Greetings Students and Families

This is part II of my fall series on all things testing–


Testing & College Admissions Planning

Should I list my SAT/ACT scores on the Common App?

Each situation is unique– please speak with your GC or give me a call to discuss whether doing so will be a useful college application strategy or not. Our current seniors are facing an interesting opportunity as several hundred colleges are once again “test optional” this year — whether that impacts current juniors and sophomores down the road- is anyone’s guess.
Your Common Application has a section where you will list all test dates completed or to be taken. It is totally acceptable to leave that section blank -especially if you plan to sit for a later exam – November or December. This way, if your test scores exceed your expectations- the official score report can be sent to colleges. While if the score is sub-par no harm- no need to have listed this on your Common App. Also, many but not all high schools automatically include your scores on your official transcript.
*** Seniors – please don’t forget to send required mid-year transcripts in January to all colleges.
While all scores can be reported- as a rule- you have to determine how these will help or harm your application before blindly reporting. SCORE CHOICE and SUPERSCORE are two important concepts I discuss separately below.
Similarly, just like test scores– teacher recommendations and transcripts can and do arrive before or after your application and you don’t need to worry about whether these supporting documents find their way into your application- if you are ready to submit your college application go for it! (I’ll say more about the process for managing your application later in the fall).


SAT vs. ACT – Which is Preferred?

*** If a university requires an exam score as part of the college application process- either format is an acceptable one. The differences however are significant and student preferences should prevail.
All families have many questions about testing
  • What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT?
  • What’s required for college applications?
  • What does “Test Optional” mean exactly?
  • When should a student prepare and test? How many times can you take the SAT/ACT?
  • When and how to send scores? What’s Score Choice and Super Score testing all about?
  • What Scholarships are related to my test scores? Is there a minimum score for state plans such as the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship?
  • Under what circumstances should we focus on subject tests and AP/IB/AICE exams over SAT/ACT scores in our college application?
  • How does early college planning increase chances of college acceptance by integrating the high school curriculum with the timing and required admissions exams such as SAT subject tests?
  • What the last acceptable test dates?
  • Are AP Exams and Scores required on college applications?
I’ll answer all these questions and we’ll explore how testing is an essential part of forming your balanced list of colleges. Early academic planning can be invaluable to positioning each student to realize educational goals that are affordable.


Highlights of the Differences

If you’re engaged in exam preparation with a tutor, it’s really important that your coach understand and customize your review to focus on the content that you need the most help mastering. Broad based /off the rack testing is a waste of time and money. An assessment BEFORE jumping into your 4 to 8 weeks of review sessions will help define how that review with your tutor is best spent. If you are great at math – don’t waste valuable time and money on this review- focus on your weaker test taking strategies- and vice versa.
If you’re approved for testing accommodations (more on those at end of this comprehensive note), your tutor should be incorporating these into the review process. If you need recommendations for review books, online programs or local tutors, please give me a shout out to discuss your learning style, your budget and your test score goals to coordinate how and when you’ll review for your SAT and ACT exams. One size tutoring does not fit everyone!
1) Potentially, the SAT / ACT is a required element of your college applications. This VARIES across colleges. Either one is acceptable. I’ll discuss format differences below. I like to tell students to think of these as broccoli and cauliflower. They are really the same and we all tend to favor one over the other – pick the one you like better or the one you dislike the least.
2) SAT II and AP exams
SAT II Subject Tests required at more selective colleges were discontinued . In lieu of the SAT/ACT exam scores at Test Flexible colleges these were an awesome options. Nearly all selective STEM programs required MathIIC plus a science. With the elimination of these exams– many colleges welcome and encourage sharing of your AP / IB / AICE scores. These exams are NOT YET required- but are encouraged – if you have great scores share on the self report section of the Common App. Please don’t worry– if you are STEM student who bombed APUSH– the sky won’t close in on your MIT app – likewise if you’re a Psychology major with a 2 on AP CHEM – no concerns either as long as there are some 4s and 5s to share in more directly related AP Exams.
What I liked about subject tests was the empowerment students felt to demonstrate their academic abilities in content based 1 hour multiple choice exams. Well-these exams were just eliminated. Colleges such as NYU and University of Chicago are just two selective universities that were “test flexible” – meaning students had their choice of which exams to submit in their Common Application. Many students who felt angst over the SAT and ACT seemed thrilled by the control in taking shorter 1-hour subject tests.
The College Board didn’t make this choice in a vacuum- undoubtedly college admissions representatives looked at the predictive data and will adjust. I sincerely hope colleges and the Common App weren’t blindsided. Several selective STEM universities required subject tests in MathIIC and a science — a practice that goes back many years. My fear is that the AP exams will dominate – and that is not a welcome scenario where students are already overextending themselves.
I’m wary that eliminating the Subject tests will be to further push students to take an ever increasing number of AP exams and this will become the new standard for selective universities and college admission.
3) AP/AICE/IB exam scores are NOT required in college applications — not yet at least- but they are welcomed, particularly by test flexible colleges. . These scores may be substituted for SAT/ACT exam scores at Test Flexible colleges. An example is NYU. These scores are self-reported on the Common App – there is NO need to send any official AP scores to every college you’ve applied to. The only time you pay to send AP scores is when you graduate high school — sending the scores to the one college you’ll be joining as they review credit and course placement.
The AP/AICE/IB scores are content specific and truly cause a ton less angst for students because students feel more prepared given the coursework they complete in their HS curriculum.


There is no blanket one-size-fit-all-colleges answer! That said, it’s probable that most of your colleges will require at least one of the categories noted..
To determine which exams are required at a particular college, you’ll have to navigate into the “Application Requirements” link which is sometimes a challenge to find somewhere within the admissions tab of a college’s website.
An easy way to locate this information is to Google: “<Name of University> standardized testing requirements undergraduate admissions”/
*** Creatives: (Film, Photography, Art, Musician + ) Standardized tests are often NOT a required element of your college application or overlooked. In contrast- your portfolio of work is an essential element that takes on a significant weight in evaluating your application. I like to inform my creatives not to worry about earning a “500” or “25” on math- it just has little impact. (You do need to have a strong language arts score)
 Your GC or private college counselor should work closely with your SAT/ACT tutor to coordinate your exam dates creating a testing schedule that leaves you ready and prepared for all your required exams. TIMING IS EVERYTHING!
Which format: ACT OR SAT?
All colleges will accept either test format. Students are encouraged to explore both exams and take a practice test at home under test conditions. If you’re working with a test preparation service/tutor, you should expect an assessment of testing formats with customized test preparation based on YOUR STUDENT’s needs.
At the end of this newsletter , you’ll find a detailed description of what is included on both the SAT and ACT format.

TIP: READ READ READ READ Essential to doing well on either the SAT or ACT

Read for fun and to increase your depth as an individual. If your reading level as a senior is at the same level as it was when you began high school- you let yourself down and missed an opportunity.
As a college advisor with thirty years of experience as a Professor, I continue to encourage students throughout middle and high school to read read and read—beyond assigned work. Exploring the logical flow, sentence structure, and choice of vocabulary across a wide range of published fiction and non-fiction work, even including popular periodicals –can develop the ease of language that is being tested in this section of the exam.
Reading is also part of the process of discovery and allows young adults to engage more effectively and thing outside-the-box with confidence in a variety of professional, academic and personal settings.
And for student’s– if you tell me or a parent — I cannot find a book I like – well, you just haven’t bothered to look. (Recheck my summer reading list for awesome recommendations)
The SAT’s Writing section aims to measure student’s abilities in:
1) English conventions,
2) analysis in history and science,
3) expression of ideas,
4) words in context, and
5) command of evidence.
These are the fundamental concepts essential to preparing written pieces that convey a clear point effectively.


As I predicted in many of my spring and summer newsletters and blogs- the pandemic shifted the opportunities for juniors last year for the traditional October Junior year PSAT– there were two dates October or January. Who knows how the Delta variant will impact students as we return to in-person learning – this is a huge unknown in August.
You cannot retake the PSAT – it’s one time only.
Don’t worry- because the PSAT isn’t something to be terribly concerned about because this exam serves very little purpose beyond qualifying an exceedingly small number of high performing students as National Merit Finalists. Please don’t fret about this exam.
Did you know that the ACT has a “junior” version of their exam called the PLAN and the PLAN is an acceptable qualifying exam for the NMQ scholarship. Sadly, and oddly- many high schools don’t offer the PLAN.
The PSAT score isn’t reported in your college applications. However, if you are an 8th to 11th grade student, the PSAT is often and acceptable standardized test to submit for any competitive collegiate summer programs.
Those applications are due November to February. If you need guidance for recommendations that will help you discover or deepen an academic interest, or increase your chances of college admissions acceptance, please reach out for a conversation. I typically send out a detailed note in January about the role of these programs in the college admissions process. I customize my recommendations for students based on interests and opportunities and family budget.
I suggest allocating a dedicated four-to-eight week time period for regular and disciplined test preparation. Ideally, students should have completed Aleg 1, & II and Geometry prior to taking either the ACT or SAT. For more about the contents of the exam, please scroll to end of the newsletter.


When to Test? Should You Retest?

When should you begin exam prep?  If you’ve completed AlegII you have covered all the math that will be on the SAT/ACT– if not, you need to wait until the end of the Junior year/start of Senior Year to begin testing. Please do NOT take an exam covering materials you haven’t yet learned fully– what’s the point?
Some universities do NOT participate in SCORE CHOICE and all scores are required- “practice” tests should be completed at home or with your tutor- not in a real setting on exam day!
Speaking with your college counselor about your study habits, time management and other issues to carefully map out a test preparation timeline not later than the middle of 10th grade. I said set your timeline-but for some students – the actual prep may not be until 11th. Have a plan in place.
Knowing when you will be prepared for the content of these exams and have the time to do so depends on – all the other demands of challenging courses, AP/IB/AICE exams, subject tests and your busy extracurricular schedule (Robotics, Theater, Sports, Music, Math Team??).
So what’s your strategy. There’s an old adage-measure twice, cut once and I think that applies here.
Prepare to do your best on the exam at your first attempt-studying carefully for all sections.  I fear students will consider taking the exam four times – – I cannot imagine a more protracted agony!
My other concern is that students with highly selective college goals will test, retest and retest bumping sub-sections from 33 until they reach 35/36 – sadly redirecting limited and valuable time which could be spent more joyfully on extracurricular activities- turning test prep into a time-consuming obsession.
Whether you find this humorous or intriguing- did you know that students can take the ACT exam up to 12 times! According to the ACT research, “students who take the test more than once have increased first-year college grades than those who take the test a single sitting”. ACT suggested this is a reflection of student motivation- I beg to differ.
Again- disciplined test prep – measure twice, cut once. High school is about discovery and joy. Our students face so much unneeded pressure – so let’s do what we can so they don’t have to jump through hoops and hurdles that rob them of peace. Everyone finds their path- one test isn’t the defining aspect for our amazing and wonderful young adults will lead.
Parents-what was your SAT/ACT score- did it define or change your life? Probably not!  That said, please don’t misinterpret my message- -the exam is relevant and should be taken seriously- but taking the exam over and over and over-that’s just not a strategy I support nor encourage
Need some guidance on your test preparation and test taking strategies – click to reach out and schedule with Bonnie Rabin, PhD.

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