When making admissions decisions, most colleges place the greatest emphasis on a student’s transcript, but the majority also require applicants to submit standardized test scores.
- Plan Ahead – Early junior year is an ideal time to plan a standardized testing strategy. Look at the calendar and consider when time will be available for diagnostic testing, test preparation, and the actual test dates. Consider time commitments including sports, work, and family vacations, and map out a timeline to ideally complete standardized testing by the end of junior year. There will be opportunities to retake in the late summer and fall, but it’s important to have a goal. Those taking AP and subject tests in May and June should try to schedule their main standardized test before those months.
- Which Test? Most colleges accept both the SAT or ACT and do not prefer one over the other. Students are free to submit scores for the test that presents them in the best light. Take a diagnostic test (available online or through local tutoring companies) for both the SAT and ACT, and analyze the results to determine which score is higher, using readily available online concordance tables to equalize the different scoring formats. Also consider if one test felt more comfortable than the other. Think about factors such as if time constraints occurred on one test compared to the other, and whether there are clear areas such as certain math problems where content information can be learned to improve performance. Students taking advanced math will likely have already covered the math content included on these tests, but some students may want to delay testing until they have covered more material. At this point many students develop a strong preference for one test.
- Use What Was Learned to Prepare – Many students seek tutoring to help improve their standardized test performance. Options range from group classes to private in-home tutoring, and there are also many online resources available. Khan Academy has teamed with the College Board to analyze SAT test results and provide practice questions based on areas where students need to improve. Your consultant can provide guidance about which of these options seem best suited to your needs.
- Practice – Tutoring can help with content acquisition and test taking skills, but all students benefit from practice. Taking as many practice tests as possible increases familiarity with question formats, improves speed, and simply makes students more comfortable with the tests.
- Analyze test results and make adjustments – After receiving a score report from an official test, analyze it carefully and consider the steps necessary to improve scores. Study or ask for tutoring if challenges with certain content remain, take more practice tests, or ask for test strategy tutoring if time ran out. There is a lot of help available and results will improve through targeted effort. While there may be exceptions, if students have prepared, taking the test twice is often enough, and they may experience declining returns in taking additional tests.
Standardized testing is only one part of the college preparation process, and with good planning it can be completed without stress and enable students to move on to more engaging components of their searches.