With all the hoopla around testing, it can start to seem like alphabet soup. When it comes to testing, I am remind of one of my favorite movies starring Danny DeVito called Renaissance Man and the following seen:
Bill Rago: Excuse me. Excuse me. I’m looking for the Army Education Center.
Bill Rago: Captain Tom Murdoch.
MP Directing Traffic: Captain Murdoch’s not at the A.E.C. Captain Murdoch’s at the A.R.C
Bill Rago: [fumbling to write down directions] A.R.C., A.E.C.
MP Directing Traffic: [Walks up to Rago] You lookin’ for Captain Murdoch?
Bill Rago: Yeah.
MP Directing Traffic: The A.E.C. is building 2310. You want building 4475.
Bill Rago: 447…
MP Directing Traffic: Look, here’s what you do. You go right here. Take another right at the P.X. Go half a click ’til you see the D.P.T.M. Center. Then take a left.
Bill Rago: [writing furiously] P.M., P.X.
MP Directing Traffic: If you hit the R.F.P.C., you’ve gone too far.
[returns to post]
Bill Rago: [reviewing notes] D.P.T.M., R.F.P.C.
Bill Rago: Can I buy a vowel?
While I don’t think I need a vowel, I initially felt like I was in foreign territory. When it comes to testing, it’s not easy to figure out what is what and when do you take this test or that test and why does my child need to take them. A road map, or rather a testing map, is essential when diving into a sea of acronym alphabet tests.
SAT Reasoning (Formerly SAT I)
Something we all should be familiar with. It originally stood for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (though some would say it stands for Stupid Annoying Test). Historically this test has been the standard for getting into college and has had an interesting background. It tests students in English Language Arts, Math and Writing and requires an essay portion. It typically lasts about 3 hours and 45 minutes and you want your child to start taking the test in their junior year. There is a fee associated with this test and there are multiple set dates that this test can be taken.
This test is being revamped and will roll out in March 2016 and will affect those in the class of 2017. I will update with more information as it becomes available for the revamped SAT. Until then, here are a few things to know. It tends to be more complicated in its questioning. You have to figured out what is being asked before you can figure out the answer to the question. It places a heavier emphasis on vocabulary. It is broken up into up to ten sections in each of the three major sections. You lose points (1/4) for each question you get wrong. You can actually increase your score by not answering questions. It’s better to answer the questions you are sure of and skip the ones you don’t know. Scoring is based on a 2400 possible points. Colleges use this as one of the benchmarks to determine whether they will accept you.
I like to think about this as the baby SAT. It’s a good way to dive into the world of SAT but the test and the scoring are different. The score is based on 240 points so in theory you could add a zero to the end to get an idea of what you could score on the real SAT. It’s still an important test to take. While colleges don’t use this test as a way to determine whether to accept you or not, it is used to determine the National Merit Scholarship if taken during the 11th grade year. Additionally, it is a good way for students to get a taste of what an SAT might be like. It is always administered in October and I recommend taking it in both the 10th and 11th grade. There is a fee associated with this test.
An interchangeable test with the SAT as far as college admissions are concerned. It stands for American College Testing. That said, the tests are different. It is often thought to be a more knowledge based test. Many students find this test as a better test to take. It is broken into four sections – English, math, reading and science. It also offers an optional writing section. I saw optional but you should pretty much consider it mandatory. The test is about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Scoring is out of 36 points. You only get points for those questions that are right just like the SAT but you do not lose points for those question you get wrong or leave blank. One reason students find the ACT easier is that while the questions are harder, they are also more direct, easier to understand and frankly, clearer. Plus, it tests curriculum knowledge and students find this test to be similar to that of common core. It is technically a harder test. For instance, the ACT tests through trigonometry while the SAT stops at algebra. Students should look to take this test starting in their junior year. There is a fee associated with this test and there are multiple set dates that this test can be taken.
SAT Subject Tests (formerly called SAT II)
Specific to a subject matter such as math, chemistry, history, foreign languages, etc. the SAT II is designed to test the specific knowledge level a student has in that particular academic area. For universities and colleges in California, the SAT subject test is no longer required as a part of general admission but other states’ schools and private universities may require them. Make sure your child is looking at all the admission requirements for the school. Even if a school does no require it, check with the department they are majoring in to see if they require specific SAT subject test. For example, some engineering programs may require subject tests in physics while pre-med programs may require chemistry and biology.
Similar to the AP tests in what it tests, it still follows the same confusing question format as the SAT reasoning test. It is a one hour test that consists of multiple choice questions. Scoring is the same. If you answer wrong, currently points are deducted. Students should take these tests in the spring or summer of the year they take the corresponding subject. If your child takes chemistry in his or her sophomore year, then he or she should take the SAT subject test chemistry in the spring or summer of that year. There is a fee associated with these tests and there are multiple set dates that these tests can be taken. There is no limit to the number of these tests you can take but be selective in what you take. Tailor it to your major, college and departmental requirements as to avoid test burn out. You can take three subject tests at one session. Someone asked why you might want to take these tests if they are not required. The SAT subject test can act as an advanced placement if their score is high enough and may wave certain pre-requisite classes for some colleges.
Advanced Placement testing designed for students who wish to gain college credit and/or advanced placement in college. It is the aim of schools to provide advanced placement classes that give high school students an opportunity to take college classes. Currently, approximately 90% of colleges and universities give either course credit or advanced placement for students that take and pass (at a certain level) the AP tests. Schools either give credit, which give students units toward their college degree, or advanced placement, which allows students to skip introductory or other basic courses, when a student passes an AP test with at least a 3. The tests are administered in May, are fee based and scored on a 1-5 scale, where 3 or higher representing qualified to extremely well qualified is passing.
While AP classes do not directly effect the admission process as they are not a requirement for admittance, they do have an indirect effect. Colleges generally use AP classes and participation as a predictor for college success. Generally speaking, the more AP courses, the more likely to gain college admittance and better the chance of finishing your degree. Those students who take AP classes are significant more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree program in four years than their peers who do not. However, you will want to remember that it is better to take an AP test an fail, than to not take an AP test at all if you take the class. Admissions tend to look at this as someone who was willing to try, even though they did not pass, verses someone who wasn’t even willing to take the chance at all.
Scores will get you where?
The scores for these tests will be reported to colleges you have selected as schools to receive your scores and you are hopefully applying to. The good news is schools have finally started accepting ACT scores and SAT Reasoning scores as interchangeable. This is awesome news as some students perform well on the ACT but not the SAT and vice versa. And you only have to report one of them. These scores do weigh heavy in deciding admittance to a college or university. While it’s not the only factor, it is an important factor.
You can find a PDF below compiled by Princeton Review listing many schools from around the United States with a varying range of SAT and ACT scores. Now this is only a road map to gauge where you are at, not a guideline for admittance. But it is helpful for determining where your scores could take you. You can also check out PrincetonReview.com. They have a wonderful area where you can plug in a school and see what it will take for you to get it in (guidelines not an absolute) or you can search by major to see what schools offer your major and what it takes to get admitted. This site actually offers a wide variety of college information on specific schools that can be used to decide what school so apply to or not.
Some good news exists if your child does not do well on either test. The are about 800 schools that list these tests as optional. For example, Wake Forest University in North Carolina has made a decision that scores can tell you something about an applicant but it is not the whole story. As such, while they do accept SAT and ACT scores, they are optional. And they at not the only school to make such a decision. Students are more dynamic than a test score.
Putting it all Together
So when you look at this, what comes to mind, is what should my child do? First, remember that these ARE NOT an indicator of how intelligent your child is. But the scores of the ACT or SAT do account for about 20-30% of what is considered for admission. So your child should be prepared to put in time to study for each test. A good plan of attack is to have your child take the PSAT in October of their sophomore year to get exposed to the testing environment. It is a very different testing world than they most likely have experienced prior. Take a practice ACT and practice SAT during their summer between their sophomore and junior year, exposing them to both tests. You can find some free tests online. Additionally, hard copy resource such as test strategy, study and practice tests can be obtained at libraries and book stores. Some school and local organizations offer free to nominal fee based sessions on both tests. Princeton Review is also a well-known and successful resource for improving student performance on these tests but they do charge substantial fees.
In October of their junior year, have them take their second PSAT if they are trying for the National Merit Scholarship. Your child’s score needs to be rather high – 220 or higher. You know your child to know if this is a smart financial move and a good use of time. Start studying for both tests. In March, have them take the SAT. Take the ACT in April. Look at which test your child did better on and which they preferred taking. Have them practice between April and June and then take their preferred test in June. Leave their senior year for applying. As I said earlier, have them take major appropriate or required SAT subject tests at the end of the year they took the class. Make sure to check College Board for SAT testing and registration dates. Check out www.act.org for ACT testing and registration dates.
Assuming your child can handle the rigors of an AP class, have them take at least one per year. This should be something that makes sense for their college goals, degree and career goals. If your child wants to be a journalist or communications major, then taking AP English and AP English Literature makes send but perhaps not AP Chemistry. It’s not that taking a wide variety of AP classes looks bad – assuming it is balanced with other activities – but if your child is only going to take one a year, then it is better to be strategic in what class they take. Most schools have a registration period in February for their annual AP tests and tests are administered at school.
It’s a lot to take in. Someone once told me that applying for college is a job. And that is so true. It’s work but when spread out and when a plan is followed, is manageable work. If you are new to this series or want a refresher, be sure to checkout the links below for the previous posts in this series.
Until next post!