Testing Tips

Which college entrance exam should I take? This is one of the most commonly asked questions of any college bound student. The following tips will help guide students in planning their testing strategies.

In grade ten, all college bound students should take the PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test). This will give students practice in taking the examination and let them know what to expect on the test they will take in the eleventh and twelfth grades. It is a good exercise in taking a timed test and gives exposure to the types of questions asked in the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). In addition, the PSAT can lend credibility to what teachers are teaching and how they are teaching it. These scores are not used by any college for admission purposes. In fact, the only way a college could see the scores is if a high school transcript shows them when a student applies for college. There is a penalty for incorrect responses so students are encouraged not to guess just to have a response.

Students in grade 11 should take the PSAT again in October of their junior year. Scores on this test enter students into the National Merit Scholarship program. Many companies that give financial aid to children of employees use the PSAT scores as one of the factors in determining the aid given to students. Moreover, these scores have validity in predicting the scores on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), and taking the test is good practice for taking college entrance examinations.

In grade eleven, students should also take the SAT. The SAT is just what it says it is - a scholastic aptitude test  - and does not measure achievement though many educators take exception to that statement. Generally, colleges use the highest total score on any one test. Therefore, students can take it as many times as they wish provided they have the time and resources to do so - and research shows that students scores generally improve the second time a test is taken, but no more thereafter. Since there is a penalty for incorrect responses on the SAT, students are encouraged only to make an educated guess.

Students in grade eleven should also take the ACT Assessment in the spring of their junior year. This is an achievement test that colleges accept as readily as the SAT, in fact, many colleges prefer it. The test has four parts: English, mathematics, science and social studies. Since this is an achievement test, it is normed to the grade the student is in when he/she takes the test. Therefore, since students begin to apply for college entrance in the fall of their senior year, it is wise for students to take it at the conclusion of the junior year when they have covered all the material for that year and will be compared to other eleventh grade students. Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for incorrect responses on the ACT, so students should complete every question.

All college bound students should take the ACT or SAT if they have not taken them their junior year. They can take them as many times as they feel they need to in order to achieve the highest possible scores. Students should make sure to schedule their test dates in time to meet the application deadlines of the colleges where they are applying. Those designated as National Merit Semi-Finalists from the PSAT exam will definitely want to take the SAT in the fall of their senior year to try to qualify as a Finalist.

It is suggested that all students take the SAT and ACT even if they do not plan to attend college immediately after graduation. They may go into the military or workforce, however, if they want to go to college later they will need the scores. Generally, students will score better while in school than several months or years after graduation.

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