Some Truths about Testing

Some Truths about Testing

Standardized testing is often the most unpleasant and anxiety-producing part of the college admissions process. We wanted to take the time to answer your most pressing questions and give you the resources you need to figure out what is best for you. In the coming months, we will also go more in-depth into different topics addressed below.

What do my PSAT Scores mean?

The PSAT is a “mini” SAT. Consider it a set of tennis versus a match. You will receive a score and percentiles very soon. You might note that PSAT scores range from 320—1520 but actual SAT scores range from 400-1600. For 10th graders, the first PSAT is a practice that really does not go anywhere. For 11th graders, the PSAT is only used to determine National Merit Scholars. Although colleges will never see your PSAT scores, we recommend taking it seriously so you can learn where you might need to put in some work.

Which test should I choose?

It does not matter if you want to take the SAT or the ACT, all colleges accept both tests. In the new redesigns, the tests are now more similar than ever, but there are still some differences to consider. The best thing you can do is take a practice test like the PSAT and the PLAN to determine which test you prefer. Your counseling office should have practice exams for both tests or if you decide to work with a tutor, they will provide practice exams.

SAT ACT
Math The SAT starts with the reading comprehension section and it is 65 minutes. The ACT has the reading comprehension section 2 hours into the test and the section is 35 minutes (you have much less time per question).
English The math section has two sections including a part without a calculator and fill in blank answers. The math section has 60 questions and you have 60 minutes to answer them with a calculator.
Overall The SAT could be the best choice if you are stronger in math, enjoy solving puzzles and need more time. The ACT might be a good choice if you get anxious about tests, are stronger in reading and can move quickly.

 

Should I take the SAT/ACT with writing?

Only 10% of colleges require students to take the SAT/ACT with writing. However, we always recommend that students take the test with writing in case they want to apply to a school that requires it. However, there are circumstances where we would recommend a student not take the writing. Like the rest of the test, the writing portion needs attention and students should plan to study for it.

STEP 1: Determine whether you want to focus on the SAT or the ACT and with or without writing

When should I start preparing and take my first test?

Every testing agency I have spoken with recommends spring of junior year. By second semester students are more mature both academically and emotionally. If you have been working your hardest in your math class and reading outside of class, you are actually preparing yourself for the SAT/ACT. The groups I trust recommend studying 2-3 months before your first test. Studying for the SAT/ACT is like running a marathon—you need to build endurance over time and commit to weekly practice. It is also recommended that students take the test at least two times, but no more than three times. Statistically, after the third time, students do not see much, if any improvement in their scores.

Now, there are many reasons students should take the test earlier (ie. a winter and spring sport, spring musical or schedule conflicts), but in general a first test in February, March or April will be just fine. We recommend you REGISTER EARLY for the SAT or ACT  so that you can have options as to where you take the test.

STEP 2: Make a testing plan that includes the test you want to take and your best test dates

Do I need a tutor?

There are many ways to study for the SAT/ACT. There are free materials on Khan Academy and ACT.org. You can move through a practice book like the Official ACT or SAT Study Guides. In our experiences, very self-motivated students can get what they need from self-study, but the majority of students need a class or a tutor to schedule the time to really study. Many of our students work 1-1 or in small groups with AJ Tutoring or Compass Prep as well as individual tutors we can recommend. There are also solid online options like Applerouth or Zenith.

STEP 3: Choose your test prep team and begin the work

STEP 4: Register for your test dates (you may want to choose a new college email to register)

STEP 5: Please keep a locked note on your phone with your passwords for the College Board and ACT

What is a good score?

This is a tough question as it is personal to the student and their college list. We recommend doing some research on the colleges you are interested in to determine the median score of accepted students. I like the COMPASS list, but students can also look on Naviance or Big Future to get this information. Students should also be considering schools that are TEST OPTIONAL. Of the top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges, 50% of them are now test optional.

STEP 6: Plan on taking the SAT/ACT again (at least twice)

Will I have to report all of my test scores?

This is a question we deal with all the time because the testing reporting requirements of schools vary considerably. Compass Prep puts together a list every year of the super score/ score choice policies of the most popular colleges. It is important for students to know what schools expect. In addition, Compass generates a list of the SAT Subject test policies of many schools which can help students determine if they should take subject exams at the end of 10th or 11th grade. A few of the schools that still require them are MIT, CalTech, Cornell, and Georgetown.

STEP 7: Determine if you need to take SAT Subject exams

What if I need accommodations?

The best thing a family can do if a student might qualify for accommodations is to talk with the person in charge at your school. They should help you figure out how to complete the paperwork. For a complete breakdown of the process for accommodations, check out the Compass Guide.

The quick list of great places to go for testing information:

For the most comprehensive information: Compass Guide to College Admissions Testing

For those who are feeling anxious: College Essay Guy’s 25 Practical Ways to Reduce Test Anxiety

For those that might want to opt out: Fairtest list of Test-Optional Schools

For the number cruncher: The Compass 360– Median SAT/ACT Scores for 360 schools

For those who prefer listening to reading: College Essay Guy Podcasts #203, #202, #201

For the planner: SAT Registration Dates and ACT Registration Dates

CONSOLIDATED STEPS:

STEP 1: Determine whether you want to focus on the SAT or the ACT and with or without writing

STEP 2: Make a testing plan that includes the test you want to take and your best test dates

STEP 3: Choose your test prep team and begin the work

STEP 4: Register for your test dates

STEP 5: Please keep a locked note on your phone with your passwords for the College Board and ACT

STEP 6: Plan on taking the SAT/ACT again (at least twice)

STEP 7: Determine if you need to take SAT Subject exams

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