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What is the CLT Test? Should You Take it?

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What’s Covered:


A newcomer in standardized testing for college admissions has emerged—the Classical Learning Test (CLT)—joining stalwarts such as the SAT and ACT. Does it have what it takes to unseat the incumbent exams, and is it right for your college aspirations? 


What is the CLT Test?


Founded in 2015, the CLT was launched by a former college counselor as an alternative to the SAT and ACT. One of the CLT’s goals was to address some of the issues commonly attributed to the SAT and ACT, such as bias. That said, the CLT is “far from value-neutral: it challenges test-takers to think critically about our intellectual tradition, and to engage with it morally and ethically.”


According to Inside Higher Ed, interest in the CLT is growing—a little over 1,000 students took the exam in its inaugural year, and that number jumped to about 21,000 students in 2018, its third year. Comparatively, the CLT is still a long way from threatening giants like the SAT or ACT for dominance in college admissions; the SAT and ACT both had about two million students sit for them. About 200 colleges in the U.S. currently accept the CLT—many of them small, religious, and private universities—a far cry from the near-universal acceptance of the SAT and ACT.


Overview of the CLT Exam


The CLT test is designed to assess 11th and 12th graders and is composed of three sections, each containing 40 questions, plus an optional essay. The three test sections are:


  • Verbal Reasoning: tests textual comprehension and analysis skills 
  • Grammar/Writing: appraises textual editing and improvement skills
  • Quantitative Reasoning: assesses logic and math skills 


Although each of the three sections of the CLT features 40 questions, how they’re dispersed varies by section. The CLT provides both an example exam and a practice test for students interested in seeing what the exam looks like or who want firsthand experience taking the test. 


Breakdown of the verbal reasoning section of the CLT:


Skill Tested

Number of Questions 

Type of Questions and Number of Them 



  • Passages as a whole (8)
  • Passage details (11)
  • Passage relationships (8)



  • Textual analysis (8)
  • Interpretation of evidence (5)


Breakdown of the grammar/writing section of the CLT:


Skill Tested

Number of Questions 

Type of Questions and Number of Them 



  • Structure (8)
  • Style (8)
  • Word choice (4)



  • Agreement (10)
  • Punctuation and sentence structure (10)


Breakdown of the quantitative reasoning section of the CLT:


Skill Tested

Number of Questions 

Type of Questions and Number of Them 



  • Arithmetic and operations (5)
  • Algebraic expressions and equations (5) 



  • Coordinate geometry (4)
  • Properties of shapes (6)
  • Trigonometry (4)

Mathematical reasoning 


  • Logic (8)
  • Word problems (8)


Students who choose to answer the optional essay question receive a prompt from the CLT and are given 30 minutes to compose their essay. Essays are sent along with a CLT score to colleges, however, the essay does not affect the numerical score of the exam. 


How Does the CLT Differ from the SAT or ACT?


While the CLT is designed to compete with the SAT and ACT, it’s also designed to offer a different experience. Some noticeable differences between the three exams include:  


Length: Clocking in at two hours, the CLT is significantly shorter than both the SAT and ACT. In fact, even students taking the optional 30-minute-long essay will finish faster than students taking the SAT and ACT, which are both approximately three hours long, not including their essay sections. 


Format: The CLT is an online exam, compared to the SAT, which is paper only, and the ACT, which is online optional. Furthermore, test takers can use their own device to take the exam—eliminating any stress or frustration caused by an unfamiliar device. 


Sections: The CLT and SAT share the same number of sections (three) while the ACT has four sections (English, math, reading, and science), not including essays.


Turnaround time: CLT test scores are generally available within 24 hours of taking the exam. Conversely, it generally takes about two weeks to receive SAT and ACT scores. 


Acceptance: Currently, the number of colleges that accept the CLT is limited to roughly 200, while the SAT and ACT are virtually universally accepted. 


When are CLT Test Dates?


Another difference between the CLT and the SAT and ACT is testing dates—comparatively, the CLT’s available test dates are limited, especially if you want to take the exam in person. The exam is offered in three formats:



The CLT exam schedule is: 


Test Date 

Registration Deadline

Test Format

January 9, 2021

January 5, 2021 

Remotely proctored 

February 11, 2021


Partner schools only

February 27, 2021 

February 22, 2021

Remotely proctored

April 13, 2021 


Partner schools only 

April 17, 2021 

April 12, 2021

Remotely proctored 

June 19, 2021

June 14

Remotely proctored 

August 21, 2021

August 16, 2021


October 6, 2021


Partner schools only 

Oct 16, 2021

October 11, 2021


December 4, 2021

November 29, 2021 


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What is a Good CLT Score?


The CLT test is scored on a scale ranging from 0 to 120; scores are calculated by the number of correct answers and there is no penalty for answering a question incorrectly (with no guessing penalty, test-takers should answer every question). The CLT allows higher overall scoring than the SAT and ACT—a perfect SAT or ACT score is the equivalent of scoring 114 on the CLT. 


The CLT provides a handy chart for comparing their scores against the SAT and ACT on the “comparison” page of their website. We’ve included it below for convenience. 


Should You Still Take the SAT or ACT?


The CLT has presented an alternative to the SAT and ACT, but it has not replaced them. The CLT is only accepted at roughly 200 colleges—just a small fraction of the 4,000+ degree-granting institutions in the U.S. Furthermore, most of the schools that accept the CLT are small, private, and religious. If you have aspirations of attending a college that doesn’t fit this description, then sitting for the SAT or ACT is likely in your future. 


Even some students who take the CLT might want to consider also taking the SAT or ACT. Many scholarships use SAT and ACT scores as a factor when determining who will receive an award—not having an SAT or ACT score will disqualify you from competing for these scholarships. 


Although the CLT isn’t right for everyone, it is well-suited to some students. Because the CLT isn’t aligned with Common Core Standards, it’s popular with students who attended private school, charter school, or were homeschooled. The demographics of CLT test-takers mirror this—less than 1% of students who sit for the CLT attend public school. Another number worth noting is that 85% of CLT test takers are white. 


Which Colleges Are Best For You?


The first step in deciding whether the CLT is right for you is to figure out which colleges you want to apply to. There are thousands of schools in the U.S. though, so how do you start? How do you know which ones you’re most likely to get into?


Our free Admissions Chances Calculator will predict your odds of acceptance at hundreds of colleges, and also match you with best-fit schools based on your preferences. You can filter for factors like location, majors, testing policy, and more. 


Give it a try to get a jumpstart on your college search!


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.