Greetings Students,
Testing is often on parents’ minds and there is a concern about test prep, knowing which tests and when to take them and the inevitable impact on College Admissions.

This note discusses the required college admissions testing requirements.


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 testing is a waste of time and money. An asssessment 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’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 does not fit everyone! 

THREE TYPES OF EXAMS Are Potentially Required in Your College Admissions Application:
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 in my next two blogs posts.

2) SAT II Subject Tests may be required (very often for more selective colleges) . These may also be taken in lieu of SAT/ACT exam scores at Test Flexible colleges. Nearly all selective STEM programs require MathIIC plus a science.

3) AP/AICE/IB exam scores are NOT required in college applications . These scores may be subsituted for SAT/ACT exam scores at Test Flexible colleges. Students can elect to self-report these scores on their Common Application. Omitting the score is most certainly evidence of a low score. It’s a strategy to discuss with your college advisor.

The Subject Tests and 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 probably that most of your colleges will require at least one of the categories above.

To determine which exams are required at a particular college, you’ll have to navigate into the “Application Requirements” link likely 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”/ Exams can vary across departments and schools within a given university. For example, at Cornell University (during a non-pandemic test optional year) there is a range of required subject tests varying across majors. Georgetown University has not let go of it’s 3 subject tests requirement for year -this year is an exception. And, NYU and University of Chicago were among the first to lead in their “test flexible” choice of exam program.

*** Creatives: (Film, Photography, Art, Musician + These are often NOTa required element or overlooked. In contrast- your portfolio of work is an essential element that takes on a signficant weight in evaluating your portfolio. 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.

*** If your student finds the ACT acceptable, I prefer the ACT simply for a logistical reason. SAT dates in May and June should be reserved for SATII Subject tests. These subject exams are required at many of the more competitive colleges and the best time to take these is immediately following AP exams/end of the school year. Also, SATII subject tests can be submitted in lieu of SATI scores at test-flexible institutions.
SATII subject test content- outside of mathematics and foreign language may be difficult to retain over the summer- history becomes history – so please aim for May/June for those exams- a great choice for Humanities and Business school students.

As I predicted in many of my spring and summer newsletters and blogs- the pandemic has shifted the opportunities for juniors for the traditional October Junior year PSAT. This year, students were given a choice to take the exam in October or January. I hope you didn’t rush – because having 3 more months of mathematics and prep time behind you was an opportunity. 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.  

Do 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.

 SAT/ACT !!!
Don’t Worry!We can all agree that the College Admissions process is complex and your application will most certainly be evaluated on several comprehensive criteria.  There are now over 1000 Accredited Colleges and Universities  DE-EMPHASIZING ACT/SAT Scores to Admit Substantial Numbers of Students Into Bachelor-Degree Programs.  This list can be found here at  FAIRTEST and I will discuss TEST OPTIONAL policies fully- below please stay with me.

Super Scoring and Score Choice options should relieve some of the stress over SAT/ACT scores.  
Details in my blog that all Juniors and Seniors should understand are found here:
Many colleges “superscore” which means that your application is evaluated on a composite score based on the best sub-scores across different test dates. This list can be found here:COLLEGE BOARD LIST OF SUPERSCORE UNIVERSITIES

To repeat, If you’ve completed Alegbra II 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 fulled– 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! 

Well by now, you’ve likely heard the news-there are some interesting changes implemented this year. The ACT Organization recently implemented a single-section retake policy in September 2020. The link to that policy is here.
Students can retake single sections of the five-part three-hour exam rather than sitting for all sections a second, third or even fourth time!  In theory, this enables students to avoid the risk of getting a lower score on a section they have already taken and feel the score is sufficient for their college admissions goals.

There’s two ways of looking at this new option. On the one hand, the ACT exam may have become a whole lot easier – allowing students to focus more closely on preparing fr one or more parts in a single sitting (after an initial full test option). On the hand, the pressure to retake the exam may appeal to perfectionists- similar to the artist who can never finish a perfect painting or the person who changes their shirt a half a dozen times before leaving home.
Personally, I think the college admissions process is stressful enough and I’d rather have heard news that more colleges are now on the TEST OPTIONAL LIST (see list above). You decide– the option to retest on a single part of the ACT may result in repetitive drawn out testing attempts (fortifying an already overdone industry of expensive test prep services).

The new policy just added more to an already heightened debate over role of standardized testing in the college admissions process. A growing number of universities have adopted a test optional/flexible policy (the list of top-tier colleges in 2020-21 including all Ivy League is impressive- but very likely temporary). There’s no denying that still many colleges, including larger public state university systems place heavy emphasis on these scores. Parents and students feel lots of pressure to do well on the the ACT and SAT exams, and this often results in time-consuming and expensive test services.

Begin my knowing university policy- does a target college Super Score or utilize Score Choice?  
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 read my earlier blogs noted above.

SOPHOMORE – JUNIOR- When to Test? Should You Retest?
First, let’s be clear, the SAT isn’t yet on board with this single-section testing option. If you are taking the ACT- this option may be in your interest. 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??). 

The new ACT testing policy has many parents, teachers and college advisors concerned that the policy will just fuel the college admissions frenzy-and yes, further disadvantaging students who lack the financial resources for access to SAT/ACT preparation. 
Just because the ACT will provide a superscore option, doesn’t yet mean that universities will accept and evaluate this differently. I caution students to be aware of each college’s policy on SuperScore and ScoreChoices – two different issues.

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 now consider taking the exam four times – focused on one section at a time- 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.
Currently the ACT costs $52 without the optional writing section, and $68 with writing. You can bet this is going to be a huge revenue boost for the organization and for test-preparation services. The current battle for market share-1.9 million ACT takers and 2.1 SAT takers annually.  

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 even under the new ACT policy.

Need some guidance on your test preparation and test taking strategies – click to reach out and schedule with Bonnie Rabin, PhD.
What About Those SATII Subject Tests?
What’s the relationship between AP exams and those required SAT II Subject Tests?
***TIP!!  While you may not yet know the colleges you’ll be applying to in your senior year, we do know that many of the most selective universities require SATII subject tests. Also, some of the test-flexible universities will accept subject tests/AP exams in lieu of ACT/SAT1 scores (i.e. NYU). As noted, TESTING requirements for all colleges can be located on the Admissions tab of a given college website. Please don’t be short-sighted- 9th, 10th grade students completing a content-based AP class with a corresponding SATII subject test should take the exams while material in History or Science topics are “fresh”. Typically, these exams are taken in May and June.
These one-hour long multiple choice exams are the “easier” version of materials mastered for your AP exams. If you have finished pre-calculus, take the MATHIIC exam as soon as you are ready. If you’re not a STEM focused student, Math IC is also a great option. Don’t take both MathIC and IIC- most colleges even instruct against doing so.If you are taking AP BIO or AP CHEM-you should be taking the SATII Subject test in BIO or ChemIf you are taking AP World or US- you should be taking the SATII Subject test.in World or USIf you are bi-lingual and can read and write in your native language-take the SATII language exam! Depending on the depth of your language proficiency, you may also consider taking the AP exam as well. That said, STEM students – these are not useful- you need MathIIC plus science. Finally, if you are bilingual – a selective school will not look favorably upon taking this exam in lieu of two content- based exams– make it a third exam at best. AP coursework has become the gold-standard of an academically rigorous curriculum. Earning a high grade on an AP exam can overshadow the high school transcript. For STEM students to be competitive in the admissions process, AP Calculus, AP Bio/Chem and/or Physics, APCS are invaluable and often expected on a student’s transcript to be a viable candidate in the most selective of universities. Avoiding challenging courses as a STEM applicant is not only reducing your chances of admissions at selective universities. Doing so will impact your preparation in the demanding undergraduate coursework ahead.

Are AP scores required on college applications?Are AP scores considered by admissions officers in reviewing your college application as part of the college admissions process?When/where do I submit my AP scores -on the Common Application or Coalition Applications?
Your AP exam scores allow college admissions officers to objectively compare students across high schools throughout the US and abroad. AP exam scores are NOT a required element on your college application. That said, excluding your scores in the space provided on the Common Application hints indirectly at your score. No one fails to share a “4” or a “5” on their college application.  BEWARE: some high schools actually report your AP score on your transcript and you need to request their removal. Some high schools may refuse your request. Ask me more about this issue. As noted, AP exam scores may also substitute for SAT/ACT scores at Test-Flexible universities. For example, including three exams of your choice allows subject-specific test takers to reduce test anxiety and increase their chances of college admissions. You do have more control over content and knowledge-based materials related to specific courses in these exams. While AP exam scores aren’t a required element on college applications – the optional reporting of scores on your Common Application is an opportunity to demonstrate you’ve mastered materials and can even overshadow the high school transcript. AP exam scores level the playing field across students from a variety of public and private high schools. Thinking about this in another way- optional reporting that is left blank suggests to the admissions reader of your file that you did NOT do well on your exam. So what to do about those “1s” and “2s”? Ask me – as each situation is unique and there may be a potential explanation for the poor score. AP coursework has become the gold-standard of an academically rigorous curriculum. Earning a high grade on an AP exam can overshadow the high school transcript. For STEM students to be competitive in the admissions process, AP Calculus, AP Bio/Chem and/or Physics, APCS are invaluable and often expected on a student’s transcript to be a viable candidate in the most selective of universities. Avoiding challenging courses as a STEM applicant is not only reducing your chances of admissions at selective universities. Doing so will impact your preparation in the demanding undergraduate coursework ahead. Likewise, courses in AP History or AP Economics or AP Lang/Lit will be invaluable to preparation for many Humanities and Business students.
College Admissions TIP:  As noted, many selective colleges require SATII subject tests. AP exams better prepare students for these exams than do AICE or IB classes. In some sense, this isn’t unexpected, as both the AP and Subject tests are administered by the same organization – the College Board. 
Understanding AP exam scoring – What Do Your AP exam scores convey?

Your scores matter! Having made the decision to complete an AP course is a reflection of a student’s interest in the material and concepts. The actual score is an indicator of whether you’ve mastered the content providing a foundation to subsequent and more challenging coursework. Regardless of whether you decide to earn the college credit (and colleges have their own requirements for granting credit that varies widely – the less competitive universities accept a “3” and most selective programs require a “5”), taking the class already has increased your chances of college acceptance as AP classes weigh more heavily than other high school classes on your high school transcript in computing class rank and your weighted GPA.Scores: AP Exam scores range from 1-5. The composite score is based on results from all portions of the exam including multiple-choice, free-response short and longer essays and portfolio/projects completed outside of the actual time students sit for exams. With a variety of subjects- math, foreign language and art – the scores reflect the unique requirements that students must complete to convey mastery of the curriculum. First and foremost- don’t’ think of this as “passing” or “failing” your exam because the university you ultimately attend will make that determination. The College Board simply makes a blanket recommendation- 1 and 2 are a recommendation against earning college credit. 3, 4 and 5 indicate the student qualifies for credit – but again, depending on the university and the actual course, the requirements vary widely.Scoring Guidelines Explained here 





I WISH ALL HIGH SCHOOL AND UNDERGRADUATE STUDENTS CONTINUED SUCCESS – defined by a joyful and meaningful year both within and outside the classroom.


Best wishes for an absolutely meaningful and enriching second half of the 2020-21 and a
Happy & HEALTHY Holiday Season
Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D. Educational & College Admissions Consultant

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