If you are the parent of a college-bound high school student, you will probably need to interface with either the College Board and the SAT or the ACT Inc. and their test. I recently gave a presentation that I designed, called “A Path to Peace in College Admissions” and there were multiple questions about testing, when, which, where, etc., so I thought I would write a bit about testing.
The college admissions testing machine is a bit like the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter series*. The scores that you receive won’t necessarily get you into a school but they can keep you out. Furthermore, many colleges peg their merit scholarships to standardized tests, so if you are going to test, you need to put your best foot forward.
Where: You should be able to sign up for testing on the College Board website or the ACT website. You will take the test at one of the local high schools in your area. They are administered on Saturdays. Testing centers do fill, so the earlier you sign up, the more choices you will have. This is important if your student has accommodations because each testing site has a limited amount of seats for students that need extra time or other testing accommodations.
Which: The SAT test is 50% math and 50% language. The ACT is 50% language, 25% science and 25% math. Your student needs to consider their skills in each of these areas. A student that enjoys math but not science might fare better on the SAT. A student that thrives in the sciences and loathes math might favor the ACT. One way to explore this is to simulate an exam with a practice test from both. You can score them and see if your student favors one test over another. Sometimes the scores are fairly even but other times one test emerges as a stronger option. Either way, colleges accept both tests and there is no advantage or disadvantage to which one you take in the colleges’ eyes.
When: The general rule of thumb is that these tests should be taken in the spring of junior year. But each family needs to look at their personal situation and decide. If your student is an in-season athlete in the spring, perhaps prepping over the winter for the first ACT in February or SAT in March makes sense. If your child anticipates sitting for multiple AP and/or IB tests in the spring of eleventh grade, perhaps getting an earlier start on the SAT or ACT makes sense. The same thing holds true if your child needs to focus on SAT II Subject Area tests in June. Either way, you want to leave school junior year with some hard test scores. If your scores land where you want them to, for the schools that you are considering, great. If not, you have time to plan for more testing between August and December of senior year.
Prep: There are numerous ways to prepare for the test. But let me say this; a motivated student can do their own prep. Before you spend a lot of money on SAT/ACT tutoring, sit down with your child and figure out how much structure they need. There is a wide range of options, everything from a private tutor coming to your home to classes at a local test prep establishment, to online classes and subscription services. Consider the choices, the costs and ask your child for an honest assessment of how much structure and support they need.
Test Optional Schools: One final note on testing-you can skip the testing process altogether. I have worked with families that have students that they knew would not thrive in the testing environment and they decided to forego it completely and apply to colleges that offered a test-optional admissions policy.
*I have to give credit for this Harry Potter analogy to a parent I worked with. It resonated with me because it is so true and I have been using it ever since!