Testing, Testing, One, Two Three….
The two big tests needed for college admissions are the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing Assessment (ACT.) How much time and effort your kids put into preparing for these tests is up to you and your kids. Some kids are great test takers while others are not. I have one of each in my family and our approach to test prep was based on their individual needs. In my opinion, too much emphasis can be placed on test scores. A perfect score doesn’t mean your child will get into the school of their dreams, and likewise, a low score doesn’t mean your child can’t get into college.
Here’s a simple checklist of what to do to prepare for the tests:
1. Take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) the sophomore year. This is a good practice for the SAT. Plus, they’ll take the PSA again in their junior year in October to qualify for honors in the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.*
2. Check out sample questions on the SAT website (collegeboard.com) and the ACT website is actstudent.org.
There is a question of the day for the SAT, which if your child answers starting in their freshman or sophomore years, they’ll get plenty of test practice.
3. Plan when to take the tests during the junior year. Most people take tests a couple of times. If your kids are happy with scores the first time around, don’t take it again.
SAT tests are offered in August, October, November, December, March, May and June.
ACT tests are in September, October, December, February, April, June.
For example, if your child takes a SAT test in November, you may want to wait several months to retake the test, like in March, so your child has time to get their results and take some practice tests.
4. There no longer is a penalty for guessing. It used to be that if a student guessed on an answer and got it wrong, they’d lose .25 of a point. That’s no longer the case and it’s okay to fill in answers and guess. There’s a 20% chance of getting the answer correct.
*The National Merit Scholarship takes the top scorers in the PSAT their junior year and sends out commendation letters to about the top 3 percent. The very top kids move onto semifinals and finals, and the finalists, selected by their high schools, then submit applications and enter into competition to be named National Merit Scholars.
From the website National Merit Scholarship Corporation History and Facts:
National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) was established in 1955 — a time in which there was concern that the United States was lagging behind in the cold war scientific race, but the public was indifferent to rewarding intellectual accomplishment. In response, the National Merit Scholarship Program was founded to identify and honor scholastically talented American youth and to encourage them to develop their abilities to the fullest. Through this nationwide competition, National Merit Scholarships are awarded to program Finalists and Special Scholarships are awarded to other high-performing participants who meet a corporate sponsor’s eligibility criteria.
Should your child take AP Tests? There are only two choices to answer this question. Yes and no.
One reason to take AP tests includes saving money in college. Each AP test costs upwards of $80, but if students score a 3 or higher (AP Tests are scored 1 – 5), they may earn college credit and not have to take that class in college. Please check with each college to find out how they treat AP tests. If a quarter tuition costs $5,000, say for three classes, then your student will save more than $1,500 per class if they score a 3 or higher.
Another reason to take the test is if your child scores a 3 or higher on three or more AP tests, they’ll earn an AP Scholar award. That will look good on the college application.
More information about AP Scholars can be found on the college board website.
Why wouldn’t your student want to take an AP test? Two reasons. First, it may be too expensive, at $80 a test, and second, they may not be prepared. If they struggled with the AP Class, the last thing they may want to do is take the test and get a lousy score. It can be time-consuming to study for the AP Test, and if they didn’t cover the material in class during the school year, it can be very difficult to get a 3 or higher. There is no shame in getting a poor score and it won’t reflect badly on your child, but then neither would not taking the test. My best advice is to talk it over with their teacher and your child.
What advice do you have for parents of kids taking the big tests?
You also have to figure out if the college you want to apply to requires SAT subject tests. Then you need to incorporate when to take these tests….they are usually given in same day as SAT but you can’t take both at same time, though you can take 3 subject tests in one day. Many tutoring centers offer free video workshops in test prep, and some even offer practice tests. My daughter recently took a practice PSAT given by Princeton Review
This is all true. My daughter took a month-long course offered at a local high school and she said it helped her tremendously. I believe they took five or six practice tests during the course. The class was not free, however!