You can choose which one you take, but first check to see if the art schools you’re applying to prefer one or the other.
  • The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is the standardized test most graduate schools in the U.S. use to assess their applicants. The GRE tests verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing skills of graduate school applicants. Some schools weigh GRE scores heavily, while for others it is just a small detail in the application process.
  • The PSAT/NMSQT is the pre-SAT test that most American high school students take in order to see what they must study in order to score well on the SAT. High scores on the PSAT also put students in standing for National Merit Scholarship awards.
  • CLEP examinations are a group of 33 tests that, when passed, allow students to earn a certain number of college credits or to bypass certain general studies courses.


The nonprofit American College Testing (ACT) provides these two widely used assessment tests in reading, writing, and math for entrance into community and technical colleges. They are also used by four-year art schools to determine what level of classes art students should enter once they’ve been accepted.

What Is the COMPASS Test?

COMPASS is a computer-adaptive test that assesses your reading, algebra, and writing skills. All questions are answered on a computer, which adjusts the questions throughout the test according to the skill level of the test taker. If a question is answered correctly, the computer will make the next question a harder one. If an incorrect answer is given, the next question will be easier.

How Is the COMPASS Test Structured?

  • The Reading Skills section assesses vocabulary and reading comprehension.
  • The Algebra section measures high school Algebra I skills.
  • The Writing Skills section assesses writing mechanics, sentence structure, organization, and spelling skills.
  • A Written Essay is the main section that determines whether the student passes the writing part of the test.

What Are Passing Scores for the COMPASS Test?

  • Reading Skills – 81
  • Algebra – 39
  • Writing Skills (multiple choice) – 59
  • Written Essay – 6

How Long Does it Take to Complete the COMPASS Test?

Students have two hours to complete the test.


What Is the ASSET Test?

The ASSET test assesses students’ algebra, writing, and reading skills and is taken with paper and pencil. The three parts of the ASSET determine whether a student’s skills in these areas are at college level.

How Is the ASSET Test Structured?

  • The 24 questions of the Reading Skills section determine the test taker’s skill in referencing and reasoning. Students are asked to explain direct meanings of words and meanings derived through context. Test takers are also asked to derive implicit meanings, draw conclusions, and make comparisons and generalizations.
  • The Elementary Algebra section measures skills learned in first-year high school algebra.
  • The Writing Skills section has 36 questions that measure the student’s understanding of the conventions of standard written English in punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.

What Are Passing Scores for the ASSET Test?

  • Reading Skills – 41
  • Elementary Algebra – 38
  • Writing Skills (multiple choice) – 40

How Long Does it Take to Complete the ASSET Test?

Students have roughly two hours to complete the test.


The two main standardized aptitude tests students will take in order to get into most arts schools are the SAT and ACT. Today, which test you take depends on the requirements of the art schools you’re applying to. If your schools will accept either test, you can decide which one to take by determining your own test-taking strengths and weaknesses.


The main purpose of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAT), also known as the SAT Reasoning Test, is to assess your thinking and problem-solving skills. The test includes three sections: a writing section with a required 25-minute essay, and critical thinking and math sections, which test students for skills they will need in college-level courses. Aside from the written essay and a math section in which students have to generate their own answers, the rest of the SAT is multiple-choice; there is a slight penalty for wrong answers on the multiple- choice questions.

  • Each section is worth 800 points. The lowest you can score on the entire test is 600; the highest you can score is 2400. The test takes up to 3 hours and 45 minutes and costs $47.
  • You can get your score online roughly three weeks after taking the test or about six weeks later by mail. What you’ll see is a score for each section (from 200 to 800), with two scores for the writing section, one for the essay and one for the multiple-choice questions. You’ll also see what percentile you fall in compared to other students who took the test.
  • Each art school requires a different score on the SAT to get in. If you do not achieve your needed score, you can retake the SAT, which is given seven times per year.


The ACT http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACT_(test) takes 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete. It has four multiple-choice sections in English, math, reading, and science, plus an optional 30-minute essay designed to assess your skills in planning, organizing, and writing your ideas. The test differs from the SAT in that each correct answer is worth 1 raw point and there is no penalty for wrong answers on the multiple-choice section. Another difference between the tests is the number of questions. The SAT asks 140 questions while the ACT asks 215. The SAT also focuses more on vocabulary skills while the ACT leans more toward punctuation and grammar.

  • The test scores in each subject area of the ACT range from 1 to 36; the final score is an average of all four test sections. The writing section is scored differently and does not affect the score earned by averaging the four mandatory sections. If you don’t achieve a high enough score to get into your art school of choice, you can retake the ACT.


What Is the GRE?

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is a prerequisite for entry into almost all graduate and business schools in the United States, including art programs. The test costs $160 dollars and takes about 4 hours to finish.

What Kinds of Questions Are on the GRE?

The GRE includes three sections:

  • Verbal Reasoning
    The verbal section consists of analogies, sentence completion, and reading comprehension questions. Your vocabulary level is also tested in this section. It consists of about 30 multiple-choice questions, which you are given 30 minutes to complete.
  • Quantitative Reasoning
    The quantitative section tests your problem-solving and quantitative comparison mathematics skills on a high school level. There are roughly 28 multiple-choice questions in this section, and you’ll be given 45 minutes to complete them.
  • Analytical Writing
    The writing section asks you to write two different essays. The first is an “issue task” and the second is an “argument task.” For the issue task, you will write an essay on one of two topics. You are allowed 45 minutes for this section. The argument task asks you to critique a given argument by offering suggestions to improve it. You are given 30 minutes for this section.

What Should I Bring on the Day of the Test?

The GRE is offered as both a computerized test and a pencil-and-paper exam; depending on which you take, you will either have to bring No. 2 pencils and erasers or no writing tools. If you take the GRE on a computer, you will be writing the essays on a basic word- processing program designed by the nonprofit Educational Testing Services (ETS) that doesn’t have spell-check or other features that auto-correct writing.

  • For the multiple-choice sections, if you answer a question correctly, the computer will make the next question harder. If you give a wrong answer, the next question will be easier. This is how the computer measures the skill level of the person taking the test.

How Important Is the GRE Score to Getting Accepted to Graduate School?

Just as with the SAT and ACT, the GRE may be extremely important to the admission of one school and just a small detail in admission to another. No matter what its importance in the application process, you’ll want to do well on the exam.


What Is the PSAT/NMSQT?

PSAT/NMSQT stands for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and is a practice test for the SAT, one of the standardized tests required in the application process for most art schools. The scores from the PSAT/NMSQT are used (with the permission of the student) to determine eligibility and qualification for the National Merit Scholarship Program (NMSP), an academic scholarship competition. Students cannot register for the test online. They have to register through high schools that are members of the College Board.

Why Take the PSAT/NMSQT?

The main reason for taking the PSAT/NMSQT is that it allows you to see what your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of skills necessary to succeed in college. You can use your score to see the areas in which you need to work harder in order to score well on the SAT. Other reasons to take the PSAT/NMSQT are to

  • see how your performance on an admissions test might compare with that of others applying to college;
  • enter the competition for scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Program;
  • help prepare for the SAT. You can become familiar with the kinds of questions and the exact directions you will see on the SAT.

How Is the PSAT/NMSQT Structured?
The PSAT/NMSQT includes three sections: math, critical reading, and writing skills. Most of the test includes multiple-choice questions, with 10 math grid questions that have open responses. Appropriate calculators are allowed.

The critical reading section includes sentence completion and reading passages. The writing section includes identifying errors in and improving sentences and improving paragraphs.

How Do I Prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT?

You shouldn’t prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT. It is a preliminary test to show you how you need to prepare for the SAT. Those who have been doing well in school all along will have a chance to score highly and possibly be awarded NMSP scholarships.

What Are Some PSAT/NMSQT Test-Taking Strategies?

  • Pace yourself to allow time for each question.
  • Read the directions for each test section carefully.
  • Read each question carefully.
  • Answer the easier questions first.
  • Use logic on more difficult questions.
  • Review your work.
  • Answer every question; there is no penalty for guessing.
  • Be precise in marking your answer sheet – stay within the circles.
  • Erase all unintended marks completely. (This test is graded by a computer that might interpret stray pencil marks as wrong answers.)

What Do I Bring the Day of the Test?

  • Three or more already sharpened No. 2 pencils with erasers
  • An appropriate calculator (Ask your teachers.)
  • A wristwatch to keep track of time (Make sure the alarm is turned off.)

How Long Does the PSAT/NMSQT Take?

The test takes 2 hours and 10 minutes to complete.

How Do I Sign Up to Take the PSAT/NMSQT?

Your school will sign you up.


What Are CLEP Tests?

College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests are a group of 33 standardized exams that evaluate students who’ve done their learning outside the regular U.S. school system (such as home-schooled or international students) or those who simply wish to bypass lower-level college classes. CLEP tests assess knowledge and proficiency in a variety of subjects. Scoring high enough on CLEP tests can earn you college credits in approximately 2,900 schools in the U.S. and abroad.

The majority of CLEP tests take 90 minutes. The cost is $77 per test.

Where Are CLEP Tests Given?

You can take CLEP tests at more than 1,400 colleges and universities all over the world. Go to the CLEP website to find a testing center close to you and to get information on cost and test registration.

How Are CLEP Tests Structured?

CLEP tests are mainly multiple-choice exams with scores that range from 20 to 80.

What Is the Benefit of Taking CLEP Tests?

CLEP exams let you test your way out of subjects you are proficient in so you can avoid spending money on a class that teaches what you already know. If you score high enough on the tests, and if your art school offers credits for them, you can save yourself a lot of time and money.

How Hard Are CLEP Tests?

The difficulty of each test depends upon how well you know the subject. The point of the test is to prove that you know a subject well enough not to have to study it in college. So don’t go for tests in subjects you have no knowledge of. CLEP tests are not about proving you’re good in a subject you’ve never studied. They’re about saving time and money by not studying subjects in art school that you already know.

In What Subjects Can I Take CLEP Tests?

According to collegeboard.com, there are currently 33 CLEP tests in five subject areas:

  1. Business
    • Financial Accounting
    • Information Systems and Computer Applications
    • Introductory Business Law
    • Principles of Management
    • Principles of Marketing
  2. Composition and Literature
    • American Literature
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Literature
    • College Composition and College Composition Modular
    • English Literature
    • Humanities
  3. World Languages
    • French (Levels 1 and 2)
    • German (Levels 1 and 2)
    • Spanish (Levels 1 and 2)
  4. History and Social Sciences
    • American Government
    • History of the United States I: Early Colonization to 1877
    • History of the United States II: 1865 to Present
    • Human Growth and Development
    • Introduction to Educational Psychology
    • Introductory Psychology
    • Introductory Sociology
    • Principles of Macroeconomics
    • Principles of Microeconomics
    • Social Sciences and History
    • Western Civilization I: Ancient Near East to 1648
    • Western Civilization II: 1648 to Present
  5. Science and Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Calculus
    • Chemistry
    • College Algebra
    • College Mathematics
    • Natural Sciences
    • Precalculus

How Many School Credits Can I Earn for Each CLEP Test?

Each art school has its own policy for awarding credits based on CLEP scores. Different schools award different amounts of credits, and some even cap the number of class credits you can earn through testing. Certain colleges allow you to apply credit hours earned through CLEP tests to the core curriculum requirements. Before you spend the time and money on taking a CLEP exam, find out if the art school you are applying to offers credit hours for appropriate scores.

Read the American Council on Education’s recommended CLEP scores for earning college credits. (http://professionals.collegeboard.com/testing/clep/about/tests)