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What You Need To Know About Test Optional Policies

Posted by: Website Administrator on 8/26/2015

Test-Optional and Test-Flexible Schools

As your college list begins to take shape, you may find that some of your schools are test-optional or test-flexible. With an increasing number of schools adopting alternative testing policies, it’s important to know what that means, and how it could affect you as you prepare to apply to college this fall.

To be Test-Optional or Test-Flexible means that a college does not have traditional SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test requirements to be considered for admission. These schools deemphasize the use of SAT and ACT scores in making admissions decisions, by either not requiring standardized tests at all, or by giving students a choice about which test scores to submit.

Test-Optional schools do not require applicants to submit any SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Test scores. Generally, even if a school is Test-Optional, applicants can choose to submit SAT or ACT scores if they prefer to. Although a small number are “test-blind,” meaning they won’t consider scores at all, even when they are submitted. At some Test-Optional schools, students may be asked to submit alternative credentials such as additional recommendation letters, supplemental essays, or graded class assignments in lieu of standardized test scores.

Test-Flexible schools want applicants to submit standardized testing, but it does not have to be the SAT or ACT. Instead, Test-Flexible colleges allow students to choose the standardized testing that represents them best. There is a wide range of these policies, from allowing students to submit 2 or 3 SAT Subject Tests, to results from just about any standardized tests (including IB or AP scores, or even the PSAT), in lieu of the SAT or ACT. In addition, some schools will allow students to submit scores in combination. For example, students could choose an SAT Subject Test in Math, the SAT Writing section, and an IB score in Biology.

Looking ahead to the college application process this fall, you can use your understanding of Test-Optional and Test-Flexible policies to present yourself in the best light to these colleges.

At a Test-Optional school, the decision to submit SAT or ACT scores is up to you. Remember, if you submit your scores, the college will consider them, so you need to consider the decision carefully. In general, if your test scores are at the high end of a college’s middle 50% range, or above that range, then submitting test scores would strengthen your application. If your test scores are below a college’s middle 50% range, or toward the lower end, then submitting scores may not be to your advantage. Submitting weak test scores to a Test-Optional college could hurt your application, but you won’t be penalized if you don’t submit your scores. No matter what, make sure that any scores you send represent you well, relative to the college’s overall applicant pool.

At a Test-Flexible school, you have the flexibility to choose the scores that represent you the best – so choose carefully. Since each Test-Flexible policy is unique, you need to review each school’s options, and compare them to the tests you’ve taken (or are planning to take). Are you taking any AP or IB exams this year, or have you taken the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, or ACT? By looking at all of the tests you’ve taken (or are planning to take), you can choose your strongest scores within the parameters set by each school.

Remember, if you’re ever unsure about whether or not to send test scores, or which scores to send, you can always ask your college counselor for help.

Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

Posted by: Website Administrator on 2/26/2014

You might be wondering how to decide between taking the SAT or ACT. Pretty much all colleges will accept either test, so the decision of which to take depends on your personal preference. As you think about preparing for the SAT or ACT, keep some of these important differences in mind.

Sections. The SAT has 3 sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. The ACT has 4 sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science Reasoning. The ACT also has an optional Writing section, which some colleges will require you to take.

Content. The SAT is designed to test critical reasoning and thinking skills, while the ACT is designed to test curricular knowledge (what you learn in school). The math on the SAT goes up to Algebra II, while the math on the ACT goes up to Trigonometry.

Length. Both the SAT and ACT are long tests, but the SAT is just a bit longer. The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes, including a 25 minute experimental section (you won’t know which one it is, though, so you have to take it). The ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes, including the optional Writing section.

Number of Questions. The ACT has more questions than the SAT. There are 215 multiple choice questions on the ACT, and 1 optional essay prompt. The SAT has 170 questions (most of which will be multiple choice with a few fill-in questions), and 1 essay prompt.

Structure. On the ACT, you take one section at a time. You complete the entire English section, followed by Math, then Reading, then Science, and finally, the Writing Section. On the SAT, Math, Critical Reading, and Writing are divided into shorter subsections, and you will jump around between subjects. You might take a subsection of Critical Reading, then a subsection of Math, a subsection of Writing, and then back to Math or Critical Reading.

Scoring. On the SAT, you’re given a score between 200 and 800 in each section. The sum of your scores in all three sections is your total score. On the ACT, you’re given a score between 1 and 36 in each section (except for the Writing subscore, which is out of 12). The average of your scores in each section is your Composite score. The Writing subscore is noted separately.

Additional Scoring Information. On the ACT, you gain points for each correct answer, but you don’t lose points for incorrect or blank answers. On the SAT, you gain points for each correct answer, no points are deducted for blank answers, but you do lose ¼ of a point for incorrect answers (except for the fill-in math questions, where there are no points deducted for incorrect answers).

It’s up to you to decide if you want to take the SAT or ACT, which means you need to determine which one is best for you. Being familiar with the structure and content of the tests is important, but before you decide, be sure to take a practice test in each. With a little research and a couple of practice tests, you’ll be in a strong position to decide between the SAT and ACT. 

*NOTE* The SAT is changing and will be in a new format starting March 2016. You can read about the changes here.

Do I Have to Take Subject Tests?

Posted by: Website Administrator on 2/12/2014

Not everyone has to take SAT Subject Tests as part of the college application process. In fact, depending on where you are planning to apply, and if you’re taking the SAT or ACT, you may not have to take them at all. Whether you end up needing them or not, it’s important to start thinking about SAT Subject Tests early so that you have enough time to plan and prepare.

The first step in determining whether you need to take Subject Tests is to look at your college list. If you don’t have a college list yet, then think about the colleges you are most interested in right now. Review the standardized testing requirements for those schools. And remember, there are several colleges that will take the ACT in lieu of both the SAT and Subject Tests.

When you’ve collected the standardized testing requirements for the schools you’re interested in, review them all together. This should give you a sense of whether or not you need to take Subject Tests. If you’re still not sure, discuss your testing requirements with an advisor.

You might want to consider taking Subject Tests even if the schools you’re interested in don’t require them, especially if some of those schools have flexible testing policies. “Test-flexible” colleges will accept two or three Subject Test scores in lieu of the SAT or ACT. If you feel more confident about a curriculum-based test than the SAT or ACT, then you might want to consider taking Subject Tests. That way, when it is time to apply, you will have the most flexibility in choosing which scores to send to test-flexible schools (assuming some of those schools are on your list).

Ideally, you will have taken all of your SAT Subject Tests before the start of senior year. In addition, since the SAT Subject Tests are curriculum-based, it’s best to plan your Subject Tests in advance based on your classes each year. This is another instance where planning ahead means less stress in the long-run.

How to Select and Prepare for SAT Subject Tests

Posted by: Website Administrator on 2/5/2013

Many colleges require or recommend that applicants submit SAT Subject Test scores.   You can take them at any point in high school, but it usually makes sense to coordinate Subject Tests with your high school curriculum. You may not yet know if you’ll need to take SAT Subject Tests, but you can still prepare for the possibility.

The best place to start when deciding which test or tests to take is your current course schedule. If you’re in any AP or IB classes right now that correspond with an SAT Subject Test, there’s a good chance that the curriculum for the course will overlap with the test content. Subject Tests are offered in two levels of math (Math 1 and Math 2), Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Literature, US History, World History, and several foreign languages. If your school doesn’t offer AP or IB courses, or if you’re taking an honors or advanced level course that you think could be good preparation for a Subject Test, ask your teacher about it. S/he should be familiar with the test content and be able to tell you if the course you’re currently taking will prepare you.

Once you’ve decided on some options, take a practice exam in each subject. Your performance on the practice exams should give you a sense of which tests will be most appropriate. The College Board offers a detailed SAT Subject Test study guide that has several practice tests and provides detailed information on all of the tests. 

Subject Tests are each one hour long and are multiple-choice (no fill-ins). They’re offered every time the SAT is offered, except March: October, November, December, January, May, and June. Many students like to take their Subject Tests to coincide with their AP exams in May or their final exams in June. Since you’re already studying for these exams, you can maximize your study time by taking Subject Tests around the same time. 

You can take up to three Subject Tests on one test day, and as long as you’re registered for at least one, you can change your mind about which Subject Tests you’re taking (and how many) up until the day of the test. So if you’re unsure about the specifics of which Subject Tests you’re taking, it’s still advisable to register early and decide on the details as things become clearer on your end. Also note that you can take either Subject Tests or the SAT on a given test date, but not both.

As your College List firms up, you’ll have a better sense of whether Subject Tests are required. Though your list is likely still in progress, look at the standardized testing requirements as you’re researching colleges. If you notice that some likely contenders require or recommend them, you should plan to take them. If none of the schools require them, then you can hold off for now. Either way, pay close attention to the requirements of schools you’re researching so you are appropriately prepared come fall.

Making the Most of the PSAT

Posted by: Website Administrator on 11/28/2012

If you took the PSAT in October, expect to receive your scores in December. The PSAT serves two primary purposes. First, it’s the qualifier for the National Merit Scholarship Program. Second, it’s great preparation for the SAT.

Read on for more information about how to make the most of  the PSAT.

SAT Preparation. You can use your PSAT score to help you prepare for the SAT later this year. The PSAT has three sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing Skills. Each section is scored on a scale of 20-80. If you add a zero to the end, the score looks a lot like an SAT score. However, don’t think that your score on the PSAT is a prophecy of how you’ll do on the SAT. Instead, you should view your PSAT score as an opportunity to see which sections, and which question types you can work on to help improve your SAT score.

The PSAT score report, officially called the PSAT Score Report Plus, has several useful tools for you to use in preparing for the SAT. In order to fully take advantage of these tools, you need to create an account with My College QuickStart. Here are just some of the useful tools that your PSAT Score Report Plus and My College QuickStart give you.

1) Personalized ranges that show how your scores might vary if you took the test multiple times.

2) Personalized feedback on your PSAT performance.  You can see which specific skills on the PSAT are your strengths, and which you could improve upon.

3) You’ll get a copy of your actual PSAT Test booklet.  You’ll be able to see the level of difficulty of each question, and how you scored on each question.

4) A customized SAT study plan based on your PSAT performance.

National Merit Scholarship Program. Your junior year PSAT Score is also used to determine your eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program. The highest scorers on the PSAT in each state are invited to continue in the National Merit competition as Semifinalists. Semifinalists then have to complete an application to become Finalists. Scholarship Winners are then selected from among the Finalists. If you want to move forward in the competition, be sure to complete the application National Merit sends you, and follow all instructions carefully.

National Merit Scholarships tend to be very small, and some colleges will match these awards, or provide awards of their own for Winners, Finalists, and/or Semifinalists.  If you receive National Merit recognition – great! But don’t expect it to make up for other weaknesses in your profile.  Your four year academic record and your SAT/ACT scores (where required) will be stronger indicators of your chances for admission than your National Merit status.  This also means that if you are not selected for National Merit, not to worry.

Colleges won’t use your PSAT score in evaluating your application, and your score is not necessarily a predictor of what your SAT score will be.  Take advantage of the interactive score report to help you prepare for the SAT, and if you are selected as a National Merit Semifinalist, continue on in the competition.  In general, think of the PSAT as another useful tool in the college application process.  


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