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.