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What Parents Don’t Know about College Admissions Testing

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College entrance exams can be intimidating for students and parents alike.  The tests and admissions environment have changed a lot since parents took their own exams, leaving them feeling a little bewildered.

Here are a few key things parents should know to successfully navigate college entrance exams.

Students can take either the SAT or the ACT.  Many parents grew up with the SAT only, and feel a little uncomfortable about their students taking the ACT.  However, both tests are accepted equally by all 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S.   While the tests cover the same material at the highest level, they have very different approaches in how they assess students and how the tests are constructed.  Because of this, sometimes one test will “fit” a student much better than the other one. Selecting the right test can give students a great head start.  However…

Beware the mini-diagnostic for SAT vs. ACT!  Many area schools (and online test prep companies) offer a “mini-diagnostic”, a 20-60 minute test that is supposed to tell students which test is better for them, the SAT or the ACT.   Unfortunately, taking shortcuts here doesn’t provide benefit in the long run.   Main Line test prep service, Crimson Review recommends that students looking to maximize their test scores take full-length versions of each test and compare the results to determine which test is best, for them.

Super scoring is super!  Whether they admit it or not, schools have been influenced incredibly over the last 30 years by the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Super scoring allows colleges to boost incoming class test scores by mixing and matching a student’s best scores on each section, over multiple tests.  Super scoring is a policy that most colleges have adopted for admissions evaluation.  For example, if a student takes an SAT in March and gets a 600 reading/writing, 700 math, 1300 total; and then takes another test in May and gets 700 reading/writing, 600 math, 1300 total; schools will take the two 700 scores and give the student credit for 1400!  To take full advantage of this opportunity, many students will want to take the test more than once.

Is test optional too good to be true?  With more schools going to test-optional policies, could this mean the end of standardized testing?  Not likely. Research shows that the most predictive factor for success in college is the student’s high school GPA combined with their standardized test score.  Schools follow this research of course, so why are more and more dropping the test score requirement?  The stated reason is often to increase “diversity” – the thinking being that standardized tests are biased against some students, so schools are missing out on potential good applicants.  Schools do seem to show a slight boost in minority students under the new policy (going from say, 14% to 16%).  However, the more common result is for average test scores for the college going up, because lower-scoring students just won’t submit scores, while higher scoring students continue to do so!

The best way for a student to prepare for the test.  Parents can help their students lower anxiety and perform their best by putting together a plan to prep for the SAT or ACT in sophomore or junior year.  The first step is to determine which test is better for the student.  From there, students should look at the middle 50% scores for schools they are interested in.  If they haven’t begun to narrow down to a specific list of schools, they should look up a number of schools the might be interested in, just to get a sense of where they stand in terms of GPA and test scores (sophomore year PSAT scores can be used as general guidance for a student’s level).  In all these cases, the next step should be to look at potential test dates and assess whether test prep would be beneficial.

Can a student really raise their scores?  Yes.  Almost every student has the capacity to raise their scores substantially and open up a whole new range of schools.  These tests assess students on a very well-defined, specific set of skills.  Students can learn those skills, just like any other skill!

At Crimson Review, we’ve been helping students learn these skills for more than 34 years, and have helped thousands of students reach their goals.  We provide full-length SAT vs. ACT assessments, honest advice on what students can hope to achieve on the tests, and a safe, low-pressure environment for students to learn in.  We’re happy to talk through these questions and any others you may have, call us today at 610.688.6441 to learn more.



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