If you’re planning on applying to college, you need to get smart about the SAT, ACT, and test prep. Why? Because understanding college admissions testing allows you to make the right choices about which college admission tests to take, how to prepare for them, or if you should even take the tests at all. And remember that students with test scores in upper quartile of freshman test scores are likely to receive more generous merit aid. (The following may contain affiliate links.)
One Visual Aid
Begin building your knowledge of college admission testing requirements and issues with this table on the differences between the SAT and ACT. It’s an easy way to compare the tests.
Two Sides to Test Optional
An increasing number of colleges are going “test-optional” meaning that students don’t have to submit their test scores as part of their application. Poor test-takers can rejoice as more colleges, including some of the more selective ones, take a holistic approach to admissions.
However, it may be that some colleges are using this process to inflate their scores to improve their desirability. They’re willing to take students with lower test scores but certainly aren’t interested in letting their scores drag down the average for the school, no matter how little they have to do with predicting success in college.
Three Test Prep Strategies to Consider
Which Test to Take. The table referenced above shows the basic differences between the two college admissions tests but it doesn’t explain the significance for the test taker. This description of the differences provides one of the better guides in deciding which test to take. Ultimately, you can always take free practice tests for each before starting test prep and see which one is easier for you.
When to Take the Tests. Many sources suggest taking the ACT or SAT in the spring of your junior year and then retaking it, if necessary, the fall of your senior year. I suggest taking it during the fall of your junior year and explain why here.
How Often to the Tests. Taking the tests twice is understandable. The score the first time around wasn’t what you wanted so you’ll take it again but this time, you have reason to believe you’ll do better. There is generally little to gain in taking the tests more than twice.
Four Other Tests to Know About
SAT Subject Tests. These used to be known as SAT 2’s. These are comprehensive tests on high school level subjects. Some of the more competitive colleges require students to submit subject exams scores as well.
Advanced Placement (AP) Exams. AP Exams test college level material taught in high school AP classes. The exams are administered by the high schools in May. You do not have to take an AP class to be able to take an AP exam. Colleges often award college credit or allow students to skip prerequisites based on AP exam scores. One indication of a “rigorous” course schedule according to many college admission offices is the number of AP classes a student takes compared to the number offered at the high school.
International Baccalaureate (IB) Exams. IB exams are only offered by schools using the IB program which consists of college level material. Unlike the AP exams, students cannot self-study for the exams; they must be enrolled in the program to take the exams. Currently, IB exams are not as widely accepted by colleges as AP exams.
College Level Exam Program (CLEP). Before AP Exams, CLEP exams were the way students earned college credit through testing. These exams still exist. They are produced by the same company that does the AP Exams. These exams can generally be taken at any time through college testing centers. More competitive colleges are less likely to accept CLEP exams than AP exams. For some odd reason, I can’t seem to find anything that actually compares the two exams.
Five Free Sources of Test Prep Help
There are plenty of test prep resources out there and what works for one person may not for another. Here are five places to try to get an idea of what works for you before spending significant amounts of cash.
SoFloTutors offers a free, online course to prep for the SAT that includes video explanations of key concepts and test taking strategies.
Bonus Resource: Many on College Confidential have been successful using the Xiggi Method for test prep which he has summarized in a downloadable pdf.