Category Archives: Testing

Should You Take the SAT or ACT with Essay?

Few colleges now require the essay when you take the SAT or ACT. In fact, in 2016, the College Board made the essay optional, stating: “While the College Board remains steadfast in its commitment to the importance of analytic writing for all students . . . one single essay historically has not contributed significantly to the overall predictive power of the exam.”

Yet, for the Class of 2017, 1.2 million students wrote the SAT essay (70% of total test-takers), and 1.1 million students wrote the ACT essay (53% of total test-takers).

Currently, there is a strong movement among colleges to no longer require the SAT or ACT essay. According to the Princeton Review, only 19 colleges still require the essay, of which 9 belong to the University of California system. In fact, no colleges state that they use the essay for admission, though some state that they use the essay for course placement.

Harvard explained that its decision was part of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative (HFAI), to broaden its outreach. Registration for the ACT costs $46 without the essay, and $62.50 with the essay; the SAT costs $47.50 without the essay, and $64.50 with the essay. The university emphasized that students still have a variety of ways to demonstrate their writing skills – through the Personal Essay required by college application platforms, Harvard’s own Writing Supplement, and an optional writing portfolio.


Claremont McKenna College
Martin Luther College
Schreiner University
Soka University of America
The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor
United States Military Academy
UC, Berkeley
UC, Davis
UC, Irvine
UC, Merced
UC, Riverside
UC, San Diego
UC, Santa Barbara
UC, Santa Cruz
University of Miami
University of Montana Western
University of North Texas *
Wellesley College *

*only requires essay with ACT
Source: The Princeton Review


We recommend that for upcoming SAT or ACT tests, you do not register for the essay unless you plan to apply to a college that requires the essay. In other words, even if a college recommends the essay (without requiring it), we feel that you do not need to take the essay because typically it does not play a role in the college admissions review process. Alternatively, if you excel at writing and do not mind the additional expense or time, you certainly can opt to include the essay in your standardized testing plans.

There is increasing complexity surrounding the requirements for taking and reporting standardized testing, including the ACT, SAT, Subject Tests, AP exams, and IB exams.  If you would like guidance, feel free to contact us at As always, we’re happy to help!


The redesigned SAT debuted a year ago, which means that high school students can now choose between the standardized tests of the “new” SAT and ACT.

But which to choose?

As part of our ongoing series of “Ask the Experts,” we surveyed top test prep tutors from around the country, and asked them a series of questions about these two tests. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to which test to take, and each student is a unique test-taker. But by asking the right questions, we can provide you with the proper tools to make an informed decision.

Here are our expert test prep tutors:

  • Advantage Testing, Alex Freedman, Director of Connecticut office and senior tutor in Manhattan. Advantage has 16 offices throughout the US, and an office in Paris.
  • Applerouth, Jed Applerouth, Founder. Applerouth has offices in NYC, DC, LA, Atlanta, Seattle, Savannah, Chicago.
  • Peter Baumtest prep tutor in NYC and San Francisco.
  • Compass Education Group, Matt Steiner, Senior Director of Outreach. Compass has offices in Northern California and Southern California.
  • Inspirica, Lisa Jacobson, Founder and CEO. Inspirica has offices in NYC, Boston and Philadelphia.
  • Phyllis Jencius, test prep tutor on Long Island for verbal content.
  • Bill Ma, test prep tutor on Long Island for math content, author of CliffNotes SAT CramPlanCliffNotes ACT CramPlan, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus AB and BC.
  • Signet Education, Jay Bacrania, Co-founder and CEO. Signet has offices in Cambridge MA and NYC.
  • Summit Educational Group, Drew Heilpern, Brand Ambassador, offices in Connecticut/New York and Massachusetts.
  • TestTakers, Frank Pomilla, President and Founder, with 11 offices throughout the Greater New York area.

Below are the questions we asked, and the responses of our expert tutors. In some cases, tutors have a consensus, and in others, there is a wide range of opinion. We hope this is helpful as you evaluate what course of action is best for your needs! 

What are the differences between the ACT and New SAT? 

  • The SAT and the ACT have a similar structure and cover similar materials.
  • The SAT questions are trickier and require more complex thought.
  • The ACT is more straightforward, but much faster with more time pressure.

In general, the SAT and the ACT have a similar structure and cover similar materials; however tutors agree that the questions on the SAT are trickier and require more complex thought, while the ACT is a much faster test with much more time pressure. As TestTakers’ Frank Pomilla describes “An exam is considered to be ‘speeded’ if the score significantly depends on the rate at which tester answers the questions. Simply put, the ACT is much more speeded than the SAT.

According to Drew Heilpern of Summit Education Group: “Generally speaking, students feel that the ACT questions are more straightforward than those on the SAT, but the difficulty stems from the fast pace of the ACT. Many students walk out of an ACT test thinking that they understood what the questions were asking but wishing that they had another 5 or 10 minutes per section.” As a result, Peter Baum explains, “there is more advantage to getting extra time on the ACT than on the SAT.” He recommends that students who are allotted extra time take the ACT.

The chart below shows major differences between the two tests:


  SAT Exam ACT Exam
Test Structure

Reading (65 min)

Writing & Language (35 min)

Math (55 min) – With calculator

Math (25 min) – No calculator

Optional Essay (50 min)

Reading (35 min)

English (45 min)

Math (60 min) – With calculator

Science (35 min)

Optional Essay/Writing (40 min)

Total Length

3 hours (without essay)

3 hours, 50 minutes (with essay)

2 hours, 55 minutes (without essay)

3 hours, 40 minutes (with essay)

Test Style

Questions are evidence- and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving

Questions increase in difficulty level as you move through that question type in a section


Questions may be long but are usually less difficult to decipher

Difficulty level of the questions is random

Reading Content

5 reading passages

Relevant words in context

Grammar & usage

4 reading passages

Grammar & usage

Math Content


Problem-solving & data analysis

Heart of algebra



Formulas provided

Calculator allowed for 38  the questions, including advanced (TI-89)


Algebra I and II




No formulas provided

Calculator allowed for all sections, but not advanced (such as TI-89)

Science Content None Tests critical thinking skills, not specific science knowledge
Optional Essays Tests your comprehension of a source text Tests how well you evaluate and analyze complex issues

Evidence-Based Reading & Writing: 200-800

Math: 200-800

Composite SAT score is the sum of the two  section scores ranging from 400-1600

* You do not lose points for incorrect answers

English: 1-36

Math: 1-36

Reading: 1-36

Science: 1-36

Composite ACT score is the average of your scores on the four sections ranging from 1-36

* You do not lose points for incorrect answers


Tends to be more popular with private schools and schools on the East and West coasts

* Every four-year college in the US accepts SAT

Tends to be more popular with public schools and schools in the Midwest and South

* Every four-year college in the US accepts ACT

More Information


  • Both tests require reading passages and answering questions about their content.
  • SAT passages are harder – harder vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • SAT questions are harder – require understanding author’s intent.
  • ACT is easier, but faster – requires quickly finding details in the passage.

The reading sections of the two tests are structurally very similar; both require students to read written passages and then answer questions about their content. But again, the SAT section is generally harder, while the ACT requires students to answer the questions more quickly.

As Jed Applerouth of Applerouth Tutors explains, “SAT reading passages typically have a higher level of vocabulary and more sophisticated sentence structures. Particular SAT passages, frequently pulled from historical documents or American or English literature, are significantly harder than anything found on the ACT.”

SAT questions also require more in-depth understanding, requiring students to analyze the author’s intent, while the ACT typically requires the student to quickly locate details in the passage. An example of the difference in difficulty is provided by Peter Baum: “The classic SAT question is inferential – for instance, ‘Why did they mention dinosaurs in line 57?’ On the ACT, it’s more direct but there’s no line reference, ‘What did the author say about dinosaurs?’ ”

Unsurprisingly, the ACT reading section is also much more “speeded” than the SAT. As Drew Heilpern summarizes, the SAT Reading Test consists of 5 passages, typically 500-750 words each, with roughly 10 questions per section, providing students an average of 13 minutes per section. The ACT test consists of 4 passages, typically 700-900 words each, and also roughly 10 questions per section. However, even though the ACT passages are longer, students have on average only 8.5 minutes per passage. Also, as several of the tutors pointed out, unlike the SAT, the ACT questions do not appear in any order, requiring a greater ability to skim and scan. As Heilpern explains, “For most students, it is a total sprint from start to finish.”

If students have not had a lot of experience taking faster tests, they may initially score poorly on ACT practice tests. However, as Phyllis Jencius notes, they should not be discouraged, because speed can be improved with practice! She advises: “A low reading score on an initial practice ACT test should not automatically discourage students from taking this exam. A tutor should be able to discern whether the score is the result of time pressure rather than the understanding of the material. If so… [reading] under time constraints while maintaining accuracy is a skill that can often be taught.”

  • Writing section is the most similar – both involve reading a passage and then answering questions about errors in it.
  • SAT passages are harder; ACT passages are shorter and written at high school level.
  • SAT passages require understanding of author’s intent.
  • ACT section is much faster.

Tutors agree the writing sections are nearly identical, requiring students to “answer questions about specific errors in passages,” says Jay Bacrania. According to Alex Freedman of Advantage Testing, “Both test fundamental concepts of grammar, idiom, diction, and clarity of expression.” However, the writing section also follows the same trends in terms of difficulty and speed. The SAT passages typically resemble the reading passages in complexity, while the ACT passages are written at a much simpler level. According to Drew Heilpern, “The ACT English Test has passages that are shorter in length and resemble essays that might be written by a high school student. On the other hand, the SAT passages are well-written essays that, similar to the Reading passages, range in complexity from grades 9-10 to early college.” The SAT passages require a deeper understanding of the author’s intent, while the ACT questions are more straightforward, dealing with basic grammar.

And as always, the ACT section is much faster. As Frank Pomilla explains, “On the ACT, students are allotted 45 minutes to answer 75 questions; on the SAT, it’s 35 minutes for 44 questions. That’s 33% more time per SAT question than ACT question.”

  • SAT has calculator and no calculator section; ACT allows calculator (but no TI-89).
  • SAT covers more limited topics (more focus on algebra and functions).
  • ACT covers wider range (more focus on geometry and trigonometry).
  • SAT is more conceptual and more difficult (math concepts in combination, interpretation of math).
  • ACT is more straightforward but faster-paced.

There are a few basic structural differences between the math portion of the two tests. The SAT Math Test is divided into sections: a calculator section (including advanced calculators like the TI-89) and a non-calculator section. The SAT also includes two types of questions: multiple-choice and grid-in. The ACT, on the other hand, consists of a single section, all multiple-choice, with a calculator allowed (but not a TI-89).

Another difference is in the scope of topics – the SAT covers a more limited set of topics, with a big focus on algebra, functions, and data analysis, while the ACT covers a wider array of topics, with a big focus on geometry and trigonometry, and also touches on more advanced topics like matrices and logarithms.

Similar to the reading and writing sections, the SAT math section is more difficult, requiring a deeper understanding of the topics, but the ACT test is more of a time crunch (students have 38% more time for each SAT math question). As Jed Applerouth explains, “SAT math has a greater reading burden, tests more math concepts in combination, and focuses more on translation and interpretation of math (i.e., math fluency) than upon direct solving.” While some feel the ACT Math has become harder, Matt Steiner of Compass Prep points out that “the perceived ‘hardness’ of ACT Math is less an issue of difficulty; more an issue of familiarity and exposure” with the handful of new topics added.

  • ACT has separate science section; SAT has 21 science questions scattered throughout test (no actual science section).
  • Both involve science questions based on passages.
  • Neither tests knowledge of facts; both test understanding of scientific method and experiments, interpretation of charts and graphs.
  • ACT section is more difficult. 

The crucial difference between the science content on the two tests is that the ACT has a separate science section, while the SAT has 21 science-related questions scattered throughout the test. For example, the SAT may include a chart as part of one of the reading passages and consider questions about the chart to be science-related. On the SAT, students receive an “Analysis in Science” score on a 10-40 scale, which combines the science questions from the various sections, but colleges do not look at this separate score. For all intents and purposes, while the SAT includes science-based questions, it does not have a science section.

Neither test requires any specific knowledge of scientific facts, but rather tests students’ ability to reason deductively. Students are provided with passages about scientific topics that they may not know much about, and must interpret them to answer the questions. According to Matt Steiner, “ACT Science is simply another Reading section disguised by science-y flourishes: charts and graphs, descriptions of experiments, and other quantitative elements.”

However, tutors agree that the ACT science section is more difficult than the SAT science questions, requiring a higher level of data interpretation and understanding of experimental design. According to Frank Pomilla, the ACT tests “an ability to understand graphs and tables, and to analyze the design and results of hypothetical scientific experiments.” Drew Heilpern notes that as students read the passages, it will help them to consider the following types of questions: “What scientific question is being asked? What was the experimental design? What was the data that was collected? What conclusions did the author draw?”

And as you’ve probably come to understand by this point, students must go through the ACT Science section very quickly.

  • Both offer optional essay; good idea to sit for the essay anyway.
  • SAT provides a written essay; students analyze the author’s argument.
  • ACT provides three perspectives on an issue; students defend their own perspective.  

Both the SAT and the ACT offer optional essay sections. According to Matt Steiner, “only 10% of the top 360 colleges in the US require students to submit their SAT or ACT Essay results.” However most tutors recommend that students sit for the essay anyway in order to have the option to apply to a wider selection of colleges.

Both tests require students to analyze a rhetorical argument, however there are basic differences. “In essence,” according to Alex Freedman, “the ACT essay asks students to construct an argument, while the SAT asks students to analyze an argument.” As Phyllis Jencius explains, the 50-minute SAT section “provides a written essay and asks students to analyze it using textual evidence to determine how the writer effectively builds his or her argument.” Drew Heilpern adds, “It is a rhetorical analysis essay where students are not asked for their opinion on the topic, but rather to analyze what rhetorical devices the author used and their effectiveness.”

The 40-minute ACT on the other hand, according to Jay Bacrania of Signet, “presents a societal issue with three different perspectives on the issue and asks students to analyze the problem and defend a perspective of their own (which can be wholly or partially taken from one of the given perspectives, or not at all).” As noted out by Lisa Jacobson of Inspirica, “Consequently, the student need not get into too much depth about any one opinion… The SAT requires more depth and complexity… [and] is generally more challenging.”

As Peter Baum advises: “For a more literal student, the SAT essay, which is analyzing how an author made his or her points, is a better fit. For a more free-thinking student, the ACT essay allows him or her to find a path to individual expression.”

What kind of student would be better served by taking either the ACT or SAT?

  • Colleges accept either test and don’t have a preference.
  • Best strategy is to take both practice tests and compare scores.
  • SAT is better for more complex thinkers and slower test takers.
  • ACT better for more straightforward thinkers and faster test takers.
  • SAT is better for strong readers; ACT is better for strong math students.
  • Best to choose one test and stick with it to maximize prep.

The testing landscape has evolved considerably in recent years. Only a decade ago, the SAT was more commonly taken by students on the East and West coasts, while the ACT was more popular in the Midwest. Additionally, the most selective colleges expressed a preference for the SAT. But, “nowadays, both are accepted at all universities and are equally regarded, so students should prepare for and take the test on which they will receive the higher score,” according to Alex Freedman.

Some tutors feel that due to the similarities between the SAT and the ACT, students frequently will get comparable scores on the two tests. In this case, the decision comes down to personal preference. As Peter Baum emphasizes, “there’s at least a 70% overlap between the tests at this point. You’re not going to find many students who score much higher on one than on the other.”

However based on the general differences between the tests (especially complexity of the SAT vs. speed of the ACT) certain students may fare better on one or the other. Tutors are in agreement that the best way to figure out which test is for you is very simple: take full practice tests of both, then compare your scores using the College Board’s concordance table, which will tell you exactly which scores are equivalent on the two tests.

Though the tests are similar, tutors do have some thoughts on the type of students who may prefer one or the other. According to Jay Bacrania, “Generally speaking, the SAT is well suited for students who are good at more complicated problem solving but are slower test takers. The ACT on the other hand is often good for students who like to see more predictable, straightforward problems and are good at being efficient and accurate while under time pressure.” Additionally, according to Alex Freedman of Advantage, “students who are put off by the ACT’s Science section might be better off taking the SAT.”

Several tutors noted that the SAT is more reading-heavy than the ACT so strong readers might prefer the SAT, while the math on the ACT is more advanced, so stronger math students might prefer the ACT.

Lisa Jacobson of Inspirica adds that test anxiety may play a role. She explains that due to the difference in pace, the SAT may be a better fit for “one who has trouble with time, perhaps a little more prone to test anxiety. One who works more methodically and thoroughly.”

While some students choose to take both tests, tutors generally advise picking one test and sticking with it in order to put all of your test prep time into that test. Frank Pomilla notes that, “While the tests are quite similar, there is a disadvantage to splitting time between two exams, when colleges need to see only your best performance on either one.”


What is the percentage of your students who take SAT-only, ACT-only, or both?

  • The distribution across tests varies widely across tutors and states.
  • While many opt to take the ACT only, some have shifted back to the SAT.
  • Yet, while there is great variation between the percentages of students taking either test, only a very small percentage currently take both.

The distribution of students taking both tests or just one test varies by tutor, by state, and by historical time frame.

During the period when the SAT overhauled its exam in spring of 2016, many students opted for ACT-only, due to the uncertainty of the new SAT exam and the lack of practice tests issued by the College Board. But in recent times, there is some shifting back to the SAT.

Some states choose to offer either the SAT or ACT as their standard state assessment test for public schools, so this impacts test prep as well. For example, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine and New Hampshire have chosen the SAT as their state-wide assessment test; while Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, and North Carolina have chosen the ACT (among other states).

Finally, tutors’ own philosophy about whether it makes sense to focus on one test or take both tests impacts students’ test prep approach as well. According to Lisa Jacobson, the breakdown includes 37% SAT-only, 62% ACT-only, and less than 1% take both tests. This breakdown is comparable to Signet (about 30% SAT-only, 65% ACT-only, 5% both) and Applerouth (45.3% SAT-only, 49.2% ACT-only and 5.5% both). In contrast, Peter Baum’s split is 55% SAT-only, 25% ACT-only, and 20% both. And Frank Pomilla notes, “In the New York area, where TestTakers operates, it’s been my experience that the SAT is still the more popular exam.”


Is there a maximum number of either SAT or ACT tests that you recommend to your students? In other words, do you find that scores tend to plateau after a certain number of tests?

  • No maximum, but tutors recommend taking the test 2-3 times.

Most tutors agree that the sweet spot for the number of tests is 2-3. Of course every student is different so this should not be used as a hard and fast rule. According to Peter Baum, “My breakdown by number of times is 35% 1, 55% 2, 10% 3. There is, of course, selection bias involved since the kids who ace it the first time don’t take it again.”

Beyond three tests, it is rare to see a significant increase in scores, and small increases may take so much extra prep that it becomes a poor use of the student’s time. Alex Freedman states, “If scores do begin to plateau at a certain point, for example, our analysis of the data and our assessment of the student’s progress will indicate whether the plateau suggests an approaching ceiling, or whether there is still room for improvement. Of course, we also take into consideration the student’s personal goals.”


When do you feel is the ideal time for students to begin test prep for the SAT or ACT?

  • Tutors recommend spring of sophomore year or summer before junior year.
  • Best to start prep before heavy work load junior year.
  • Aim for first test date in late fall or early spring of junior year, with cushion of senior year for retests.

Most tutors recommend that students begin to prepare during the spring of their sophomore year, while some recommend the summer between sophomore and junior year. The advantage of beginning before junior year is that students usually have more time for test prep before adding their junior year schoolwork.   As Jed Applerouth notes: “The right time is determined by the most spacious time in a student’s schedule.  Don’t begin prep during your most intense time for academics/activities.”

One point to be aware of is that students may not have learned everything they need to know until the end of sophomore year. As Frank Pomilla points out, “I don’t generally recommend starting during sophomore year, as the student might not have had all the math required for either the SAT or ACT; for virtually all students, it’s just too early.”

Beginning test prep the summer before junior year or earlier would typically allow students to aim for a first test date in late fall or early spring of junior year, with a cushion of senior year for retests if necessary.


College Board Offers SAT in August, ACT adds July Test Date

The College Board began offering the SAT and Subject Tests in August 2017 for the first time, and will be eliminating the January test date going forward. Fewer test centers were available in August, since schools have a lighter staff during the summer.

The ACT also changed its test schedule, adding a July test date, effective July 2018. Both February and July test dates are not available in NY test centers, but students can travel to another state if these particular test dates suit them.

Finally, the College Board has instituted a faster score release policy, in which scores for multiple-choice questions will be available 13-19 days after each test date; with essay scores available 24 days later. For example, for the October 7 test date, multiple choice scores have been available October 20-26; and essay scores will be available October 31.

Why is the College Board Adding an August Test Date?

The new College Board test date is likely a response to the increase in seniors applying through early admissions and the consequent growth in SAT testers in the fall (see chart below). Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift towards early applications, in which seniors apply in November, and receive notification in December.

In large part, students are taking advantage of the strategic boost of applying early. The admit rates are typically much higher, and colleges are filling an increasing percentage of their freshman class through early admissions, leaving fewer spots to fill during regular admissions. As a result, the entire standardized testing schedule has shifted to earlier test dates. For early admissions, students need to complete their testing (SAT, ACT and Subject Tests) by October.

In addition to the recently added July 2018 date, the ACT also offers a test in September, an ideal time for seniors because they can prepare over the summer, and are just starting to deal with the academic requirements of senior year. The SAT has been steadily losing ground to the ACT over the past few years, and a strategic modification of the testing schedule may be an effort by the College Board to recover ground.

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 9.14.57 PM

Who Should Take the August Test?

The August test date is ideal for seniors who would like an additional chance to improve their SAT or Subject Test score after their junior year testing, or would like to take additional Subject Tests. The summer typically provides a less intense environment in which to prepare, without the pressures of schoolwork.

For rising juniors, we do not advise taking the SAT until November or December, because students typically experience meaningful growth and maturity over junior year, and continue to learn content that can boost their scores.

One exception, however, would be rising juniors who are pursuing athletic recruitment, and need early testing scores for coaches to make a determination about whether they are viable candidates.

For each student, deciding when and how often to take the SAT or ACT depends on a variety of factors, including whether you are applying to colleges through early or rolling admissions, the selectivity of your colleges, how much time you can devote to test preparation, and your competing time commitments. 

Test Centers for August SAT

Many test centers have chosen not to offer their sites for the August test date, creating a tight supply for what might be a large demand. For example, only 53 test centers will be available in New York, reflecting an 80% drop in the number of test centers from June to August. Brooklyn only has one test center, and it is already filled. As a result, if you are interested in the August test date, register as soon as possible so that you find a space, preferably at a test site that is convenient for you.

This interactive map by Compass Education Group shows the data for a selection of 12 states.

The college testing environment is constantly undergoing changes. To help you sort through testing options and plan for successful college admissions, contact us at As always, we’re happy to help!


REFERENCE: 2017-18 SAT and Subject Tests Test Dates

Note that Subject Tests are not offered in March. Also, while Literature, US History, Math 1, Math 2, Biology, Chemistry and Physics are offered every testing date (but March), World History and Language tests vary by month. In addition, although you can choose to add more Subject Tests on the day of testing (with a maximum of three), the one test that you cannot add on the spot is Language with Listening, because that requires special equipment.

2017-18 SAT Subject Tests U.S. Administration Dates and Deadlines
SAT Date SAT Subject Tests Available Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline

August 26, 2017


July 28, 2017

August 8, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

August 15, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

October 7, 2017


September 8, 2017

September 19, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

September 27, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

November 4, 2017


October 5, 2017

October 17, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

October 25, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

December 2, 2017


November 2, 2017

November 14, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

November 21, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

May 5, 2018 April 6, 2018

April 17, 2018 (for mailed registrations)

April 25, 2018 (for registrations made online or by phone)

June 2, 2018 May 3, 2018

May 15, 2018 (for mailed registrations)

May 23, 2018 (for registrations made online or by phone)



Who Benefits from Test-optional and Test-flexible Admissions Policies?

As the role of college entrance exams continues to shift, many students find it difficult to navigate evolving and variable testing requirements. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that do not require students to submit the SAT or ACT.

Over 925 colleges and universities have decided that standardized test scores are not as predictive of academic success in college as the day-to-day academic performance reflected by a high school GPA. Current test-optional colleges include Wake Forest, Smith, and Bowdoin.

Several others, including NYU, Middlebury and Hamilton fall under the category of “test-flexible,” meaning that applicants have the option to submit alternative college entrance examinations, such as SAT Subject, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate examinations in place of SAT and ACT scores.

Many students question how to handle test-optional policies, and are unsure of whether or not they should submit their scores. In this blog, we will take a closer look at student choices in applying to test optional colleges and why more and more schools are offering test-optional admissions policies.

Which colleges offer test-optional policies? Are all policies the same? offers a comprehensive list of the colleges that currently offer test-optional and test-flexible admissions policies. While colleges offering these policies include a variety of institutions, it is notable that many are small liberal arts colleges, public universities, and small Catholic colleges. With few exceptions, the most highly selective colleges continue to require standardized testing; besides being a standard indicator of college readiness, test scores can create a benchmark of acceptance for schools that are becoming inundated with ever-increasing applicant pools.

It is interesting to note that of the 50 highest-ranked national universities, only four have test-optional or test-flexible policies, including Wake Forest, University of Rochester, Brandeis, and NYU, whereas 21 of the top-ranked liberal arts universities offer such testing options. One possible reason is that to attract applicants, the national universities rely more on US News & World Report’s rankings, which factor in test scores. In addition, small liberal arts universities are typically more holistic in their evaluations of candidates.

Test-optional and test-flexible policies vary widely, and the best way to make sure that you are submitting the correct testing requirements is to research the details on the specific college’s website.

For example, NYU (test-flexible) requires testing but students have a variety of options:

  • ACT (writing test not required)
  • SAT(essay test not required)
  • 3SAT Subject Test scores
  • 3AP exam scores
  • International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma
  • 3IB higher-level exam scores if not an IB Diploma candidate
  • Nationally accredited examthat shows you completed your secondary education

Many test-optional schools require students who are not submitting test scores to meet additional requirements, including interviews, writing samples, teacher recommendations, or completing a Test-Optional Form. For example, Franklin & Marshall College requires students who choose to opt out of testing to submit two graded writing samples (creative or analytical), preferably from a humanities or social science course. Loyola University Maryland asks applicants who take advantage of their test-optional policy to submit an additional teacher recommendation and/or personal essay. At Virginia Commonwealth University, high school applicants must have at least a 3.3 GPA to bypass testing requirements.

Interestingly, many test-optional schools, including Marist College, require students to submit standardized test scores once they have been accepted and enroll. The schools use these test scores for the purposes of academic advisement and course placement.

Why do schools offer test-optional policies?

Increasing ethnic diversity

Many schools, including Wake Forest, claim that test-optional policies have led to a more diverse student body with no notable difference in academic achievement between students who opted out of testing and those who submitted scores. Wake Forest also states that ethnic diversity increased by 54% in the first seven years that their test-optional policy went into effect. A 2014 report from two former Bates College admissions officials, William Hiss and Valerie Franks, also found an increase in racial and socio-economic diversity at test-optional schools.

Focusing on holistic admissions

In determining whether an applicant is a good fit, test-optional schools stress the importance of examining the student’s complete academic profile. The College of the Holy Cross states, “We are test optional because we have found that a student’s academic history in high school is a better indicator of their scholastic ability than an exam taken on a singular Saturday morning.”


Many institutions are disillusioned with current standardized testing, and feel that the test preparation available to the wealthy creates an unfair advantage. For example, Marist College states, “Many studies indicate performance on standardized tests is closely linked to family income and education level, while others suggest a possible bias against certain minority students. Our experience shows that the rigor of a student’s program and overall academic performance can best illustrate commitment, motivation, work ethic, and a willingness to take on challenges.”

Improved US News Rankings

Intentional or not, the schools offering test-optional policies also tend to see improved U.S. News rankings. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Georgia examined data from 32 selective liberal arts colleges, and found that, after going test-optional, these schools received an average increase of 220 applications and their mean SAT scores rose by an average of 26 points.

Selectivity and test scores are important factors in the U.S. News rankings. US News is transparent about the components that comprise its ranking methodology. 8.125% of rankings derive from the SAT critical reading and math portions; and the composite ACT score; and 1.25% from selectivity.

Test-optional policies tend to increase applicant numbers, creating higher selectivity for the schools, and since students who did better on standardized tests report their scores, while students with low scores often do not, the school can report artificially inflated test scores of accepted applicants. Test scores make up 65% of the US News selectivity rating, which becomes 12.5% of the larger weighting used to rank each college.

Notably, the only “test-blind” school, Hampshire College, is unranked by US News. Hampshire College does not consider any ACT or SAT scores as part of its admissions policy, and therefore has no scores to report. Sarah Lawrence was once “test-blind” as well, from 2003 to 2012. In 2012, Sarah Lawrence switched to a “test-optional” policy, presumably to rejoin the ranks of US News, among other reasons.

Bottom-line: Should I send my scores?

At the end of the day, you might be deliberating over whether or not to send your scores. Here are some considerations to assist in your decision:

Research the range of standardized test scores for accepted students

According to U.S. News, “If you do some research and find that your results fall below those of the top third of accepted students at more selective schools or below the median at more inclusive institutions, you may want to hold them back.”

Decide if your test scores accurately represent your potential as a student

At the College of the Holy Cross, Director of Admissions Ann McDermott writes, “If you feel your testing says something about you and your abilities, feel free to send them along. We will look at them in conjunction with your transcript, your recommendations, essay, and interview (if you have had one) and make our assessment.  If, on the other hand, you feel that your test scores do not represent you well, then do not hesitate to withhold them. We will not make any assumptions about your testing, and will focus our attention on your transcript and the other accompanying credentials that are contained in your application.”

Take a hard look at your academic performance and activity list

Jane H. Dane, associate vice president for enrollment management at Old Dominion University in Virginia, notes that applicants who withhold scores are “particularly scrutinized for other evidence of potential for success, like challenging course work and leadership skills. The more well-rounded you are, the better your chances of impressing without scores.”

Remember that regardless of testing policies, all schools look at more than your scores

Try to remember that test scores are just one part of your college application, and not even the most significant one. As the College Board reminds us, “College admission officers give the most weight and importance to your high school grades and whether you’re challenging yourself.”

Determining the best testing options for each student requires consideration of a variety of factors and personal preferences. For more information on standardized testing, or any other aspect of the college admissions process, feel free to contact Collegiate Gateway. We’re always happy to help!

Recent College Board Changes

Last weekend, the College Board introduced a totally revamped SAT.  The major changes include:

  • Return to two sections instead of three sections: (a) evidence-based reading and writing; and (b) math
  • Return to maximum score of 1600 instead of 2400
  • Words in context instead of esoteric vocabulary
  • No penalty for wrong answers
  • Optional essay (though highly recommended)
  • Free online test prep through College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy
Along with this redesign (effective March 2016), the College Board has announced several changes that may be relevant to your future testing plans.
  1. Effective summer 2017, an August test date will replace the January test date. The College Board will offer a new test date in August 2017, and will remove the test date in January 2018; as such, there will continue to be seven SATs each year, and the March test date will not offer Subject Tests (as at present). The new schedule will be as follows:

March (no Subject Tests)


  1. Effective May 2016, the College Board will make 3-4 official tests available through Khan Academy at no extra charge, as soon as scores are released. Presently, the College Board has made test booklets available through the QAS (Question-and-Answer) service. It is not clear whether the QAS service will continue.


  1. There will be delays in score reporting for at least the first three new SAT administrations in 2016. Scores from the March 5th SAT will be available mid-May, scores from the May 7th SAT will be available mid-June, and scores from the June 4th SAT will be available mid-July. Previously, scores were available online 19 days from the test date.

The landscape of standardized testing evolves continually and, in the case of this new SAT, significantly: test experts continue to weigh the impact of the test’s increased emphasis on reading comprehension. In a recent NYT article, Jed Appelrouth, founder of  a national tutoring service, estimated that the new math test was “50 percent reading comprehension.” In a separate  blog post, he added that “students will need to learn how to wade through all the language to isolate the math.”

Follow us in order to keep on top of updates in all areas of college admissions!

What You Need to Know About Test Score Delays

Nearly every year, the college admissions process suffers some sort of hiccup. Two years ago, the Common App crashed in a spectacularly disastrous manner, and this year, the ACT and College Board seem to be following suit: both have announced significant delays in score reporting, leading to a fair amount of frustration and anxiety among students and parents.

As with the Common App, it’s important to understand the situation, and of course remain calm. Here’s what you need to know.

College Board Delays Rush SAT Score

Last Thursday, the College Board sent an email informing test takers that, due to an unexpectedly high volume of requests, SAT score report orders placed on or after October 15 would be delayed. As a result, it is likely that these reports will not reach colleges in time by November 1st early action and early decision deadlines.

Understandably, the news left many college applicants frustrated, and others fearing that the delay may negatively impact their admissions chances.

According to the College Board, the organization is working to deliver score reports as quickly as possible, and has notified colleges of the situation:

“We are reaching out to colleges with early action/early decision deadlines of Nov. 1 to make them aware of the situation, and we are encouraging them be flexible should scores arrive late.”

It remains to be seen, however, how flexible colleges may or may not be. As a result, applicants should self-report their scores to their colleges as soon as available.

Major Delays in Obtaining September and October ACT Scores

Similarly, the ACT organization announced last week that there would be a delay in processing scores from the September and October test administrations due to the high volume and test takers, and enhancements to the writing portion. This is doubly frustrating for students, given that colleges won’t accept the ACT scores without the writing component.

The result, again, is that many students fear missing early decision deadlines. Steve Kappler, vice president of brand experience for ACT, has tried to explain the situation, though his answer, reportedly, has not been particularly comforting to test takers or colleges.

“We understand that some students may be facing important application deadlines. Students who took the ACT with writing may view their multiple-choice scores…on the ACT student website. Official score reports, however, cannot be sent to students, high schools or colleges until the writing test scoring is complete.”

Because deadlines are nearing, the ACT has urged colleges to accept screenshots of students multiple-choice scores as a provisional measure until official scores are sent. Additionally, students are urged to send colleges a copy of the email they receive from ACT (along with a screenshot of their multiple-choice test scores), in order to verify that they are among the students affected by this issue; and to self-report the October scores as soon as they become available.

Response of Colleges

The response of colleges has varied. Many colleges have assured students that the delays will not impact a full read of their application, while others have been less accommodating.

Columbia University stated:

“If you are an Early Decision applicant and your ACT scores from the September or October testing date have been delayed, we will accept a screenshot of your results. Official scores are required once they become available.”

Similarly, University of Pennsylvania encouraged applicants to submit their applications, self-report scores, and submit official score reports as soon as they become available, adding that “provided that your official scores reach us by the end of November, we will be able to consider them for Early Decision.”

MIT has simply said, “We will wait for your October and November test results.”

But other colleges are not extending themselves to accommodate the delays. For instance, Boston College states:

“While we will make every effort to include October ACT results in our evaluation of Early Action applications, it is unlikely that they will arrive in time to be considered. Students should designate Boston College as a recipient of these results on or before the day they take the exam to ensure swiftest possible delivery to the Office of Undergraduate Admission.”

On Friday, October 30, 2015, Yale University sent applicants the following email…and a few life tips at the end (emphasis ours):

“If you took the September ACT, Yale should receive your scores in time for Early Action consideration. Similarly, if you placed an SAT score report order on or after October 14, Yale should receive your scores in time for Early Action consideration. Do not worry if your scores do not arrive by November 1. Scores that are received by the first week in December will arrive in time for Early Action consideration and will be considered without prejudice.

Please understand that we cannot guarantee that we will receive October results in time to be considered in the Early Action admissions process.

Plan ahead! You do not need to wait to take the tests on the very last eligible date. 

What Should You Do?

Stay calm during this frustrating time! Stay informed about the policies of your colleges by going onto their websites for updates, and following them on Twitter and Facebook. If your college will not accommodate the late reporting of test scores, and you feel you will be disadvantaged by not including these recent scores, then consider delaying your application until regular decision.

As this situation develops, more questions are almost certain to arise. For more guidance and information, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

Ask the Experts: Should I Take the New SAT?

The redesigned SAT will debut in the spring of 2016. As a result, many current sophomores must decide whether to prep early and take the old SAT before the change, wait and take the new version of the SAT, or avoid the SAT altogether and focus on the ACT.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. There are many different types of students and test-takers, and we hope that by asking the right questions, we can provide you with the proper tools to make an informed decision.

Collegiate Gateway has asked several of New York’s top test prep tutors for their insight and advice. The following people graciously responded to our questions:

  • Jed Applerouth, founder of Applerouth, with offices in New York, DC, LA, Atlanta, Seattle, Savannah, Chicago
  • Peter Baum, test prep tutor in Manhattan and San Francisco
  • Alex Freedman, Advantage Testing Director of Connecticut office and senior tutor in Manhattan; Advantage has 16 offices throughout the US, and an office in Paris
  • Lisa Jacobsen, Founder and CEO of Inspirica, with offices in New York, Boston and Philadelphia
  • Phyllis Jencius, test prep tutor on Long Island
  • Bill Ma, test prep tutor on Long Island, author of CliffNotes SAT CramPlan, CliffNotes ACT CramPlan, CliffNotes GMAT CramPlan, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus AB, 5 Steps to a 5 AP Calculus BC
  • Frank Pomilla, president and founder of Test-Takers, with 11 offices throughout the Greater New York area.

Here’s what they had to say!

Do you have general suggestions for current sophomores concerning which of the tests to take: old SAT, new SAT, or ACT? 

Expert Consensus: Many of our experts are avoiding the new SAT, instead recommending that students take the current SAT in the fall or early winter of their junior year, or simply focus on the ACT. However, some experts disagree and feel that the redesigned SAT is a viable option, especially for high achieving students.

Jacobsen: Sit for diagnostics (preferably right after school ends this year) in both the current SAT and ACT. See which test yields a better score and/or shows more promise for improvement. If there is a better feel for the ACT or the ACT yields a significantly better score – problem solved! No need to worry about the redesigned SAT (or it could be considered later when we have more information about it). Student could sit for the ACT as 11th graders normally would in February, April or June of 2016. If there is a better feel for the current SAT or the current SAT yields a significantly better score, then consider an accelerated preparatory program for this test.  Current SAT prep would begin ideally over the summer before 11th grade and into the fall. Students could then sit for the SAT on a few of the fall/winter test dates: October, November, December – the last one being in January of 2016.

Freedman: Rather than speculate, students should take multiple diagnostics for both the ACT and the new SAT in simulated conditions. Some good news is that there will now be substantially more overlapping content on both tests. By early 2016, practice test results should make clear to both student and tutor which test is best for the student. For this reason, we respectfully disagree with those who suggest that students should avoid the new SAT altogether in favor of the ACT. Certain students will be better suited to take the new SAT; it makes no sense for these students to take a test for which they are less naturally inclined simply for fear of the unknown. Students who are ready to work hard will have ample time and materials to excel on this test.

In most circumstances, we would not advise current sophomores to plan to take the old SAT because the opportunities for repeat testing will be so limited and they would be placing a great deal of weight on a single test outcome. However, a student who is very advanced, has a robust vocabulary, and is performing exceptionally well on simulated practice tests could be poised to excel on the old SAT on or before January 2015.

Applerouth: Figure out by the beginning of summer whether you are better suited for the current SAT or the ACT. You can use the sophomore PSAT as a proxy for the current SAT, or simply take a practice SAT. To establish a baseline score on the ACT, take a practice test. Students should use official, calibrated materials to yield the most accurate baseline score.  Compare the scores and make a decision based on the relative percentiles.

Baum: Of course, every student’s needs are different, but I’m generally shying away from the new SAT in the short-term. The SAT people are still working out the kinks on how the test works, and I don’t see a compelling reason to make my students guinea pigs for the new test. I’m recommending to higher-scoring kids that they plan to take the old SAT twice by January of their junior year. For kids who may need more development time, they can take the April and/or June ACT. Outside of New York, the February ACT is an option as well.

Pomilla: Our stance is evolving, but it seems to make sense to get an early jump on the SAT, while it’s still in its familiar format, since our experience has shown that the current SAT is the most coachable exam for the greatest number of students. (The ACT’s emphasis on speed is a hard hurdle for some students to overcome, even with coaching.) This means starting SAT preparation in the summer between sophomore and junior years, or in the early fall by latest.  In sum, then, my advice to the class of 2017: Prep early for the SAT to take advantage of the current format. If needed—and only if needed!—take the ACT or redesigned SAT later in the year; there will be some, but not total, carryover of the prep you’ve already done for the current SAT.

Jencius: If current sophomores are strong in the critical reading, math, and writing skills sections as demonstrated by the 2014 PSAT they have taken, I would encourage them to prepare this year and the beginning of next and take the current format of the SAT in December/January. By doing so, they also allow themselves time to consider the ACT, which I would recommend taking in April/June 2016.   

Ma: The new test is supposed to be very different. The problem is that the College Board released only 48 sample math questions about a month and a half ago, but not a full test, which will have 58 questions.  They are still doing research on what the new test should be and haven’t settled on a final version of what it looks like. For that reason alone, I tell the 10th graders that we don’t have all the information, so they are better off focusing on the ACT, or if they really want to take the SAT, should focus on the old SAT.

How would you compare the current SAT, new SAT and ACT?  Do you think the new SAT is truly intended to align more with Common Core or to be more similar to the ACT?

Expert Consensus:  Most of our experts agree that the new SAT is steeped in Common Core and is intended to compete with the format of the ACT. They mention that while the new SAT looks harder, the ACT has already become more difficult in order to compete with the format of the new SAT. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether or not a Common Core foundation will affect most students’ scores.

Jacobsen: Well, the short answer is that the new SAT will do both. The College Board has taken on the difficult task of aligning itself to the Common Core, while at the same time, distinguishing itself from the ACT, which has been traditionally cited as being more aligned to the Common Core. Quite a quandary! The redesigned SAT appears to show many more similarities to the ACT – the new SAT writing section, in fact, appears almost identical to the current ACT English section. What’s more, the redesigned SAT will include those math topics that are currently on the ACT and lacking on the current SAT. At the same time, though, the redesigned SAT will be even more steeped in the CCSS, evaluating deeper concepts and offering greater challenges than even the ACT.

Students who attend schools that are aligned to CCSS will be at least a little more comfortable with the material. The problem is that the Common Core Standards are not universally in place throughout the country, and thus huge pockets of students would have greater difficulty with this new material.

Ma:  Some of the questions of the new SAT will be very similar to the ACT. The College Board wants the questions to have real-life applications. For instance, on the current SAT, numbers divide comfortably, but in the new test, answers will have lots of decimals to duplicate real-life. Instead of a perfect line, they will have a “line of best-fit.” With the current SAT, you have to know how to manipulate algebra and recognize some tricks that don’t have to do with everyday math. Although the new SAT will have four more math questions than the current SAT (58 vs. 54), the new test will have only two math sections, one with a calculator and one without a calculator, whereas students can use a calculator in all three sections of the current SAT. Bright kids will do well on either test, but the training is different.  Also, the new SAT test looks harder, but there will be only four answer choices instead of five and no penalty for wrong answers [like the ACT], which will raise the score.

Pomilla: The redesigned SAT is deliberately aligned more with the Common Core than the ACT (but the ACT was more aligned to high school curricula than the current format, as the current SAT was deliberately designed to be largely curriculum-free, in College Board’s own phrasing). The new head of College Board is one of the architects of the Common Core (for better or worse!). The College Board is using the new SAT’s alignment with Common Core as a selling point. So, yes the redesigned SAT will be most aligned with Common Core, followed by the ACT, and trailing both is the current-format SAT. But, interestingly, this makes little difference in most kids’ scores.

Based on your experience, what kinds of students tend to do better on the ACT vs. the current SAT?

Expert Consensus:  The consensus among our experts is that students who prefer academic achievement tests, excel in math and science, and who don’t have issues with time during standardized testing tend to prefer the ACT.

Freedman: Students who are particularly strong in the sciences tend to enjoy the Science section of the ACT (likewise, students who have a phobia for all things science-related tend to be easily rattled by it). Also, some students prefer the more “academic feel” of the ACT as opposed to the multistage problem solving and test-specific approaches required for certain question types on the SAT.

Jacobsen: The ACT has usually proven to be the better choice for students who are more comfortable on the math/science end and who don’t usually struggle with time issues on standardized tests. The ACT has traditionally been labeled an “achievement” test, so good grades in school usually translate well on the ACT. The current SAT has been more of a “reasoning” test – good for students who can think on their feet. The format of the test also allows for a bit more time per question, and is generally preferred by students who have time issues on standardized tests. And, of course, the current SAT has those classic “SAT words.”

Who should consider taking the new SAT?

Expert Consensus:  There is a consensus among our experts that high-performing students will continue to do well on the redesigned SAT, but they may have to train for it in new and different ways. There is some disagreement, however, as to whether those students should take the new SAT over any of the others.

Applerouth: Academically superior students should do very well.  Students who will be well suited for the new SAT will excel at critical thinking, advanced math, and reading and comprehending advanced texts. Due to this skill set, these students will likely also do well on the current SAT and ACT. Based on the problems that have been released to date by the College Board, the new SAT appears to be the most rigorous assessment of the three; therefore, students ready for the hardest test will likely fare well on either of the current assessments. 

Freedman: Strong math students will not be intimidated by the more difficult math they will encounter on the new SAT. And voracious readers who are well versed in widely circulated newspapers and general interest magazines should be in a good position to do well on the new reading passages that will be drawn from diverse nonfiction subjects and include informational graphics.

Jencius: For students who feel “rushed” in preparing to take SATs early in their junior year, I would advise them to begin getting used to the new format.  There are materials that are becoming available and sample questions of redesigned format PSAT/SAT already online. Another valuable indicator of whether to prepare for the reformatted SAT will be the results of the new PSAT they will take in their junior year. This will serve as a rough barometer in determining if the new SAT test is right for them. Because the new SAT seeks to align itself with core curriculum, students should make a conscious effort to familiarize themselves with content area vocabulary, including math and science terminology. When examining course material, they should look beyond what may be the correct response and be prepared to justify why a particular answer is such. This is a particularly good practice because it fosters critical analysis and a deeper appreciation of text, skills inherent in performing well in high school, college, and beyond.

What’s your understanding of how the College Board will curve the first few new SATs?

Expert Consensus:  All of our experts believe that there is major uncertainty in knowing how the new SAT test will be curved, and when the test scores will be released. There is disagreement, however, as to whether or not this should be a factor in deciding to take the test.

Freedman: Our expectation is that the College Board will apply the same kind of scoring scale on the new SAT that it has on previous tests—a bell curve with standard deviations based on the number of test takers and the distribution of raw scores. There’s nothing tricky about this method of scoring, and there hasn’t been any suggestion that the Board will arbitrarily “curve up” the scores of the first few tests to allow for an easier transition.

A related point: I don’t think it makes any sense to try to anticipate how strong the pool of test takers will be for the new SAT and to plan a testing strategy around such speculation. For instance, one might think that many students will be unprepared for the new SAT, and so there might be a better chance to score well on the curve. But you could just as well argue that many students will be scared to take the first test and that those who take the new SAT will be especially well prepared. The truth is that no one knows how many people are going to take the new SAT in those first few administrations, and rather than worry about what other people are doing, students should focus on their own preparation.

Applerouth: A major wrinkle with the new SAT is that the test grading and score give back will be delayed for the March and May 2016 test administrations, allowing the College Board to norm the new tests and establish the new testing curve. With that critical delay of performance feedback for our students, I am less excited about the new SAT.

What role does the PSAT play in this new testing landscape?

Expert Consensus: The experts believe that significant PSAT prep is mostly relevant for students pursuing a National Merit Scholarship. For those students, however, the prep that they’ll do for the new PSAT may position them well to succeed on the new SAT.

Pomilla: For most students, the PSAT merely serves as a dry run for the test that matters to colleges, the SAT (or ACT). Those students should not fret about preparing seriously for an exam that is just practice.

For very high scorers (top 3% or so), though, the PSAT does carry significance as the qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship competition—a program that can result in a prestigious honor or even a scholarship. If your academic profile suggests you might be in line for National Merit recognition, my suggestion is to split the difference; spend a modest amount of time prepping for the PSAT, with the understanding that this year it might be only moderately useful in preparing you for the SAT.

Baum: If you’re focused on attaining a National Merit Scholarship, you’ll need to do significant preparation for the PSAT. Because that preparation will translate to the material on the new SAT, students going this route may want to consider taking the new test.

Resources for finding more information about the new SAT

If you are looking for an in-depth look at how to prepare for the new SAT, please check out the College Board’s website for practice questions and a detailed explanation of the differences between the new SAT, current SAT, and ACT.

Making these testing decisions can seem daunting when there is an unknown test involved, but hopefully these opinions will help you to begin your journey in finding your best-fit college. If you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help!

The MCAT2015 is Coming – Will You Be Ready?

The Association of American Medical Colleges, or AAMC, will officially launch a new version of the MCAT, called the MCAT2015, next spring, with the first exam scheduled for April 17th, 2015. The test has been changed for the first time since 1991, and AAMC is calling it “a better test for tomorrow’s doctors.” It was designed “to help better prepare tomorrow’s doctors for the rapidly advancing and transforming health care system.”

New Structure of the MCAT2015

The MCAT2015 is changing in a major way. Most notably, it’s going to almost double in length. The MCAT2015  will include 230 questions over 6 hours and 15 minutes versus the current 144 questions in 3 hours and 20 minute. Because of this, the new test will require a lot more stamina and focus of its test takers.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.17 PM

The MCAT2015 will also include different types of questions.  The first three sections are organized around “big ideas” in the sciences. According to the AAMC, these sections “reflect current research about the most effective ways for students to learn and use science, emphasizing deep knowledge of the most important scientific concepts over knowledge simply of many discrete facts.”

Here is a sample question from the MCAT2015 from the section, “Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems.” It focuses on reasoning about scientific theories and models.

 The radius of the aorta is about 1.0 cm and blood passes through it at a velocity of 30 cm/s. A typical capillary has a radius of about 4 10-4 cm with blood passing through at a velocity of 5 10-2 cm/s. Using this data, what is approximate number of capillaries in a human body?

A.    1   104

B.    2   107

C.    4    109

D.    7   1012

The new sections will also test additional skills, including research design, graphical analysis and data interpretation. Kaplan claims that the “passages will be restructured to test all of the natural sciences within biological systems,” giving the test a more medical focus by showing the application of the sciences to medicine.

The following visual, from Kaplan Test Prep, illustrates the structural and content changes between the two tests.

 Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.03.52 PM 

The US News blog, “Medical School Admissions Doctor,” is estimating that the vast amount of information covered on the MCAT2015 requires “a year of biology, a semester of biochemistry, a year of chemistry, a year of physics, a year of organic chemistry, a semester of psychology, a semester of sociology, and a recommended year of humanities – several requirements above the standard medical school prerequisites.”

Score Scale

Each of the four sections will be scored individually, from a low of 118 to a high of 132, with a midpoint of 125. Scores are combined to create a total score ranging from 472 to 528, with a midpoint of 500. The new score reports will provide details on your test performance. “The AAMC envisions a score report that will bring together MCAT scores, percentile ranks, confidence bands, and score profiles in a way that highlights applicants’ strengths and weaknesses.” The MCAT Score Report Prototype released by the AAMC illustrates each of these aspects of scoring on a sample score report.

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 8.04.36 PM

Percentile ranks are included so examinees can compare their performance to others who took the new exam. Confidence bands show the ranges of scores an examinee could expect on another MCAT attempt. Score profiles provide information about applicants’ strengths and weaknesses across the four sections of the exam.

Should You Take the Old, or Wait for the New?

Some students are wondering if they should hurry to take the MCAT before the change. “The Medical School Admissions Doctor” reminds potential applicants that the current MCAT still requires a solid college-level background. The blog recommends that students who “can get two semesters each of biology, chemistry, physics, and organic chemistry all done before January 2015” might benefit from taking the current MCAT before it is removed from testing options after January.

Just because the MCAT2015 will propose new challenges, doesn’t mean you should rush to take the current exam before you’re ready. Bonnie Miller, senior dean associate for health sciences at Vanderbilt University advises her students to wait before taking the MCAT. “Honestly, I think you’re better off taking an exam that you’ve had a while to prepare for,” she says. Since most medical schools accept scores from two to three years ago, many students will be able to keep their options open when it comes to choosing what scores to use.

No matter which test you take or when, be prepared!   And if you have any questions, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.


Update: The New SAT

At this week’s annual conference of NACAC (National Association of College Admissions Counselors), Collegiate Gateway had the opportunity to speak directly with the staff of the College Board about plans for the new PSAT and SAT testing, to be implemented in 2015-2016. Upcoming changes were described as “evolutionary, not revolutionary.” Overall, the tests will be more context-based: both vocabulary and math problems will be viewed within a context and not presented in an abstract way.  Here’s the latest on the new PSAT and SAT.


Below is a chart of the launch date for the new PSAT and SAT, as well as when practice tests will be available.  The new PSAT and new SAT will have the same content, except that the SAT will have an optional essay.  In March 2015, the College Board is expected to post an online full-length practice PSAT, written by both Khan and the College Board.




PSAT October 2015 March 2015
SAT Spring 2016 (probably March) May 2015



The College Board identified the following features in their new approach to testing:

  • Relevant words in context: The tests will no longer include obscure words, but rather everyday words with meanings that are influenced by context.
  • Command of evidence. Students will be asked to demonstrate understanding of the evidence the authors of documents used to support his/her claim.
  • Focus on “math that matters most.” Three mathematical areas will be tested: algebra, problem-solving and data analysis, and higher-level math (including trigonometry, pre-calculus and statistics).
  • Problems grounded in real-world contexts. For example, math problems may relate to science applications, such as interpreting a chart on bacteria growth.
  • Analysis in science and social studies. Throughout the math, reading and writing questions, applications to science and social studies will be integrated. While there will not be a separate section for science (as in the ACT) or social studies, there will be a new score called “Insight,” to measure students’ grasp of the social sciences.
  • Founding documents and great global conversation. Every exam will have at least one example of a significant historical document, such as the Constitution. Students will be asked questions that require contextual understanding. For example, in the Gettysburg address, Lincoln uses the word “dedicated” seven times; students could be asked about the different meanings of the word, based on context.
  • Essay analyzing a source: optional section. Colleges continue to consider primarily the Critical Reading and Mathematics sections of the SAT; the Writing section (which includes the essay) has never caught on as an accepted portion of the SAT.  The College Board is now making the essay optional (similar to the ACT), though some colleges will require it. The prompt itself will not change, and will be available on the website  Instead, the source material (passage) will change, and  students will be asked to identify how the author supports the thesis.  Students’ own opinions will no longer be involved.
  • No penalty for wrong answers.  The SAT has previously had a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers; the new test will not. Correct answers will receive 1 point; incorrect or omitted answers will receive 0 points, similar to the ACT approach to scoring. The goal is lessen the importance of test-taking and guessing strategies..

Though some colleges are becoming test-optional, standardized testing is still considered the third most important factor in college admissions, after grades and rigor of curriculum.  Colleges vary in their testing requirements, as well as what they consider competitive test scores for admission – sorting through it all can get complicated. If you need any help, contact Collegiate Gateway – we’re always happy to help.

More B-Schools Accept the GRE

An increasing number of MBA programs are allowing applicants to submit scores from the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), rather than the GMAT. Today, over 800 MBA programs around the world permit applicants accept the test, including Harvard, Wharton, and Stern.

This trend comes in the wake of changes in the GRE to align more with the rigor of the GMAT.  In August of 2011, the ETS (Educational Testing Service) revamped the GRE, expanding the test from three to four hours and incorporating new types of questions in the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections. In the verbal reasoning section, antonyms and analogies were entirely removed, and text completion and sentence equivalent questions were included. In addition, more reading comprehension questions were added, with multiple-choice questions in which several answers are correct. The quantitative reasoning section was also changed to place greater emphasis on data interpretation and real-life scenarios.

According to the ETS website, institutions benefit from accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT because it provides an “even bigger, more diversified pool of highly qualified applicants.” Furthermore, GRE test takers come from a variety of backgrounds in terms of nationality, ethnicity, gender, age, and undergraduate major. In a 2012 interview with US News, Nikhil Varaiya, director of graduate programs at San Diego State University, states that  “[Universities] are seeking MBAs who have science and engineering backgrounds, disciplines in which students have traditionally taken the GRE for admission to graduate programs.”

Some test takers find the GRE more practical because it is offered at more locations than any other graduate admissions test and is more affordable, according to ETS. The GRE is also generally considered to be an easier test. Business Because, an online community for those interested in business school, recommends taking the GRE instead of the GMAT, as it places less emphasis on grammar and logical arguments and the math is easier. In addition, it does not have the newly added GMAT section of Integrated Reasoning, which combines all the difficult parts of the Verbal section with quantitative analysis and data interpretation. There is also the added bonus of having more options for graduate school in case an applicant should decide to apply or attend a non-MBA graduate program, either in addition or in place of business school.

However, the drawback for some test takers is that the GRE places a heavy emphasis on vocabulary and requires two essays instead of one.

Regardless of which test applicants take, it is important to remember that the GRE or GMAT is just one data point in the portfolio of an applicant. When looking for the next group of MBAs, applicants are considered based on a wide variety of criteria, including their leadership and work experience.

For more information on MBA admissions, contact Collegiate Gateway. As always, we’re happy to help.