photo-1456406644174-8ddd4cd52a06Today’s newsletter is focused on placing the SAT and ACT into their proper perspective relative to admissions. Other important variables for consideration will also be addressed.

Why do schools even need standardized test scores?

 The sad truth is that nobody truly knows what grades mean. Do all teachers at the same school require the same standards for getting an A, B, etc.? Of course not! So if teachers vary, schools, vary, counties vary, and states vary.

Putting it into historical perspective – in Montgomery County 20 – 25% of the students get straight A’s.  Fifty years ago, it was fewer than 5%.  So what do grades REALLY mean?  Hence the need for test scores especially from public schools. Using test scores, colleges can compare applicants using the same gauge.

OK, so now I understand the need for the tests, but how do I know which test is the better one for my teen to take?

 The best way to find out is to take our 60 Second ACT vs. SAT Assessment which is based not only on content but learning style and personality. These are two underrated factors which can significantly affect test performance.

This assessment is regarded in the context of a previous PSAT, SAT or ACT score, when available, especially if the scores are close.

The SAT Skill Set and ACT Skill Set Assessments also aid in validating the better exam.

Is one exam considered the ‘better’ exam for college admissions?

 The SAT used to be the ‘gold standard’ for admissions.  No more!  Since 2007, all schools have slowly added ACT as an acceptable exam for admissions. Now ALL universities will take either, not favoring one test over the other.

 When would someone need to take both exams?

 If a student has not taken either exam, and the score on the 60 Second Assessment is SAT: 6 and ACT: 5, I usually look more carefully at a prior PSAT score (if available) to validate the score. (Scores of 7+ indicate a strong preference for that particular exam.)

If the student has taken the SAT twice and is ‘stuck’, then it may it be time to try the ACT. Though there is more overlap in skill sets with the new SAT than the former one, sometimes students just do better when switching because they see this exam as ‘new’ and ‘fresh so the motivation may be greater.

How much time should be devoted to test preparation and how much improvement should be expected?

Preparing for the (P)SAT or ACT is like taking another course in school:  Students come to weekly lessons and have daily assignments to reinforce the skills and strategies learned in the lesson. Why daily assignments? When students can spend 20-30 minutes a day practicing what they have learned, they get a comfort level and are more inclined to apply these newly learning skills and techniques on the real exam. Freaking out won’t be an option!

To go up significantly, a student should be willing to devote a minimum of 40 hours – meeting + homework time – over 8-12 weeks. Expected improvement: 40-100 points per section.

In my almost 4 decades of experience, I have found that students almost ALWAYS benefit significantly more with one-on-one preparation over a group program.

What if your teen’s GPA is lower than his/her SAT?

Generally speaking, a huge disparity – 2.8 GPA and a 1400 SAT or 32 ACT – indicates a student who is bright but not motivated. The GPA reveals your teen’s high school track record over several years which is a strong point of focus for admissions. Larger colleges typically can’t afford to take risks with such students.  Smaller schools may examine the other variables more closely – extracurriculars, recommendations, and the essay – to get a fuller picture.

A good plan would be to consider applying to a college where the average SAT or ACT score is above the average admitted score as it improves the odds of admission – your score will raise their averages. Remember, colleges are also trying to maximize their score profiles!

 What about the SAT Subject Tests?

As indicated in last week’s newsletter, the SAT Subject Tests seem to be losing ground with a lot of schools; however, those top schools that state they are recommended means they want them, typically two, in subject areas you excel in.

Subject tests are typically taken in May or June soon after students have taken the relevant AP tests. In studying for AP’s they are studying for the Subject Tests.

For strong math students, taking the Subject Test in the fall with 2-4 tutorial sessions is typically sufficient. Those who are good English students, taking the Literature test in the fall with the same number of tutoring lessons is also a good option.

Scores over 700 on the SAT Subject Tests relative to lower SAT scores, may be an indicator to retake the SAT.

Can having a high Academic Index really boost my teen’s admissions chances?

The Academic Index (AI) is the formula used by the Ivy League schools to see if athletes were academically qualified for admission. It is a number out of 240 computed by factoring the the SAT/ACT, SAT II, class size, and other variables as well.

The AI is a good tool to assess where your student stands relative to other applicants, but it is not the end all.

How important is the college essay?

The college application essay is the single thing that students have complete control over in senior year. It may not guarantee admissions to top choice schools, but can often help break ties and get the applicant noticed. According to an admissions officer from the University of Michigan, “Powerful essays can make students pop off the page and become 3-D.”

Essays are fourth in importance behind grades, test scores, and rigor of your high school program, and for many admissions officers are a golden opportunity to see a side of the applicant that they wouldn’t see otherwise.

Don’t restate what is already included in the application. It’s easy to write a boring essay about ‘my trip to Ecuador to build houses for a rural community’. The essay needs to reveal the vision of who you are and what makes you tick. Make them know that you are like no other applicant that will walk through their hallowed doors! All things being equal among candidates, it comes down to who made the readers laugh, cry or relate to their essay.

This is the applicant’s only chance to let his/her personality come through.  Here is a wonderful essay that got a lot of press last spring.

There you have it. Hopefully you have enough information to put the SAT and ACT into perspective.

Bottom line — it’s certainly advantageous to have high scores, but the college application that stands out will demonstrate a strong correlation among all four variables: In order of importance – grades, test scores, rigor of high school curriculum, and the essay.


Have you scheduled your complimentary Test Prep Strategy Session? Confirm which is the better exam for your teen, the optimum time to take it, and personalized coaching options.



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