College entrance exams (also known as the SAT or ACT) are standardized tests designed to measure your readiness to attend college. Schools may consider your SAT or ACT score results when making admission decisions, to include scholarship offers.
Most college bound high school students should plan to take the SAT or ACT at least once in their junior year of high school. Here are three tips to help you manage your test results.
One, focus your attention on either the SAT or the ACT, not both.
Since it does not matter which college entrance exam you choose – every college and university in the nation will accept either one interchangeably – there is no benefit to dividing your time, attention, and costs for study materials, registration, and score reporting between two exams; select one you’ll commit to with all of your preparation and testing resources.
Your best strategy for determining which test to focus on is to take a timed practice test of both the SAT and the ACT, and then choose the one you prefer (most likely the one producing your higher score). Before taking these practice exams, review the differences between them and the information provided on their respective websites so that you have a general idea of what to expect.
Two, plan to take the exam for the first time before April 30th of your junior year.
A late winter/early spring testing during your junior year (January or March for the SAT, February or April for the ACT) will give you the most options for retaking the exam to improve your score before college application season of your senior year. For example, after reviewing and prepping for any problem areas from your first attempt, you could retake either exam in June and still leave opportunities for fall testing if necessary.
There are additional reasons to leave yourself with as many options as you can going forward:
- something unexpected may occur that prevents you from taking the test when you planned (you get sick or have an unavoidable conflict) or from performing well (you are distracted or just aren’t at your best, even though you were prepared)
- you may need to fit the SAT Subject tests (not many schools require them) into your SAT/ACT testing schedule
- a significant incentive may arise to take the test a third time, such as barely missing a cut-off score to qualify for a scholarship; or spending the summer on substantial test prep that you believe will significantly impact your results
(For most students, there is usually no real benefit to taking the exam more than two or three times. Your high school record – that is, your grades and the rigor of your course load – is the most important factor in college admission decisions, so you don’t want to prioritize your test preparation over your schoolwork.)
Three, understand score choice and superscoring.
Score choice is an option that allows you to specify which test date scores to send to schools. (You cannot specify test sections, only test dates.)
- You took the SAT in March, May and October, and each section (Reading, Math and Writing) of your May test date was higher than those from your March and October test dates. You could then use the score choice option to send only your May SAT results to a particular school. This will allow you to put your best foot forward. (This will not save you any money – sending all of your scores from all three SAT test dates to one school can be accomplished for the same fee. And speaking about saving money, if you want to take advantage of the option to automatically send your scores to up to four schools each time you take the SAT – a decision that must be made before you see your results – you will forgo using score choice at those schools)
- You took the ACT in February and June, and significantly improved your results at your second testing. You could choose to send only your June ACT test results to a particular school. (Because a separate fee is charged per ACT test date to send results to any particular school, this strategy will save you money)
But please be aware of this caveat: some schools require all of your scores!
Yale, for example, requires test scores from any and all SAT exams (not to include the Subject exams) or any and all ACT exams you have taken; Stanford’s policy is even stricter – test scores from any and all SAT and ACT tests you’ve taken are required.
You cannot rely on score choice, therefore, to safeguard against a lack of preparation. Each school’s own policy regarding test score receipt trumps the score choice options provided by the SAT or ACT testing agencies.
Happily, even if you must (or elect to) send in all of your test scores, you may have another advantage: superscoring.
Superscoring is a term used by schools that select your highest sub-scores from all of your test dates to award you with your highest combined score (superscore) when considering your admissability. Again, individual schools will have their own policy about whether or not they superscore the SAT, fewer will superscore the ACT. Using the above schools for examples, Yale will superscore the SAT but not the ACT, Stanford will superscore both.
(If you are confused or just want to make your life easier, your best bet is to send all of your test scores to all of the schools you are applying to!)
A last point to remember about these college entrance exam results is that while they may be critical to the admission goals of some students, those of you who might consider yourselves to be poor test takers can breathe a little easier: exam scores are formally de-emphasized at more than 160 top-tier colleges and universities nationwide. And reporting scores is optional (your choice) or flexible (not necessary if you meet certain criteria) at a great number of schools, and simply not accepted at test-blind Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, where every student’s candidacy for admission is considered without them.
NOTE: Although current juniors will be taking the current SAT, a redesigned SAT launches in March 2016. A full practice test will be available in March 2015. Current sophomores (and younger students) will be the first group to be evaluated with the redesigned version, and will be taking the redesigned PSAT beginning October 2015.
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