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College Admissions Testing
While a small number of colleges are test-optional, the vast majority of colleges still require applicants to take the SAT or the ACT test. While most colleges indicate that GPA, class rank, and rigor of schedule are the most important admissions factors, test scores are also key components in the admissions process for most schools. Along with several other admissions criteria, high test scores and excellent grades will greatly increase the number of colleges into which a student will be accepted.
Here is a breakdown of the various tests:
Offered by the College Board, this is the most common college admission test taken by seniors in this region of the country. The latest version of the SAT primarily assesses the type of English and math skills that are typically thought to be essential for success in college.
The SAT is about three hours long, and consists of two parts: Evidence-Based Reading/Writing and Mathematics. There is also an optional Essay section, which is an additional 50 minutes long. The SAT may be taken as many times as a student desires. However, we rarely see great improvement after the third administration, unless it is preceded by intense preparation over a period of time.
Our recommendation is that the SAT be taken initially at the end of junior year, preferably in May. The June administration is also an option, but usually falls on the weekend just before or just after our final exams, when test fatigue may prevent a student’s best performance.
When taken during the junior year, the student has the summer available to work on weak areas. The SAT can then be taken a second or even a third time during the fall and early winter of senior year.
SAT Subject Tests
These are College Board exams that measure proficiency in a number of different subject areas. One or more of these tests may be required by a college as part of the admissions process, or they may be required by specific academic departments within a particular college. For example, College X may not generally require SAT Subject tests for admission, but the engineering department at that school might require one of the math subject tests for those who want to enter that major.
Like the SAT, SAT Subject Tests are also offered by the College Board, and one registers for them in a similar manner.
The SAT Subject tests need only be taken by students applying to schools or majors that require them. They are taken in addition to the SAT test.
In order to register for these tests, follow links for "SAT" on the College Board website – www.collegeboard.org.
The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional writing test which students may opt to take depending upon whether it is required by their colleges. Just like the SAT, the ACT results are accepted by all four year colleges and universities in the United States.
The ACT is more of a big picture exam. The college representatives focus on the composite score which is the average of the English, Math, Reading and Science scores. So if a student is weaker in one of the areas, she can still end up with a very good score.
To register for the ACT, visit www.actstudent.org.
SAT vs. ACT, which should you take?
We recommend taking each test one time during the second semester of the junior year. Students should then evaluate their scores to determine which of the tests most accurately targets their academic strengths. Students are then advised to concentrate on that particular test over the summer and then to retake it once or twice in the fall. Khan Academy is an excellent resource for preparing for the SAT. This resource can be found through the College Board website and is free. The ACT also offers some test prep materials through their web-site both for a fee and for free.
Be aware that students may take both tests and report only the one(s) with the better results. Please also keep in mind that colleges and universities will look at best scores when a student takes the same test – ACT or SAT -- multiple times. This is called “super-scoring” and it is a common practice.