SAT: Rinse and Repeat, Pt 1 of 2

How to maximize your score on college admissions tests


11th graders will take the PSAT in October. Although many students take the PSAT more than once, the 11th grade test, taken in the fall, is the most important because it comes closest calendar-wise to taking the SAT.

When PSAT results become available, study the “Question –Level Feedback” page carefully. It is divided into four parts: Reading, Writing & Language, Math-Calculator, and Math-No Calculator.

1)   Using the “Reading” part as an example, you will see five vertical columns.

The first column is entitled “question # s”. Notice that each question # is a link. More about this in a moment.

The second column gives you the correct answer.

The third column gives you a check mark if you made the correct choice. If you chose incorrectly, this column will show your incorrect response.

The fourth column shows you the question difficulty –easy, medium, or hard.

The fifth column will provide you with information about the type of question (command of evidence or word-in-context for example) and will also tell you the passage’s subject (history, social studies, or science).

2)   As I already mentioned, each “question #” is a link. Clicking on one will show you the question and the answer choices and explain why the correct response is correct.

3)   Clicking on the “question #” for a question you got wrong will additionally tell you why the correct answer is correct and why your incorrect response is incorrect. This is very important to understanding what you got wrong and why.

4)   The PSAT also provides valuable information about subscores and cross-test scores.

On the attached PDF, I have provided sample PSAT “Question Level Feedback” pages.

Here are some questions a careful analysis of the preceding pages will answer.

Are science passages more difficult for you than social studies passages? What about history passages?

Are you challenged most by higher difficulty questions or are you also struggling with moderately difficult questions? How about easy questions?

Are you struggling with paired passages? Most students do.

Do you have a significant number of errors with word-in-context questions? How about command of evidence questions? Looking at the actual questions will provide even more specific information about types of questions that are challenging for you. For example, do you have difficulty recognizing the main idea of a reading passage, or the author’s tone?

Are you running out of time and leaving some questions unanswered, or are you being forced to wild guess because you’re running out of time near the end of the section?

Is your vocabulary compromising you?

Do you find the fiction selection more difficult than the nonfiction essays?

Are you answering incorrectly because you haven’t read the question carefully enough?

These are only a sampling of questions you may be able to answer if you take the time to really analyze PSAT feedback!

SAT: Rinse and Repeat, Pt 2 of 2

It will come as no surprise that your next step is to strengthen the
weaknesses that PSAT feedback reveals before you take the SAT and repeat your mistakes.
In the expression “Rinse and Repeat,” that’s the “Rinse.”

Now for the “Repeat.”

The SAT is given annually in
November, and
You could certainly take it in November or December soon after taking the PSAT if you wish, but you won’t get the same feedback from the tests on those dates that you got from the PSAT. To get that level of feedback you’ll have to wait for March.

Allow me to explain.

When you register to take the SAT, you’re paying to be allowed to take the test, to have the College Board score it, to send your scores to prospective colleges if you wish, and to receive a “Score Report”. You’ll find an
example of a score report below. Examine it closely and compare it to the feedback you received when you took the PSAT. Then continue reading.

The Student Answer Service
The Student Answer Service is available (at additional cost) for SAT’s given in November, December, June, and August and for any state sponsored tests such as the New Hampshire and Maine tests given in public high schools as statewide assessments. These “state” SAT tests are given after the national SAT in mid-March. Below you will find a sample page from a SAT Student Answer Service report.

Looks good doesn’t it? In fact it looks very much like PSAT feedback – WITH ONE IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE!
On the PSAT, each “question #” was a link which provided you with answers and explanations. That is not true here. The “question #s” are not links. The Student Answer Service does not allow you to see questions or answer explanations. So, is it worth the money?
Well it’s better than an SAT Score Report, but not by much.

The Question and Answer service is available ( at additional cost) for SAT’s given in October, March (the national test not the state-sponsored test), and May. The feedback provided is exactly the same as on the PSAT where every “question #” is a link which allows you to see both questions and answer explanations. This is the maximum feedback you can get for the SAT, so this is the service you want.

How Rinse and Repeat Works

1) Take the PSAT in October of 11th grade, then rinse and repeat.
2) Take the SAT in March (the national test is on March 14, 2020), then rinse and repeat.
3) Take the SAT in May, then rinse and repeat.
4) Take the SAT for the final time in August.

For most students, the August test will mark the end of college admissions testing. Some might prefer to take the test again in October or November of the senior year. Many will find this unnecessary. It’s up to you.

Finally, what about the ACT?
The ACT is offered in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December.
The ACT TIR (Test Information Release) is available (for an additional fee) for tests in April, June, and December. It’s the equivalent of the SAT Question & Answer Service. The ACT doesn’t offer any other intermediate feedback equivalent to the SAT’s Student Answer Service.

3 Test Prep Student Profiles

The Proactive Student

This student makes full use of the summer between sophomore and junior year.
He prepares for the PSAT upcoming in mid-October and maps out a strategy for taking the SAT/ACT or both during 11th grade.
Once PSAT scores become available, he immediately studies the accompanying feedback in order to assess his performance. Specifically, he identifies areas which need improvement and actively works to improve the skills necessary to perform well on SAT/ACT in December.
He takes an SAT/ACT in December.
He takes another SAT/ACT in March-early April.
He may wish to retake the SAT/ACT in May-June.
He takes a final SAT/ACT in July-August.
He begins work on college admissions and on college essays.

See accompanying pages which show all test dates and indicate when feedback services are available for both tests. Always make use of feedback services to continue to refine performance-always!

The Active Student

This student maps out a strategy for taking the SAT/ACT during the junior year.
He takes the PSAT in mid-October.
He takes the SAT/ACT for the first time in March-early April.
He evaluates feedback from his test to prepare for a retake.
He retakes the SAT/ACT in May-June or in July-August hopefully for the last time.
He retakes SAT/Act in September-October only if absolutely necessary.
He begins work on college admissions and on college essays.

See accompanying pages which show all test dates and indicate when feedback services are available for both tests. Always make use of feedback services to continue to refine performance-always!

The Reactive Student

This student takes the PSAT in mid-October.
He takes the SAT/ACT in March-early April.
He retakes the SAT/Act in July-August. .
He retakes the SAT/ACT for the last time in September-October of Senior Year.
He begins work on college admissions and on college essays.

See accompanying pages which show all test dates and indicate when feedback services are available for both tests. Always make use of feedback services to continue to refine performance-always!

Universities goes test optional. Read the fine print.

Here is a copy of an e-mail which I sent to all present (and some past) test prep clients. It is in response to the recent announcement from the University of New Hampshire that they would become a “test optional” school in 2020. This is a very self-serving move on the university’s part which is partly shrouded by “political correctness” in the sense that students who historically “don’t test well” will no longer be at a disadvantage. This, of course, raises a question about how those same students will be evaluated once they are attending colleges. The fine print tells you that they still expect 80% or more applicants to supply test scores, which means that an even greater percentage will continue to take the SAT or the ACT. Here’s the e-mail:

When businesses want to expand their customer base they have a sale.

When colleges want to expand their client base they go test optional.

It’s called marketing.

And it explains why 80% of students seeking admission to test optional schools still submit SAT scores.

See this for what it is.

Adversity or Privilege? Which best describes you?

 The following link is to an article about how the College Board is attempting to help colleges diversify their populations by “leveling the playing field” for disadvantaged students who wish to apply. The idea is to factor in “adversity” and its counterpart, “privilege”, as part of the SAT admissions testing process.

When should an 11th grader start college admissions testing?

Parents and students ask this question every time a new school year is about to begin.

The answer depends on when the 11th grader wants to complete testing, and on how prepared the student is if he/she wants to start testing early.

The advantage to finishing early is that the student can then focus his/her attention in the fall of the Senior Year on college visitations, writing the application essay(s), preparing college admissions materials, etc.

The disadvantage to starting early is that college testing may require curriculum content which the student won’t be exposed to until later in the Junior Year. This information, however, should be readily available from the student’s school.

Here is some basic SAT information.

The SAT is given in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June.
You can take it whenever you like and as often as you like.

The best way to get the highest score is to take the test, get the maximum feedback available, identify areas of weakness as indicated by the feedback, strengthen weak areas, take the test again…Rinse and Repeat as many times as necessary.

Scores are reported approximately 4 weeks after the test.
The Score Report you receive, however, provides minimal feedback.

If you take the test in August, November, December, and June, you can pay extra for the Student Answer Service. The SAS provides partial feedback. You receive a list of the correct answers, a list of your answers, questions are rated by difficulty, and question types such as Command of Evidence (reading comprehension), Word in Context(vocabulary and context clues), Standard English Conventions(grammar), etc. are identified. You do not, however, get the questions themselves.

If you take the test in October, March, or May you can pay extra for the Question & Answer Service. The Q&AS provides maximum feedback. You get all of the above plus a copy of the test booklet.

You’ll pay roughly twice as much for the Q&AS as you will for the SAS but it’s worth it because you get the questions..

Now consider the ramifications of what I’m about to say:
Both SAS reports and Q&AS reports arrive 12-14 weeks after the student takes the test. The delay in getting maximum feedback (i.e. the Q&AS) “drives” what I’m about to recommend.

If you want to finish early, prep for the October test. When you register, elect both the optional essay and the Q&AS. You’ll get your Score Report in November. The Q&AS results will arrive in December.
Prep for the March test using the Q&AS report.
When you register for the March test, elect the optional essay. If you want to finish in May or June, also elect the SAS.
If you want to finish in August, elect the Q&AS instead.

If finishing admissions testing early is not important, then use the above procedure for SAT tests in March, May or June, and August.

Should an 11th grader also take the PSAT in October?
f you’ve already taken the PSAT as a sophomore, then I’d say the junior PSAT is optional. I recommend taking it because practice makes perfect and because you automatically receive both the Score Report and the SAS. In fact, if you ask for a copy of the PSAT test booklet, they will give you one-SO ASK FOR IT!!


Much of what I’ve already said also applies to the ACT.
The ACT is given in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.
The equivalent of the SAT’s Q&AS is the ACT’s TIR(Test Information Release).

The TIR is available in December, April, and June tests. The reporting time for the TIR is approximately 8 weeks after taking the test. With those dates in mind, 11th graders should prep for the test in December. When they register, they should elect the optional essay and the TIR. They should then prep for the test in April. As before, registration for the April test should include the optional essay and the TIR. Skip the June test. The TIR report won’t arrive in time to help.

As with the SAT, if they want to finish early, they should elect the test in July.

If finishing college admissions testing early is not important, then use the above procedure for ACT tests in April, June, and September or October.

Some valuable advice about standardized college testing

After many years of having taught SAT and ACT prep to students in classes and/or individually, here is the valuable advice which I have for both students and parents.

Step 1: The PSAT

Most students start their college prep standardized testing experience with the PSAT.
This test is always administered in October.
It is strictly a practice test-PSAT scores are not sent to colleges-
and also acts as a promotional tool for the Educational Testing Service which markets the SAT.

The PSAT is given to 11th graders.
Many schools are also now offering it to 10th graders as well.
Should you take the PSAT? Yes.

What about if it’s offered in both grades at your school? Yes, again.
There’s no such thing as too much practice.

The PSAT given to 11th graders also acts as a qualifying test for high achieving students whose scores may make them eligible for National Merit Scholarships.
Applying for these scholarships is a rather arduous process and only about 8000 students nationally will actually receive scholarship money.
Do some research if you think you might qualify.

Step 2: The SAT/ACT

The majority of students will take the SAT or ACT in the second half of their junior year.

You may start taking these tests sooner if you want additional experience with standardized testing. You may also take the tests as often and as many times as you wish.

The SAT is given in October, November, December, January, March, May and June
The ACT is given in September, October, December, February, April and June.

First and foremost, test taking at this level must be thought of as a process-not a series of independent events.

Which test you take is a matter of personal preference.

Colleges will accept scores from either or both tests.

There is no penalty for repeated test taking.

You do not have to submit your score to colleges every time you take one of these tests.

Do some research about how these tests differ. Rely on teachers and guidance counselors for advice.
Or take both tests before deciding on which test you’ll actually concentrate on.

Students taking the SAT in January or the ACT in February should make sure that math classes in their schools will have covered the skills that will be tested on these “earlier” tests.

For juniors interested in the SAT, I would suggest taking the test in January, March and May.

The SAT has available a special feedback service for the January and May tests called the Question and Answer Service. It provides you with a good amount of feedback regarding your performance . With this information, you can identify areas of weakness and act to strengthen them before retaking the test later in the junior year or in the Fall of the senior year.

This is what I mean when I say that test taking at this level needs to be thought of as a process.

Here’s how it should work:

Take the test. SAT and/or ACT
Get the feedback. Q & A Service and/or TIR Service
Identify weaknesses.
Strengthen weaknesses.
Take the test again.
Rinse and repeat.

The March SAT offers the Student Answer Service. It’s not as thorough as the Q & A Service but it’s better than nothing.

For students interested in the ACT, I would suggest taking the test in December, April and June.
The ACT offers the TIR (Test Information Release) for these three test dates.
The TIR Service is to the ACT what the Q & A Service is to the SAT.

Last, but not least, Seniors should participate in Fall testing.

Those who favor the SAT should take the test in October and may wish to also take it again in November-the November test is usually not too late for students applying for Early Action or Early Decision but best to check with colleges to be sure.

Those who favor the ACT should take it in September and may wish to take it again in October.

2016-17 Test Dates

SAT and ACT Test Dates for 2016-2017

Date of Test Test Register by Get Scores By †
Web Mail
Sep. 10, 2016 ACT Aug. 5
(8/19 with late fee)
Sep. 26 Oct. 1
Oct. 1 SAT & SAT Subject Sep. 1
(9/20 with late fee)
Oct. 20 Oct. 29
Oct. 22 ACT Sep. 16
(9/30 with late fee)
Nov. 7 Nov. 12
Nov. 5 SAT & SAT Subject Oct. 7
(10/25 with late fee)
Nov. 22 Dec. 3
Dec. 3 SAT & SAT Subject Nov. 3
(11/22 with late fee)
Dec. 10 Dec. 31
Dec. 10 ACT Nov. 4
(11/18 with late fee)
Dec. 26 Dec. 31
Jan. 21, 2017 SAT & SAT Subject Dec. 21
(1/10 with late fee)
Feb. 9 Feb. 18
Feb. 11 ACT Jan. 13
(1/20 with late fee)
Feb. 27 Mar. 4
Mar. 11 SAT only Feb. 10
(2/28 with late fee)
Apr. 1 Apr. 8
Apr. 8 ACT Mar. 3
(3/17 with late fee)
Apr. 24 Apr. 29
May 6 SAT & SAT Subject Apr. 7
(4/25 with late fee)
May 25 Apr. 3
June 3 SAT & SAT Subject May 9
(5/24 with late fee)
June 22 July 1
June 10 ACT May 5
(5/19 with late fee)
June 26 July 1
Aug. 26* SAT & SAT Subject July 26
(8/16 with late fee)
Sep. 14 Sep. 23
Sep. 9, 2017 ACT Aug. 4
(8/18 with late fee)
Sep. 25 Sep. 30
Oct. 7* SAT & SAT Subject Sep. 7
(9/27 with late fee)
Oct. 26 Nov. 4
Oct. 28 ACT Sep. 15
(9/29 with late fee)
Nov. 6 Nov. 11
Nov. 4* SAT & SAT Subject Oct. 6
(10/24 with late fee)
Nov. 21 Dec. 2
Dec. 9* SAT & SAT Subject Nov. 2
(11/20 with late fee)
Dec. 21 Dec. 30
Dec. 9 ACT Nov. 3
(11/17 with late fee)
Dec. 25 Dec. 30

PreACT is new this Fall; equivalent to the PSAT

 ACT Launches New PreACT Test for 10th Graders
New Assessment Will Help Prepare Students for ACT Testing Experience, Predict ACT Score

ACT today announces the launch of PreACT™, a 10th grade multiple-choice assessment that helps students prepare for the experience of taking the ACT® test and provides information regarding their future performance on the exam. The new test will be available to schools, districts and states starting in the fall.

“PreACT will provide valuable insights on college and career readiness to students, educators and schools while students still have time to make adjustments and improve,” said ACT Chief Executive Officer Marten Roorda. “It’s an affordable tool to help empower students and educators with information they can use to better prepare for the ACT and the future.”

The paper-based PreACT is patterned after the ACT, using the same types of test questions, same score scale, and same format. It is designed to model the ACT test experience, providing students with the ultimate preparation and practice.

PreACT includes exams in English, mathematics, reading and science, just like the ACT test, but does not have a writing test. Scores will be reported on the same 1-36 scale as the ACT, but PreACT includes fewer questions and will take less time to administer than the ACT.

Through the free ACT Interest Inventory, PreACT will also provide insights to help students explore college major and career options and start planning for their future.

“We developed PreACT to meet a need for a 10th grade measurement and guidance tool that can be administered easily and affordably and that offers fast, helpful results,” said Suzana Delanghe, ACT chief commercial officer. “The introduction of this new assessment is a direct result of ACT listening to what our customers are telling us and taking action on their feedback.”

PreACT score reports will offer a broad view of students’ college and career readiness, identifying academic strengths and areas for improvement and providing information about careers that match students interests. School score reports will provide data to help teachers and counselors target interventions, inform classroom instruction and guide students in course selection.

PreACT, ACT Online Prep and the ACT test form a sequence of college and career readiness solutions for students from grade 10 through graduation. The sequence joins ACT Aspire Early High School in ACT’s menu of offerings for the high school level.

Schools, districts and states can begin ordering PreACT in May. The cost will be $12 per student tested.

Curriculum Revision

After many hours of hard work I have completed my SAT prep curriculum revision. I have also revised the ACT essay prep to reflect that test’s recent changes. Both curricula are now divided into four sections.

Section One, entitled “What We Know”, provides the student with basic information about the test’s overall structure, numbers of questions, types of questions, which each type is designed to measure, how the test is scored, how much time is allocated for each section, etc.

Section Two presents a choice of strategies the student can employ. Each strategy is broken down into numbered steps in order to ease a student’s understanding and to facilitate application.

Section Three consists of moderately difficult exercises where the student practices applying his strategy of choice to representative questions. Answers to these exercises are provided along with explanations of what makes each correct choice correct. The student completes these exercises on his own time and highlights any incorrect response. He and the instructor review the incorrect responses where the student doesn’t understand the explanation provided for the correct choice.

Section 4 consists of more challenging exercises where answers are not provided. These exercises are completed by the student but reviewed in company with the instructor.

The highlight of my curriculum revision is a new methodology for reading which will apply to both SAT and ACT tests. I call it “The SST Approach”-See it. Say it. Touch it. This methodology uses three of our five senses to improve our reading comprehension.   More to come…