Qualifying for ATS

There is no “pass” or “fail” on the exam – all students who take the test qualify for ATS classes. The higher a student scores on the test, the more classes are available for them to apply for.

About the Test

The ATS Qualifying Exam is an out-of-level test that measures students' aptitude for learning rather than their knowledge of specific content. Test scores offer information about students’ verbal and mathematical reasoning abilities which are necessary for success in advanced-level studies.

ATS uses the School and College Ability Test, a 40-minute, multiple-choice exam, to identify highly able students who may benefit from special academic opportunities. There are two parts to the test: a 20-minute verbal section comprised of analogies and a 20-minute math section containing quantitative comparisons.

Students in 4th and 5th grades take the Intermediate Level exam which would normally be taken by 8th graders while students in 6th through 9th grades take the Advanced Level exam which would normally be taken by high school seniors.

Who Takes the Test

ATS is designed for high achieving students currently enrolled in 4th through 9th grade who fall into one of the following groups:

  • students who are able and ready for this type of program and who wish to participate or whose parents want for them to participate
  • students who are evaluated as "standard met" or "standard exceeded" on the CAASPP
  • students who score at the 90th percentile or above on subtests of standardized exams like the Stanford Achievement Test
  • students who participate in a GATE or Rapid Learner program or who have been identified as gifted


Re-taking the Exam
Students in grades 6 and above who last to the ATS exam as a 4th or 5th grader will be required to retest so that they have correct level scores. Other students are not required to retest, but many opt to do so to try to improve their scores and increase their chances of placement into the courses they want.

When to Test

The ATS Qualifying Exam is administered between January and June each year:

  • at Sacramento area schools (early January to mid-March)
  • on the Sacramento State campus (late January to mid-March)
  • in the ATS Office (mid-March to late June/early July)

Administration time is approximately 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes (actual exam time plus time to review testing procedures with students and provide examples of the test question format). Approximately 4 weeks after testing, students are mailed a report with their exam results.

Why Take the Test

Although the primary reason students take the test is to qualify for ATS classes, other reasons to take the test include:

  • To practice a college admissions type exam without the pressure usually associated with such testing
    • The question formats used are those that can be found on college admissions exams like the MAT and the GRE.
  • To gain comparison data relative to other students of similar ability
    • While most assessments conducted in regular school measure students against the general student population, ATS test results include local norms that allow students to compare themselves to the high-performing student population who have taken the exam with ATS.
  • To help identify special aptitudes which can be further developed
    • A high verbal score suggests talent in those academic areas which rely on logic and verbal reasoning (language arts, social science, and the life sciences) while a high math score suggests talent in those subjects which rely on quantitative reasoning (mathematics, computer science, engineering, and the physical sciences).

Understanding Test Scores

In addition to providing the ATS scores needed to apply for classes, test results contain normative comparison data for parents.

Note: While scores can be useful in predicting academic success in ATS classes designed to develop specific academic aptitude in verbal and math areas, test results should not be regarded as a definitive measure of the individual's academic aptitude.


Information provided on the score report includes:

Test Level
Current 4th and 5th grade students take the Intermediate level test. Current 6th through 9th grade students take the Advanced level test.

ATS Scores (Verbal and Math)
These scores will be needed if the student decides to apply for ATS classes. Every class has its own score requirement (as found in the Summer Catalog). While the higher a student scores the more courses s/he can apply for, there are classes available at all score levels.

Raw Score
This is the number of questions the student answered correctly out of 50 possible on each section.

National Norm (at grade level)
This represents the student's score relative to a nation-wide sample of students at the same grade level. The "norm" group was established by the test publisher based on a cross-section of students in the United States. The National Norm answers the question, "How does my score compare with scores earned nation-wide?" For instance, if the National Norm rank is in the 70th percentile, that student scored as well as or better than 70% of students at the same grade level across the nation.

ATS Local Norm (at grade level)
This represents the student's score relative to other students in the same grade level who took this test in the Sacramento region. The ATS Local Norm Group is composed of over 19,000 students in grades 4-5 and 115,000 students in grades 6-9 who took this test as part of the Academic Talent Search. These percentile ranks tend to be lower than the national norms, because the students in the ATS norm group scored higher on the test than the national norm group. The ATS Local Norm answers the question, "How does my score compare with scores earned by other students in the ATS program?"

National Norm
Fourth and fifth grade students receive information compared to 8th graders because the Intermediate level exam is normally administered to middle school students.

Sixth through ninth grade students receive information compared to 12th graders because the Advanced level exam is normally administered to high school students.

These comparisons should be interpreted with caution. We can say, for example, that if a 7th grader was a high school senior and had these scores, that student would rank at a particular level. However, keep in mind that when that 7th grader is actually a high school senior, the student's scores on the test would undoubtedly be higher than they are today.