Standardized Testing & Preparation
Although standardized test scores play a role in most college admissions, there are many other factors considered, including grades, the college essay, and extracurricular activities, just to name a few. In addition, a growing number of colleges and universities have become “test-optional.” See http://www.fairtest.org to learn more. Please don’t fall prey to test preparation companies that thrive on the fears of students and families. There is no need to test more than three times, test too soon, or grow overly anxious about scores. Our goal is to help you separate the hype from what works best for you and create an efficient testing plan that allows your strengths to shine without undue stress.
SET’s CEEB code is 054600. You must list this number on your SAT and ACT forms at registration and on test day so that your scores are sent to our school. The online account(s) a student creates with College Board and/or ACT to register for testing is your central record for keeping track of tests taken and scores sent to colleges. You can request that scores be sent to colleges when you register for a test, but this may be premature. You can also request for scores to be sent to colleges when you sit for the test by choosing the codes for four colleges; in this case, the scores are sent for free. Perhaps the most informed way to have scores sent to colleges is to log onto Collegeboard.com or ACTstudent.org account and pay the per-school fee only after you have received your scores. It is the student’s responsibility to know which tests are required at each of the colleges to which you apply and to order score reports to be sent directly from College Board or ACT to your schools. This is the only way the colleges will receive official scores. In order to ascertain each school’s testing requirements (SAT, ACT, Subject Tests), you may type the name of the school and “required testing” into a search engine online.
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How to Choose Between the SAT and ACT
Most students benefit from choosing one test or the other. With this, time and money are not spent preparing for two different tests. Instead, students optimize the path of least resistance. Admissions committees don’t prefer one test or another, and there is no advantage in the eyes of the admissions office to taking both tests. Therefore, we encourage all sophomores and juniors to take both the PSAT and the practice ACT. By December, we have the scores from both tests and can help students identify their preferred test.
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The American College Test has always been known as a straightforward test. Questions are posed in ways familiar to students in light of their classroom experiences. There are four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading and Science. There is no penalty for wrong answers so students should answer every question, even if they need to guess. Each section is scored on a scale of 36, and the four multiple-choice scores are averaged to yield the composite score on a scale of 36.
Following the multiple-choice portion is the essay portion, known as the Writing test. Although the Writing section is “optional,” we recommend that students take this portion because many colleges only accept scores from the ACT taken with Writing. The essay is graded on four criteria, which are processed to yield a score on a scale of 36.
The ACT is offered in February, April, June, September, October, and December each year. We highly recommend that you not take the ACT before April of junior year if you are a junior taking Pre-Calculus. Pre-Calculus will help prepare you for the ACT Math section. April and June are common dates for first-time testers.
The new Scholastic Aptitude Test that is being administered for the first time in the Spring of 2016 is less tricky than previous versions of the test. There are four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math without a calculator, and Math with a calculator. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing are together scored on a scale of 200-800. Math is also scored on a scale of 200-800. The total score is reported on a scale of 1600. There is no longer a penalty for wrong answers. Therefore, students should guess if they don’t know how to do problems.
The essay portion follows the multiple-choice portion, and the grade on the essay does not affect the multiple-choice score. The essay portion is graded on three criteria on scales of 2 to 8. The essay portion is optional. College admissions committees are still wrestling with how to handle the optional nature of the essay. We will update you on whether the essay is truly optional, or whether it is recommended for all or most students taking the SAT.
The SAT is offered in January, March, May, June, October, November and December each year. March, May and June of junior year are common dates for first-time testers.
The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a test given to all sophomores and juniors during the course of the usual school day in October. There is no need to register online for this test. It is similar to the SAT, but is shorter and does not contain an essay. Evidence-Based Reading and Writing are together scored on a scale of 160-760. Math is also scored on a scale of 160-760. The total score scale is 320-1520. Scores on this test allow us to predict SAT scores quite effectively.
When juniors take this test, they compete for the National Merit Scholarship. The qualifying index by state is established each year by marking a very small percentage of top performers statewide. California’s cutoffs are traditionally among the highest in the nation. National Merit Commended students are notified in September of their senior year. National Merit Semifinalists are also notified in September of their senior year and are invited to complete an application to become Finalists and to compete for the scholarship.
SAT SUBJECT TEST
SAT Subject Tests are required or recommended by the most selective colleges. Particular majors often require particular Subject Tests. For example, engineering and other technical majors are often required to take a Math Level 2 Subject Test. To learn if colleges on your list require Subject Tests, you may type the name of the school and “Subject Tests” into a search engine.
It is each senior’s responsibility to know which of his or her colleges require Subject Tests and to plan accordingly. Each Subject Test is one hour in duration so students may take up to three Subject Tests on a given test date. If schools ask for Subject Test scores, they often request two tests’ scores. Occasionally, they request three tests’ scores. Subject Tests are administered on the same dates that the SAT is administered, except that no Subject Tests are given in March.
Often students who excel in AP courses fare well on the respective Subject Test. High-scoring Pre-Calculus Honors students often fare well on the Math Level 2 Subject Test. For specific advice on which Subject Tests to take, please consult with your teachers and/or college counselor.
ADVANCED PLACEMENT EXAMS
AP exams are administered on national test dates each May to students enrolled in the attendant AP courses. Exams are scored in June, and score reports are mailed to students in July. These scores most often can be used for credit or advanced standing in various subject areas, once a student matriculates at a particular institution; they are not a requirement for admission, and colleges’ acceptance of AP scores for credit can vary greatly. Though official scores are not required to be sent during the college application season, Seniors have the option of asking the college office to send a copy of their cumulative AP score report to colleges along with the transcript.