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Everything You Need to Know About Standardized Tests

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studying for standardized tests

With admission rates plummeting year after year, the Class of 2015 is gearing up for what looks to be a tough academic year. Much of the focus is placed on who will get in where, but this time of year is also ideal test-preparation time for lowerclassmen. For those juggling college applications with an already-tight school life or just starting to think about the college process, there’s good news yet. There’s one thing you can easily conquer—and despite its legendary menace, it’s only three letters long.

Diagnostic Tests

What is the SAT?

(A) Scholastic Aptitude Test

(B) Requirement for College Admissions

(C) #1 Thing You’re Nightmares are Made of

(D) All of the Above

(E) None of the Above

The correct answer is—or at least should be—choice E, none of the above, for all you ambitious students seeking higher education. (For those not so sure about choice C, we have faith.) To help combat any stress you may be feeling, here is everything you need to know about standardized tests.

Is the SAT my only option?

What many test-takers and families don’t realize is that the SAT is not necessarily the preferred test of choice my colleges. While the ACT has for many years been out of the limelight, it is rapidly changing. For the first time in 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT in number of test-takers and has remained evenly matched since—much like both tests are treated equally by university admissions.

Should I take the SAT or ACT?

Both tests share a focus on Math and English Reading skills, but the ACT also includes a Science portion. On the other hand, the SAT with its new changes in 2016 places higher emphasis on writing skills while the Writing portion of the ACT is optional. For students whose skills lie more towards science than the written word, the ACT may be give you a better chance to show their skills to colleges.

[Need help studying for the SAT or ACT? A tutor or test-prep course can help you!]

How should I start preparing?

Take a few timed practice tests. These will give insight into what areas or sections of the test you need to work on. Equally as important is first getting yourself used to the time constraints and formatting of the test. Many students want to jump into the nuts and bolts work—memorizing vocabulary or finishing a set of problems—and underestimate the importance of test-taking tactics. Learning how to effectively eliminate wrong choices and work under time pressure is the most widely applicable and helpful skill, come test day.

When should I take the test?

In a perfect world, students should prepare in the summer before junior year to be fully prepared for tests during the first half of junior year. By finishing these tests early, students can better concentrate on college applications come senior year.

However, there are plenty of students who start preparing later and still perform well on these tests. The October test date is, in fact, one of the most popular for those seeking to re-take the test—for seniors, this is the last chance to take the SAT or ACT.

My test scores are not great. What now?

Most college counselors and admissions officers advise that students do not take any test more than three times. Instead, take advantage of ScoreChoice: even if you (god forbid) lose your calculator on test day and score poorly in the math section, you can choose to not have colleges see that score.

Those who are still worried about their scores can apply to over 900 “test-optional”schools. These institutions place little to no emphasis on test scores when evaluating your application. FairTest.org provides a comprehensive lists of such schools, including New York University and Colby College.

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