College Readiness Testing

Legal Requirement

Pursuant to T.C.A. § 49-6-6001, all public school students must participate in a postsecondary readiness assessment such as the ACT or SAT. Districts may choose to administer the ACT or the SAT. Districts can also provide both assessments and allow their students to choose the assessment that is right for them.

  • To receive a regular high school diploma, all students enrolled in a Tennessee public school during their eleventh (11) grade year must take either the ACT or SAT.
  • Beginning with the graduating class of 2018, students enrolled in Tennessee public schools during their eleventh grade year must complete the ACT or SAT prior to graduation (see High School Policy 2.103).

Contact Information

Helpful resources to administer the ACT:

  1. ACT, Inc. Webpage for Tennessee Districts & Schools​
  2. State Board Policy & Accountability FAQs 

The ACT assesses students’ cumulative knowledge and skills based on standards taught from elementary to high school. Therefore, all educators in our state play a role in helping students prepare for the ACT. The free resources below may be helpful for both teachers and students in preparing for the ACT. 

  1. ACT Academy
  2. ACT Toolkit
  3. Free online ACT & SAT preparation is available to all Tennesseans through the Tennessee Electronic Library. For instructions on how to use the TEL, download the User Guide for the “College Preparation Center” for ACT & SAT assessments.
  4. Free Official ACT & SAT Practice Tests

Why should students take the ACT?

The ACT is a nationally recognized benchmark assessment for college and career readiness. By taking the ACT, students can gain valuable information on their readiness for college and career. The ACT, or SAT, is required for admission to many technical schools, two-year colleges, and four-year colleges. Standardized tests are often used to determine eligibility for scholarships; for example, a student’s eligibility for the Tennessee HOPE scholarship is based on their ACT or SAT results. 

The new ACT student report will provide students with valuable information to help with college and career planning. The report includes student’s proficiency level in English language arts (ELA), Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), understanding complex texts, and progress towards career readiness. It also includes suggested colleges and career areas based on student’s scores and career interests, as indicated on the ACT.

Why do high school students take TCAP and the ACT?

The ACT and TCAP assessments provide valuable information regarding student achievement and readiness for postsecondary opportunities. However, the assessments are different from one another in their structure, format, and purpose. For more information about ACT and TCAP, we encourage you to review these Frequently Asked Questions.

Why is one of the strategic goals for the Tennessee Department of Education to have an average ACT composite score of 21?

According to the ACT, the benchmark for college readiness is a composite score of 21. The ACT has further broken down the benchmarks into an 18 for English, 22 for Math, 22 for Reading, and 23 for science. If a student is able to score at, or above, these important benchmarks, they have a high probability of success in credit-bearing college courses.

Also, according to the ACT, if a student is able to meet the score benchmark, they have a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or a 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in the corresponding college course.

You can read more about the ACT’s alignment with college and career readiness standards here.

How will we achieve the goal of an average ACT composite score of 21?

This goal, which is outlined in our strategic plan Tennessee Succeeds, represents more than a number on a test. Improving the average ACT score of Tennessee students will lead to an increase in the number of students who are able to enroll in postsecondary educational opportunities, and, subsequently, a decreased number of students who need remediation when they reach postsecondary. Together, these factors will also contribute to another strategic goal: that a majority of high school graduates will go on to earn a postsecondary certificate or degree. 

We believe that our academic standards and the TCAP assessment are helping to put our students on a strong trajectory toward meeting this goal. We need to continue to push students to take the most rigorous courses available, explore CTE programs of study, and enroll in early postsecondary courses. For the students who have fallen behind, we must provide the supports necessary through strong teaching and response to instruction and intervention.

In the best interests of our students’ futures and the future of our state, we must shift the conversation from “should I attend postsecondary?” to “which postsecondary should I attend?”

Districts can choose to administer the SAT to all eleventh-grade students during a school day at no cost to students and calculate its results into their accountability framework. Districts choosing this option can offer the SAT in place of the ACT or offer students the option of choosing either the ACT or the SAT. Students who wish to take both should take one at their own expense. 

The SAT suite of assessments, including the SAT and PSAT-related assessments, are aligned to state academic standards; they reflect what Tennessee students are learning in classrooms across the state and assess skills that are essential for college and career success. These vertically aligned assessments not only provide more information than ever before about each student’s readiness but also connect to distinct opportunities, including:

Districts and schools that have a large percentage of students in Advanced Placement courses may benefit from using the SAT to meet their college-readiness requirements.

SAT School Day

Districts can choose to administer the SAT to all eleventh grade students during a school day at no cost to students and calculate the results into their accountability framework. Students may also purchase and take the SAT on a Saturday. You can learn more about the SAT test here.

SAT Basics

Total Testing Time

3 hours + 50 minute essay (optional)

 Test Sections

  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
    • Reading Test
    • Writing and Language Test
  • Math
  • Essay (optional)

SAT Resources


Why should students take the SAT?

  • The SAT is a nationally-accepted measure of college and career readiness.
  • Scores are accepted by all colleges and universities nationwide.
  • SAT scores can be used to connect students to scholarship opportunities.

How can I help students prepare for the SAT?

Exams like the ACT and the SAT assess knowledge and skills that students acquire over many years. As such, the best preparation for either exam is high-quality instruction and access to rigorous coursework throughout a student’s academic career. In order to prepare for the structure and format of the SAT exam, the College Board offers the following resources:

  • Free Practice from Khan Academy  - The College Board’s test developers and Khan Academy worked together to bring students Official SAT Practice. Khan Academy offers personalized recommendations for practice, thousands of interactive questions with instant feedback, video lessons that explain problems step by step, and full-length practice tests.
  • Study Tips - Tips on how to use Official SAT Practice and on how to start an SAT study group.