Tag Archives: ACT

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.

 

COLLEGES THAT REQUIRE THE SAT OR ACT ESSAY
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
UCLA
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

OUR RECOMMENDATION

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 www.collegiategateway.com. As always, we’re happy to help!

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 www.collegiategateway.com. 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

Register

July 28, 2017

August 8, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

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

October 7, 2017

Register

September 8, 2017

September 19, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

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

November 4, 2017

Register

October 5, 2017

October 17, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

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

December 2, 2017

Register

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?

FairTest.org 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.”

Fairness

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!

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 State Of Standardized Testing

Taking and preparing for college entrance exams has perhaps never been so confusing! In addition to studying, students must now decide which tests to take – the SAT, ACT and/or Subject Tests – and navigate the ever-changing and variable testing requirements of the colleges to which they are applying. The process is made even more complex by the growing number of “test-optional” schools that may not require any test scores at all. However, most schools – especially those ranking among the most selective – still require students to take either the SAT or the ACT. And while there’s a lot of rumor and speculation about which test is easier, harder, or more impressive to admissions officers, the truth is that determining which test is right for you involves understanding the differences between the tests, as well as your own test-taking strengths and weaknesses.

ACT Overtakes the SAT

At this point in college admissions, schools do not favor one test over the other, nor do they consider one to be easier than the other. While it used to be that students from the East and West coasts took the SAT, and students from the Midwest took the ACT, that divide has narrowed significantly, and in 2011 the ACT surpassed the SAT as the most popular, or most commonly taken test throughout the country.

Differences Between the SAT and ACT

It is beneficial to note that there are substantial differences between the two tests. Firstly, the ACT is by design an achievement test, drawing from core curriculum standards in order to measure what a student has learned in school. The SAT, on the other hand, was originally modeled after IQ tests, and is designed to measure a student’s aptitude for reasoning and verbal abilities. As a result, the ACT is often regarded as concrete and straightforward, while the SAT is more abstract. This is somewhat reflected in the differences of the test formats themselves. The ACT has four components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has three: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and Writing (which includes a required essay). However, many of these differences may narrow in the coming years, as the College Board announced earlier this year that it will be making changes to the SAT, in order to measure a “core set of knowledge and skills” that students need to succeed in college.

Because of these differences, and individual variations among students, there is no test that is universally recommended for every individual. Some students will prefer the ACT, for instance, because it doesn’t contain obscure vocabulary or particularly difficult reading passages, whereas the SAT reading section is loaded with tricky questions and difficult vocabulary. At the same time, acing the ACT will require you to speed through the test. For example, students are given 35 minutes to answer 40 questions in the reading section, while the SAT gives students 70 minutes to answer 54 reading questions.

Score reporting is another area in which the tests differ. Both the ACT (act.org) and College Board, which administers the SAT, Subject Tests and AP exams (collegeboard.com) allow students to choose which individual tests to submit to prospective colleges. However, the policies of individual colleges differ, and some will require that students submit all the SATs that they’ve taken. Another issue to consider is whether each college will “super-score” the standardized test scores, meaning that they will consider only a student’s best score on each section, from different test dates. Most colleges super-score the SAT, but not the ACT.  A few exceptions of colleges that super-score the ACT include Amherst, Williams, Cornell and NYU.

Test-Optional Colleges

A growing number of colleges have a “test-optional” policy, in which students are not required to submit the SAT or ACT.  These 800 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 the GPA.  Current Test-Optional colleges include Wake Forest, Smith, and Bowdoin. Many 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.

Which Test is Right for You?

Determining the right testing option for you 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, contact Collegiate Gateway at www.collegiategateway.com.

The End of the SAT? The Trend Toward Test Optional

More and more colleges are moving away from traditional standardized testing options. Over 800 colleges and universities across the country no longer require that students submit SAT or ACT scores in order to be considered for admission, according to a recent survey by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or simply, FairTest (a long-time critic of the SAT).

And while the majority of these schools are technical, art, and religious institutions, more than three dozen are selective, even top tier liberal arts colleges, such as Wake Forest, Smith, and Bowdoin. Many 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.

Arguments Against Standardized Testing

Supporters of the trend offer a number of compelling arguments against the examinations, claiming that standardized tests are incomplete measures of a student’s abilities, and a flawed predictor of how well a student will fare once in college, especially when compared to the four years of academic achievement reflected on their transcripts. Others claim that the exams favor wealthier families who can afford tutors and test prep, while minority students tend not to score as high. According to FairTest’s Public Education Director, Bob Schaeffer, “We expect the ACT/SAT optional list to continue growing as more institutions recognize that the tests remain biased, coachable, educationally damaging and irrelevant to sound admissions practices.”  In fact, Wake Forest has found that, since becoming test optional, it has further increased the diversity of its applicants.

Critics of the Test-Optional Movement

Some critics, however, see more cynical motivations at play. Admissions are more competitive than ever, and not only for applicants. Colleges and Universities compete fiercely to attract the talented and diverse students, and becoming test optional is a proven way to increase applications.  The more applications a college receives, the lower the acceptance rate, the higher the reported “selectivity,” and the higher the U.S. News rankings.  In addition, lower-scoring applicants are less likely to report their scores, which could lead to falsely inflated test averages.

How does this Impact You?

For college applicants, the trend toward test optional should be carefully considered. Whether you choose to report scores will depend upon the selectivity of your colleges and their specific policies, as well as your individual qualifications. Consult a college counselor to determine the best approach for you!