Testing & College Admissions Planning
Greetings Students & Families
Whether you're a senior '21 set for one more run of your SAT/ACT in December or a Sophomore/Junior beginning test preparation and creating your schedule- this note is for you.
I'll tell you EVERYTHING you need to know about the role of a variety of standardized tests in college admissions and I encourage you to reach out with questions about your specific situation. A few weeks ago, I sent a detailed note: Everything to Know About College Admissions. I'm thrilled to hear how much you appreciate my detailed and informative (and yes lengthy!) resources relevant to families in 8th to 12 grades. Please reach out to schedule your College Admissions Planning Assessment.
Despite the ongoing pandemic - and the necessity of social distancing- our Holiday Season has arrived -- YAY! I wish your family a joyous and healthy Thanksgiving! ....
....I'd like to again call attention to an amazing initiative: Giving Tuesday !!
I hope your family will pledge to connect with your community in a way that reflects your values. Click to Learn More: GIVING TUESDAY
Before jumping into my discussion about all things related to the SAT and ACT, I'll take a moment to answer two pressing questions our seniors might be pondering:
"What is the last scheduled fall SAT/ACT seniors can take to meet deadlines for submitting required scores as part of their CommonApp college applications?"
"Do I need to wait to submit my Common Application until after I take or submit my fall SAT/ACT exam scores?"
The answer to the first question depends on whether you're an Early Action/Early Decision or Regular Decision applicant.
If you're an ED/EA applicant- the last testing dates have passed in November (and I reminded everyone in my earlier note on ED/EA about testing).
For seniors 2021 who are regular decision applicants, you can comfortably sit for the December test dates (and some colleges are even accepting later dates- but that is still a rare exception). If you're a junior thinking ahead to EA/ED -- heads up-- for many public universities, the October date is typically the last acceptable test date (this year is an exception- November testing was an option for many colleges) for regular admissions and it is the last test date for ED/EA. That said, please check each college's website to review acceptable score report submissions guidelines.
*** Seniors can and should submit completed college applications even if you anticipate taking late fall exams. Your college application is submitted separately from required external documents including your test scores, high school transcripts and teacher recommendations. Your application isn't evaluated until all required components are received. That said, please submit your application as soon as your portions are complete regardless of whether you have taken all your exams and sent scores. As I've noted in many newsletters and blogs, there's an actual bias against "later" applications. No prizes for submitting in August with the exception of "rolling admissions' -in which case you will hear rather quickly if you are one of the first applicants to submit.
Should I list my scores on the Common App?
Each situation is unique-- please speak with your GC or give me a call to discuss whether doing so will be a useful college application strategy or not. Our current seniors are facing an interesting opportunity as several hundred colleges are test optional this year (more about this policy follows below including whether that will continue for our juniors and sophomores).
Your Common Application has a section where you will list all test dates completed or to be taken. It is totally acceptable to leave that section blank -and should you sit for December - and test scores exceed your expectations- the official score report can be sent to colleges. Also, many but not all high schools automatically include your scores on your official transcript.
*** Seniors - please don't forget to send required mid-year transcripts in January to all colleges.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TESTING??
All families have many questions about testing
- What's the difference between the SAT and ACT?
- What's required for college applications?
- What does "Test Optional" mean exactly?
- When should a student prepare and test? How many times can you take the SAT/ACT?
- When and how to send scores? What's Score Choice and Super Score testing all about?
- What Scholarships are related to my test scores? Is there a minimum score for state plans such as the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship?
- Under what circumstances should we focus on subject tests and AP/IB/AICE exams over SAT/ACT scores in our college application?
- How does early college planning increase chances of college acceptance by integrating the high school curriculum with the timing and required admissions exams such as SAT subject tests?
In this very detailed newsletter, I'll answer all these questions and we'll explore how testing is an essential part of forming your balanced list of colleges. Early academic planning can be invaluable to positioning each student to realize educational goals that are affordable.
SAT vs ACT:
Highlights of the Differences
If you're engaged in exam preparation with a tutor, it's really important that your coach understand and customize your review to focus on the content that you need the most help mastering. Broad based testing is a waste of time and money. An asssessment BEFORE jumping into your 4 to 8 weeks of review sessions will help define how that review with your tutor is best spent.
If you're approved for testing accommodations (more on those at end of this comprehensive note), your tutor should be incorporating these into the review process. If you need recommendations for review books, online programs or local tutors, please give me a shout out to discuss your learning style, your budget and your test score goals to coordinate how and when you'll review for your SAT and ACT exams. One size does not fit everyone!
THREE TYPES OF EXAMS:
1) Potentially, the SAT / ACT is a required element of your college applications. This VARIES across colleges. Either one is acceptable. I'll discuss format differences below.
2) SAT II Subject Tests may be required (very often for more selective colleges) . These may also be taken in lieu of SAT/ACT exam scores at Test Flexible colleges. Nearly all selective STEM programs require MathIIC plus a science.
3) AP/AICE/IB exam scores are NOT required in college applications . These scores may be subsituted for SAT/ACT exam scores at Test Flexible colleges.
The Subject Tests and AP/AICE/IB scores are content specific and truly cause a ton less angst for students because students feel more prepared given the coursework they complete in their HS curriculum.
SAT VS ACT – WHAT EXAMS ARE REQUIRED FOR MY COLLEGE APPLICATION?
There is no blanket one-size-fit-all-colleges answer! That said, it's probably that most of your colleges will require at least one of the categories below.
*** Creatives: (Film, Photography, Art, Musician + These are often not a required element or overlooked. In contrast- your portfolio of work is an essential element that takes on a signficant weight in evaluating your portfolio. I like to inform my creatives not to worry about earning a "500" or "25" on math- it just has little impact. (You do need to have a strong language arts score)
Your GC or private college counselor should work closely with your SAT/ACT tutor to coordinate your exam dates creating a testing schedule that leaves you ready and prepared for all your required exams. TIMING IS EVERYTHING!
Which format: ACT OR SAT?
All colleges will accept either test format. Students are encouraged to explore both exams and take a practice test at home under test conditions. If you’re working with a test preparation service/tutor, you should expect an assessment of testing formats with customized test preparation based on YOUR STUDENT’s needs.
*** If your student finds the ACT acceptable, I prefer the ACT simply for a logistical reason. SAT dates in May and June should be reserved for SATII Subject tests. These subject exams are required at many of the more competitive colleges and the best time to take these is immediately following AP exams/end of the school year. Also, SATII subject tests can be submitted in lieu of SATI scores at test-flexible institutions.
SATII subject test content- outside of mathematics and foreign language may be difficult to retain over the summer- history becomes history - so please aim for May/June for those exams- a great choice for Humanities and Business school students.
THE SAT – WHAT’S INCLUDED?
The College Board’s SAT is comprised of two sections:
1) Mathematics and
2) Reading & Writing.
There is also an optional essay section that is required by some colleges. As sophomores and juniors are just starting the research that will eventually lead to a finalized college list of best “fit” universities, you don’t yet know if the essay will be a required element of your college application to a particular university. SO....I strongly recommend taking the essay section with each sitting of the exam.
The multiple-choice section of the exam format is three-hours long. There are scheduled rest-breaks between each section.
Reading & Writing
The complete SAT exam format is described here in the College Board’s Summary of testing requirements and in their detailed 210 Page PDF. I’ll boil it down for you!
The “Reading and Writing” section –also known as the “Language” section –contains 52 questions leaving you with 75 seconds to answer each reading question. In addition to interpretation of written passages, the SAT reading section includes interpretation of graphs or charts.
The passages include a variety of real-world situations that test-takers are expected to analyze and address the actual content. Students should expect that there will be at least one “founding document”—certainly something that would be encountered in classes covering a range of classical and contemporary historical documents or speeches (Abraham Lincoln, Harriett Beecher Stowe, Dr. King). The science section is designed to capture “culturally relevant” content. A recent title “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City.”
Many of my students comment (complain) that there isn’t enough time and students contemplate whether it might be more effective to read less closely and aim to “speed read”. The short answer- is absolutely not!
This is one area that the SAT differs from the ACT—with 75 seconds per reading question on the SAT and roughly 52 seconds per question on the ACT, speed reading in either format is dangerous. Even with more time per question, most experts agree that SAT passages are more challenging than those of the ACT.
Analysis of the “founding documents” indicates that SAT questions are typically less contemporary often including historical documents much earlier in time.
In contrast to the Reading section, the Writing section includes non-fiction content- including narratives of actual events or information about a specific topic. Passages are provided and students are tested about grammar, vocabulary and language errors. The student “edits” the passages to convey the level of understanding of language.
The best preparation for this section of the exam comes from regular reading.
TIP: READ READ READ READ
......For fun and to increase your depth as a person. If your reading level as a senior is at the same level as it was when you began high school- you let yourself down and missed an opportunity.
As a college advisor with thirty years of experience as a Professor, I continue to encourage students throughout middle and high school to read read and read—beyond assigned work. Exploring the logical flow, sentence structure, and choice of vocabulary across a wide range of published fiction and non-fiction work, even including popular periodicals –can develop the ease of language that is being tested in this section of the exam.
Reading is also part of the process of discovery and allows young adults to engage more effectively and thing outside-the-box with confidence in a variety of professional, academic and personal settings.
The SAT’s Writing section aims to measure student’s abilities in:
1) English conventions,
2) analysis in history and science,
3) expression of ideas,
4) words in context, and
5) command of evidence.
These are the fundamental concepts essential to preparing written pieces that convey a clear point effectively.
The Math section of the SAT is also designed to reflect test-takers ability to process “real world” problems. There are three main sections. The first section, “Algebra”, includes questions on linear equations and inequalities. The second section on “problem solving and data analysis” measures a student’s understanding of proportional relationships and ratio. The final piece of the math section presents the concepts that must be mastered for a student to “advance to higher level courses.”
This is why it’s essential that your SAT/ACT tutor coordinate your testing schedule with your college counselor. Clearly, taking the SAT too early in high school can create a situation where the math curriculum simply hasn’t yet covered the concepts a student will have encountered and mastered. For this reason, I urge students to wait until Algebra II has been completed and mastered.
WHAT’S INCLUDING ON THE ACT? WHAT TO EXPECT?
The ACT, like the SAT is one of two college entrance exam formats -both are accepted at all universities that require an entrance exam. It’s your choice – although students will generally prefer and/or excel on one format over the other.
Let’s boil this information down into digestible content.
The ACT is a multiple-choice test exam comprised of four distinct parts: Science, Mathematics, Reading, and English.
Similar to the SAT, the exam can be taken without or without the optional Essay/Writing section. Students do not often know where they’ll be applying at the time they are sitting for the exam and for this reason, you should take all the elements of the exam, including the optional essay writing section.
In contrast to the SAT, the ACT format has always been designed to assess skills or knowledge that should have acquired in the classroom.
There are four distinct parts of the test, each is scored 1 to 36 points and the optional essay is scored from 1 to 12. The exam with essay takes 3 hours and 35 minutes to complete with rest breaks between sections. (Students with approved testing accommodations including extra time or distraction-free testing are seated separately and provided a longer exam format.)
Summary – Length and timing
Science 35 minutes to answer 40 questions including questions on data representation, research summary questions and conflicting viewpoint analysis.
Math 60 minutes to answer 46 questions on elementary & intermediate algebra, coordinate and plane geometry and trigonometry.
Reading 35 minutes to respond to 40 questions on paragraphs covering prose fiction, humanities, science and social studies.
English 35 minutes to respond to 75 questions on usage mechanics and rhetorical skills analyzing paragraphs on a variety of content.
Information is presented in tables, graphs, research summaries or “conflicting viewpoint passages” on a variety of topics including chemistry, physics, biology and earth/science. The section isn’t aiming to assess content knowledge but is focused on assessing the student’s reasoning skills. When the content is familiar, students are more comfortable with this section of the exam.
Some of the questions require interpretation of data as presented in a chart or table or a similar research summary. Other questions present multiple hypotheses and opposing viewpoints where students analyze the conflicting viewpoints on scientific content.
It’s important that students who don’t consider STEM to be their best subjects don’t shy away from the ACT as this section really doesn’t require nor test scientific knowledge directly. Students of all interests and intended college majors can do well on this section of the exam.
In contrast to the SAT, where part of the math section doesn’t allow for calculator usage, the ACT permits a calculator to be utilized for all sections of the math portion. Of the 60 multiple-choice questions, the exam is designed to assess problem-solving skills.
One set of questions explores reasoning through questions on basic functions of real and complex number systems and work on integers, exponents, vectors and matrices.
Knowledge of basic and advanced algebra will be tested through questions on algebraic expressions, linear and polynomial equations, and exponential relationships. Some of the problem solving will involve solving real-world context making the questions more relatable.
A solid understanding of Geometry (i.e.- solve for missing values), functions (i.e. arithmetic sequences) and basic statistics and probability are also needed to comfortably manage the content of the math section of the ACT. Overall, there is little if any difference between the math of the SAT and ACT – the emphasis on some topics and the types of questions differ ever so slightly. That said, my experience tells me that students seem to have a strong preference for one format over the other.
Overall, whether you are taking the ACT or SAT format, it’s important to have completed the relevant portions of your high school mathematics curriculum that relate to the content coverage. Typically, this is an Algebra II or Trig class. Likewise, advanced students who are many years “ahead” in mathematics may truly need a refresher in geometry content. For example, a junior in Calculus will have taken geometry as many as three years ago- and this content isn’t related to the cumulative sequence of content in algebra I/II, trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus courses.
THERE ARE 40 QUESTIONS DESIGNED TO ASSESS READING COMPREHENSION AND REASONING SKILLS ON FOUR SECTIONS. WITHIN EACH SECTION, THERE ARE TWO SHORTER PASSAGES AND ONE LONGER PASSAGE ACROSS A VARIETY OF TOPICS INCLUDING SOCIAL STUDIES, NATURAL SCIENCES, LITERARY NARRATIVE, AND THE HUMANITIES.
The College Board aimed to mirror the ACT in its recent revision of its exam. The ACT has been praised for the variety of pieces and relevancy of subject matter. For example, the literary narratives include contemporary and well-known memoirs and short stories. Social studies and natural science pieces are based on content students will have encountered in a typical high school curriculum.
This section of the exam has two categories including: Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills. There are five essays/passages followed by a sequence of multiple-choice questions to assess the student’s use of standard written language. Students are evaluated on their knowledge of grammar and usage, punctuation, sentence structure organization/logic, style/tone and strategic presentation. This is one section of the exam that tutoring can be invaluable and content learned that for many students hasn’t always been taught (directly) in middle or high school.
Regardless of which exam format you’ve decided to take, it’s important to know the materials you’ll be tested upon and feel well prepared for your scheduled exam day. Your test preparation is unique and the approach you take (individual prep, one-on-one tutoring or small classes) should reflect your motivation, abilities and family budget. If you need some guidance in reviewing options for exam preparation that will fit your circumstances, please reach out for a conversation.
JUNIORS – CLASS OF 2022 – PSAT
As I predicted in many of my spring and summer newsletters and blogs- the pandemic has shifted the opportunities for juniors for the traditional October Junior year PSAT. This year, students were given a choice to take the exam in October or January. I hope you didn't rush - because having 3 more months of mathematics and prep time behind you was an opportunity. You cannot retake the PSAT - it's one time only.
Don't worry- because the PSAT isn’t something to be terribly concerned about because this exam serves very little purpose beyond qualifying an exceedingly small number of high performing students as National Merit Finalists. Please don’t fret about this exam.
Do know that the ACT has a "junior" version of their exam called the PLAN and the PLAN is an acceptable qualifying exam for the NMQ scholarship. Sadly, and oddly- many high schools don't offer the PLAN.
The PSAT score isn’t reported in your college applications. However, if you are an 8th to 11th grade student, the PSAT is often and acceptable standardized test to submit for any competitive collegiate summer programs.
Those applications are due November to February. If you need guidance for recommendations that will help you discover or deepen an academic interest, or increase your chances of college admissions acceptance, please reach out for a conversation. I typically send out a detailed note in January about the role of these programs in the college admissions process. I customize my recommendations for students based on interests and opportunities and family budget.
We can all agree that the College Admissions process is complex and your application will most certainly be evaluated on several comprehensive criteria. There are now over 1000 Accredited Colleges and Universities DE-EMPHASIZING ACT/SAT Scores to Admit Substantial Numbers of Students Into Bachelor-Degree Programs. This list can be found here at FAIRTEST
and I will discuss TEST OPTIONAL policies fully- below please stay with me.
Super Scoring and Score Choice
options should relieve some of the stress over SAT/ACT scores.
Details in my blog that all Juniors and Seniors should understand are found here:
Many colleges "superscore" which means that your application is evaluated on a composite score based on the best sub-scores across different test dates. This list can be found here:
To repeat, If you've completed Alegbra II you have covered all the math that will be on the SAT/ACT-- if not, you need to wait until the end of the Junior year/start of Senior Year to begin testing. Please do NOT take an exam covering materials you haven't yet learned fulled-- what's the point? Some universities do NOT participate in SCORE CHOICE and all scores are required- "practice" tests should be completed at home or with your tutor- not in a real setting!