AO Advice: When to Take My First Standardized Test

Are you confused by standardized testing? Not sure when to take your first test? or which test to take? Get the inside scoop on all things testing from a former Admissions Officer during this 60-minute webinar and Q&A session with

Former Admissions Officer Brian P will share his tips and tricks for taking the ACT and SAT. In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered including:

– When should I take my first standardized test?

– What are test optional schools?

-Should I take the SAT or the ACT?

– How many times can I test?

And more… Come ready to learn and bring your questions!

Date 01/16/2023
Duration 1:01:45

Webinar Transcription

2023-01-16 – AO Advice When to Take My First Standardized Test

Brian: [00:00:00] McKenzie, can you hear me?[00:01:00]

Brian, can you hear me now? I can hear you now. Sorry. Are we good? Are we live ? Yes. Sorry. Sorry about that everyone. Having some system issues here on my end, so apologies. I I think we’re good to go now. So, McKenzie, feel free to launch us.

McKenzie: Yes. Okay. We’re recording. Sorry my Wi-Fi went out too.

But hi everyone. Welcome to College Advisor’s webinar on admissions officer advice, when to take my first standardized test. I want to orient everyone with our webinar timing. We’ll start off with [00:02:00] the presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q&A on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the Q&A tab.

Also, I’m McKenzie, and I will be your moderator tonight. So if you have any tech issues, you can direct message me. Otherwise, leave all other questions for the Q&A section. But now let’s meet our panelist.

Brian: Hey, goodnight, good evening everyone. Hope everyone had a nice, uh, long weekend for those that, uh, you know, had today off.

Um, I certainly enjoyed it, so I’m excited to be speaking with you all tonight. Um, my name is Brian Poznanski. I’m an assistant, um, excuse me, a former admission officer at Boston University, and also a member of the College Advisor team. Um, I have been serving as an admission officer with College Advisor for the last 18 months or so.

Um, and I worked at Boston University as an assistant director on the board of admissions there for six years. Previously, having worked [00:03:00] for two years at a really small, uh, global arts college outside of Boston called Regis College. Um, and I’m also a proud BU alum having gotten my, uh, MBA there, um, in 2018, um, with a public and nonprofit concentration.

So excited to talk to you a little bit tonight, um, about standardized testing and, um, hopefully, uh, get some good questions answered.

McKenzie: Yes. And real quick, we’re just gonna do a poll to see where everyone is at. So what grade are you currently in? Uh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th or other. And other can be if you’re a transfer student or if you’re taking a gap year.

And if you’re a parent on call, you can select the, uh, year that your student is in. And while we wait for those, Brian, can you tell us in what grade are students allowed to start taking the SAT and ACT?

Brian: Yeah. Allowed. Um, you know, there’s really no specific age, you know, requirement. Um, as we’ll see, and we’re jumping ahead of here.

[00:04:00] Um, I really kind of think that, you know, your junior year is, is is the best time and, and when most people will start taking their test, um, whether that be the fall or the spring, I think the spring is the most common. That’s when I first sat for my SAT and ACT. Um, I do know some folks that start as early as their freshman or sophomore year.

Um, but it also kind of depends on, um, you know, where you are in your academic progression because there are gonna be some things that they test for on these tests, um, that you may or may not have covered in your academic subjects yet. So that’s why I tend to think that, uh, waiting until junior year is, is probably the best.

McKenzie: Yes. And you can really take it as young as, uh, seventh grade too. Um, I took it then first and then I didn’t take it until senior year, but, um, Brian, you can, uh, control the slides now.

Brian: Awesome. Thanks McKenzie. Cool. So, [00:05:00] um, I think that, um, you know, when we’re talking about, uh, standardized tests a lot of the first question that people have, rightfully so is, you know, what kind of impact, um, are they gonna have on your overall application?

Um, and before I actually, before I launch into, um, this particular slide, I just wanna say that, you know, in order to kind of talk about standardized tests and things of that nature, you know, we have to speak in kind of pretty gross generalization. So, um, the, the, the, the comments, the statements, um, the advice that I’m gonna give, I’ll admit right from the get go is not gonna apply to every single person on this webinar, and that’s okay.

Um, you know, the college admission process first and foremost is a very individual process, so I just wanna get that kind of out of the way. Um, we’re gonna have to kind of speak real, pretty generally. Um, and, and so that’s, uh, and, and also every school, um, college, uh, admission office looks [00:06:00] at, you know, applications a little bit differently as well.

But generally speaking, I think that, you know, most folks look at standardized testing as simply a part of, um, uh, the, the college application. And I think I accidentally clicked ahead. Um, one slide. So lemme go back to that first one. So generally speaking, it’s, it’s a factor used among many. Right? Um, you know, I talk about this in, in some of the other, uh, webinars I’ve done and kind of the idea of a holistic admission review.

And so standardized testing is a data point. Within that holistic review, you’re looking at a lot of different other things. You’re looking at your transcripts, you know, your, your, um, the courses that you’ve taken, the rigor of your curriculum, the grades of course that you’ve earned in those courses. Um, your essays, your extracurriculars, your recommendations.

Standardized testing is a data point of all of those things in the review of your [00:07:00] application. So, um, it is definitely not the only factor. Um, And emphasis. Um, you know, we, we look at the entire application when we’re reviewing applications in, in college admissions. Um, but it is definitely a factor and, you know, it can definitely play a role, um, both positively and negatively in your overall admission review.

Um, but I also like to always remember to tell folks, you know, a four hour test, um, is not gonna, is not the same as four hours. Or, excuse me, I just screwed up my own, my own saying. Uh, four years of academic work. Okay. Um, your high school transcript is still by and far, largely the most important piece of your college, um, application.

Um, I don’t. It’s even close, quite frankly. Um, you know, that has definitely weighted much more heavily than standardized testing, although, again, standardized testing, definitely a data point, um, in the review process. [00:08:00] So we already saw the slide real quick, but, um, you know, what type of tests are being evaluated?

Um, typically it’s the SAT or the ACT, um, for most colleges and universities. Um, most colleges, uh, do not have a preference between the two. They look at ’em the same. They have, you know, an ACT equivalency of a SAT, you know, SAT form. Um, you know, I’ve, I forget the exact conversion rate off the top of my head.

Um, but you know, uh, you know, basically we, you know, colleges we know if you, you submit an ACT, we know how to evaluate that. You submit an SAT, we know how to evaluate that as well. Um, If English is not your first language, most uh, colleges and schools will require some kind of English proficiency. TOEFL is the most common, but, um, you know, most schools will also accept IELTS or, um, the duolingo English proficiency test.

[00:09:00] Um, so there are a lot of different ways that you can, uh, demonstrate that. Some schools, um, you know, will have other measures of proving English pro proficiency, but many, uh, do require either that TOEFl or IELTS. Um, and then there are some schools that will look at your AP exam scores or IB scores, um, in the admission process, but, my most common experience with those type of exam scores is not an admission review, um, but rather for credit, once a student has already been admitted, is enrolling and they’re just looking to get, um, college credit for their AP exam score.

So, um, my experience was that I would not look at the exam score that you received on your AP, um, but rather the grade you earned in the course over the course of the year that you took it. So that’s my experience with those tests. But typically the SAT, [00:10:00] um, and or the ACT, um, are the exams that are gonna be, um, utilized in the review process.

Um, and so when we here, we get into recommended timeline. Again, this is kind of the Brian Poznanski approach um, to standardized testing is not a, you know, all, uh, you know, one size fits all by any stretch of the imagination. Um, but generally speaking, uh, folks are gonna be taking their PSAT, which is kind of a practice version of SAT in either 10th or 11th grade.

Um, one thing about the PSAT that is really great is that it can qualify you, um, in the National Merit, um, pool. And, uh, if you ultimately become a National Merit finalist, in many cases, that equal can equal some pretty significant scholarship money, um, at many colleges and universities. So, um, well, it kind of has that practice [00:11:00] connotation.

Um, it definitely can lead to, you know, um, serious impact in your college admission process. Um, and then I really tend to see that the SAT or ACT is again, taking for the first time. Most of the time you’re spring of 11th grade, um, you know, it’s offered, uh, multiple times over the course of the spring.

Um, so for those of you that are, uh, in your junior year, currently a really good time to, you know, start signing up for your tests if you haven’t done so already. Um, and then I often see, uh, folks take it for a second, maybe even a third time, um, in the fall going into their senior year. Um, a note about standardized testing in the fall, um, is that again, my experience with, uh, at the schools that I worked at, um, is that, uh, we would.

Standardized test scores to be submitted, uh, within the [00:12:00] same, uh, if they were taken within the same month of the application deadline. So in other words, if we were applying for November 1st, uh, early deadline, um, and you took a November test, we would still accept those scores for, um, you know, to be reviewed in your admission review.

Um, again, it’s one of those things where you, if you mark that you’re taking a November, maybe even a December test, um, on your application, a admission, uh, officer or someone reviewing your application would be able to see that and say, oh, okay. You know, Johnny, he’s, he’s got some tests coming. You know, he has this 1350 right now. Good score, but there’s a potential that it might even be better with that other test. We’ll hold on to making a final decision, um, until we see that, that final test, um, or maybe we’ll be able to superscore that test, um, which something we’re gonna talk about here, uh, in just a moment. Um, so should you [00:13:00] take the SAT or the ACT, I mean really it’s up to you is what it comes down to this is a very personal decision. Again, college admission process is a very personal process. They’re different tests. Um, they do, uh, they’re run by different companies. The ACT is run by the ACT and, and the SAT is run by CollegeBoard. Um, they do test students a little bit differently and they score a little bit differently.

Um, tend to see that most students do score a little bit differently on one versus the other. Um, doesn’t necessarily mean that one is harder than the other or easier than the other. Um, they’re just a little bit different in how they go about asking the questions. And again, what they test for. Um, a specific example is that the ACT includes a science portion.

Um, doesn’t mean that it’s known as like the science test. If you wanna major in science, that’s not really what that means. It’s just another section that they tend, they have included in their [00:14:00] evaluation process. If you have time, I do recommend trying both. Again, they test a little bit differently and you may do better than on one than the other.

I happened to have done, my equivalency was a little bit better on the ACT marginally better, but it was a little bit better. Um, and so, um, you know, for some that can be, uh, a better option. Some, you know, they, they only wanna stick with the SAT. Um, that’s fine too. Um, another thing about the SAT and the ACT is they do tend to have more availability in terms of test dates and, and popularity, um, in different parts of the country.

Um, I have tend to found that, that the ACT has a pretty strong, uh, foothold in, in the, the, the middle of the country. The, the, um, central, um, part of the country, the Midwest. Um, doesn’t mean that you can’t access the, the SAT there or that you can’t access the ACT, you know, up in New England like where I am.

Um, but that’s just, uh, something [00:15:00] that, that, that I have found. Um, so really very personal choice. I don’t think there’s a wrong answer here. Again, they’re accepted at all schools or colleges. So, you know, we don’t look down in mission officers. We don’t look down upon you if you take one or the other. Um, nothing like that.

So, um, there’s really no, uh, right or wrong answer. Um, okay. So this is really actually a very important part of this, um, presentation actually. Um, and I’ve done an entire, uh, another webinar just on this topic. Um, so feel free to dive into that. Um, if, if you wish. Um, but it’s kind of the whole idea of, you know, test blind, test flexible, uh, you know, Uh, score policies, um, submission policies at colleges and universities, um, which have been around for a long time, but have really kind of ramped up, um, in the last, you know, [00:16:00] two or three years with, um, you know, the covid pandemic and availability of testing overall.

So, um, the best way that I can describe this, um, these options are as follows. A test blind or test free school would be a school that will not look at your test scores regardless of whether or not you submit them. Um, so even if you take a SAT and get a 1600 and submit it to a test blind school, they are not going to be utilizing that score as part of your admission review.

Um, test optional or test flexible schools. Um, the decision to submit your tests, relies completely 110% on the applicant, on the student, but if you submit them, they will be evaluated and used in the [00:17:00] admission process. Okay. So, um, that is important to understand. Um, and, and there’s some strategy that goes along with that, um, which I think I’ll talk about in the next slide.

But basically there are schools and then there’s a whole other set of schools that, um, still require tests. Um, and, and you know, you gotta submit ’em and they’re gonna be reviewed. So that doesn’t really get into, uh, we don’t really get into that here, but basically we’re talking about the difference between test blind or test free and test optional slash test flexible.

Um, and so again, not gonna be reviewed no matter what. And will be reviewed if you submit, but the option lies with you. The, the inverse of that is true as well, which is that a school that does is test optional or test flexible. Does not punish a student for not submitting their test scores. Again, is their, um, their choice.

Um, [00:18:00] that type of school. You know, much more emphasis is put on high school transcript, your extracurriculars, kind of the other pieces of the application, um, make up for that data point that now does not exist with your standardized testing. But there is no negative impact in you choosing not to submit your test scores.

So let’s talk a little bit about kind of the strategy about, you know, why, well, actually we gotta poll first, McKenzie, I apologize. Um, so let’s get into that first.

McKenzie: Yes. So where are you in the college application process? Haven’t started. I’m researching schools. I’m working on my essays. I’m getting my application materials together.

Or if you’re really lucky, I’m almost done. And also, um, there is, um, there are about half 10th graders and half 11th graders on the webinar. Um, but, uh, real quick, Brian, when in the college application process should students start taking the exam and is it ever too late, like a senior year, too late?

Brian: No, it’s not too late.

Um, and [00:19:00] so I, you know, as I, I was kind of diving into there, I think that most schools will accept tests taken within the same month of the application deadline that you’re submitting. So, you know, if, if, if you are applying to, you know, um, a regular decision school, most regular decision deadlines are, you know, the beginning of the, the calendar year.

So earlier this month, January 1st to fifth, let’s say, depending on when that date falls. Um, I would highly recommend having taken a test before the, the, the new year. Um, but even a test taken, you know, in, you know, October, uh, will definitely be able to be considered, uh, for a November application. A November test probably would be still considered for November, uh, application.

But it’s a little bit, it’s a little bit closer. Um but ultimately, typically our, the policy at the school that I worked at was a test taken within the same month [00:20:00] of the application deadline will be considered.

McKenzie: Mm-hmm. uh, uh, also my senior year I applied ED to Cornell and I took my SAT for the first time in August of that year.

So it was like a few months before the application process. So it was still possible. It is always better just to get it done earlier. Um, but it’s looking like we have 29% haven’t started. 61% are researching schools and 11% are getting their application materials together. And now back to the webinar.

Brian: Nice. And, and that makes sense based on the fact that like half of you are 10th graders. So I wouldn’t have necessarily expected you to, um, most of you to start a lot of stuff, um, quite yet, but, you know, maybe looking at schools, um, it’s a good time to be doing that. So, um, kudos for, to all of you that, that are where you are.

Uh, wherever you are, you’re, you’re right, you’re on the right path and, and you’re here. So you’re, um, even already on, uh, on the right path. So, [00:21:00] um, again, so this kind of gets into a little bit of the strategy of that test, optional test flexible policy. Okay. Um, this depends. This depends is like my favorite phrase when talking about college admissions.

And I know it’s really annoying, but it really depends. Um, and this one particularly, it depends on what type of institution you’re applying to. Because if you’re applying to a really competitive, uh, rigorous, um, institution, you know, one that has, you know, single digit acceptance rates is, you know, ranked in the top 10, 25 of, you know, the nation, um, you know, you’re gonna wanna submit a, you know, really strong, uh, test score.

Um, but one of the best ways to evaluate this is to look at the admission profile for that institution. So most schools, many schools on their admission page will [00:22:00] post what the profile of the admitted class was from the previous year. Um, this gives you a lot of really interesting information. It usually gives you how many applications they received.

How many students enrolled on what the acceptance rate was, what the average GPA was, and what was the average test score of an admitted student. And many times, this is a really helpful number. What was the middle 50% scoring range of students that were admitted? Um, and, and that’s really helpful because it lets you know that 25% of the applicants that were admitted still fell below that, that range, but 25% fell above that range.

And so, let’s say for argument’s sake, you know, you’re, you’re sitting at a 1350, um, and you see a 50% range that is, um, you know, a, uh, 1300 to a 14, uh, a [00:23:00] 1400. Well, guess what? You’re sitting pretty, because you’re right smack dab in the middle of, of that pool. Now, could this year be a little bit stronger.

Sure. But based off the information, um, I would say in that case, that would be a situation where you would probably want to submit your, uh, test scores because they help and enhance your application. But in the inverse, where let’s say that same arbitrary number 13 to 1400 was the mid 50%, but I’m dealing with an applicant that scored at a 1200, still a, you know, a good SAT score, you know, still, um, you know, a quality score.

But at that particular institution, you’re now, you know that you fall in the bottom 25% of students that were admitted the following year, just alone. Just based on your SAT, um, or ACT, um, but you may not want to automatically present that [00:24:00] score to the board to review. Um, and so I think the best advice that I can give, as simple as it is, if you can see the average, if your test falls, if your score falls above the average, um, I, I think that you should feel good about submitting that test score as part of your application.

If it falls below, I would recommend not submitting it, because then you’re automatically showing that you fall in the bottom half of the class that was previously admitted. So I think that that’s what it comes down to when I talk about evaluating your submission strategy and kind of utilizing some of the tools that are available to you, um, to kind of, uh, build that strategy out.

So that’s what I would say about, um, you know, a beneficial score and, and what’s good and what’s not, uh, good to submit. Um, You know, in terms of taking the test, there really is no, there is no limit. Um, you know, in terms of, uh, actual, um, but [00:25:00] there’s a cost. Um, you know, there’s a financial cost and there’s a time cost.

Um, you know, it is, you know, four hours, you know, out of your, your Saturday to, um, you know, be spending at a testing center. Um, you know, it is time probably that goes into, um, into, uh, you know, some, you know, getting ready and, and prepping for the test itself, doing some, some test prep and, and studying. Um, but then there’s also the financial costs.

You know, it does, you know, these tests are not free. Um, well, there are definitely, uh, waivers available and, and, um, you can, uh, use a test waiver to take the test for free, um, if eligible. Um, you know, if, if not, you know, the, there is a cost to taking the test every time you sit. And then when you do ultimately send your score reports to the institutions that you are applying to, um, you know, currently I wrote this up that, you know, both [00:26:00] major testing agencies are allowing four free, uh, score reports.

Um, and so if you are applying to more than four schools. Most people are, not everyone, but most people are. Um, you know, there’s gonna be a cost associated with, uh, sending those score reports. So just something to think about, um, in terms of, you know, how many times, uh, you go into, uh, taking your tests.

Also, something that I’ve heard, I don’t know that this is a hundred percent true, um, although we did a webinar with a testing, um, prep, uh, expert, if you will, um, uh, woman that works in testing prep. Um, and what I, I shared this and she confirmed, um, that after your third test, you tend to see a plateau in your, uh, score.

Uh, that, you know, typically after your third test, um, you do not see much of a [00:27:00] improvement, um, in, in your overall scoring. So we that, um, you know, it may be different. Again, that’s a general, uh, understanding, um, may be different on an individual, individual basis. Um, but that’s kind of a general assessment.

So in terms of, um, you know, continuing to think about testing and you know, again, this also goes with taking the test multiple times. There is this idea of um, what is called a superscore. Um, and a superscore. The simplest way to really, um, explain it is that is the combination of your best possible score, um, from however many times you’ve taken the test.

And so, Um, you know, it will take, you know, if we’re using the SAT specifically, um, it will combine your highest score from, you know, the math section, however many times you’ve taken it, and it will combine your highest score from the reading and writing section, no matter how many times you’ve taken it.[00:28:00]

So if we look at this example that I made up, let’s say hypothetically speaking, and you sit for a test in the spring and you earn a 1200. Um, but you, the way that you get that 1200 is you get a 550 on the math, a 650 on the reading and writing. Okay? So you really want to kind of try to improve that math section a little bit.

Um, and so you take the test a second time, well, this time you score a 1200 again, but this time you’re, it’s because your math section does go up, you’re reading your writing suffered a little bit, that’s okay. You know you got a 1200. But with now, with a super score from these two times, your total composite score is now a 1250.

Um, because we’re taking your stronger reading and writing section from test one, your stronger math section from test two, combining them together to get your composite 12. So that’s the really, the simplest way, um, I [00:29:00] could describe it. Let’s say you took it a third time and you did even a little bit better on one of those two sections.

We would take that third section, um, and, you know, make, uh, your, you know, your best, uh, super score. So it, in terms of, you know, I actually would get this asked a lot is, you know, does the school look at, oh, I took it three or four times, you know, to hunt for that best score. Do I look at that negatively? My answer was always no.

Um, you know, quite frankly, you know, to be completely honest, I typically wasn’t even seeing how many times, um, you took it. Um, you know, the way that our profile was set up. Um, our system was pulling the best section for you automatically and putting that into our, um, the system that, from which we read so.

I really don’t view it as a negative if you have to take the test 2, 3, 4 times to get that higher, um, higher section, um, you know, [00:30:00] ultimately, you know, this is something we’re really, we’re trying to benefit you the best that we can, um, to give you the best possible, um, score in, in, in the process. It’s, it’s not a negative.

So that’s what I would say about super scoring. Um, hopefully that’s relatively, uh, straightforward and simple. Um, so how can we set yourself up for success? Um, you know, I think this is something I’ve heard, this is something I know to be true as well. Um, the best way that you can grow your knowledge, your IQ and really your, your ability to succeed on these tests, um, is by reading, reading anything and everything.

Read magazines, read newspaper, read literature, uh, fiction, nonfiction, comic strips, what have you. Um, just getting your eyes on something, um, you know, is, is really [00:31:00] important. However, I’m actually gonna correct something I, I kind of said, which is that, you know, I said this is one of the best ways to improve your IQ, uh, as well as do well on these tests.

And, and that kind of might suggest that this is an IQ test. It’s not the SAT and the ACT are not IQ tests. That is not what it is. Um, you know, there are, it is a it is a tool that is being used to evaluate a mission to college and universities. Um, and so you, there’s a way to study and prepare for the test. Um, and so that’s how when we get to test prep, um, and test prep, um, you know, services and things of that nature, they can help you not only learn the information but also learn the test.

And that’s why I actually go back a couple slides. Do suggest taking it multiple times because [00:32:00] you will become more familiar and there are tools to getting through the SAT and or ACT. Um, not to say that there’s a way to game the system, that’s not what I’m suggesting, but there are ways to take the SAT and it will improve your score.

Um, reviewing materials from school, um, you know, is something that I did and I found helpful, kind of going through. You know, math notes and, and, and reading and, um, things of that nature. You know, reading comprehension, doing some of those, um, fun, uh, types of quizzes. Um, definitely a lot of test prep materials, a lot, whole lot of books you can spend a lot of money on.

Um, that will, will help you, I quote unquote, improve your score. Um, some of them are, are really good. Um, there are a lot of test prep classes out there. Um, and our own, uh, program CollegeAdvisor has a lot of test prep materials and, um, sessions and, and folks that, um, you can work with to improve, um, your standardized [00:33:00] testing, um, regardless of when you’re sitting for your SAT or ACT.

And then I think we may have one last, uh, slide here, which is to say, um, in, in the main presentation, which to say any, you know, specific advice I would give to folks on preparing for standardized testing. Um, and the first piece is to relax. Um, again, this is not the end all, be all. Um, you know, it is not going to be the determining factor in your college search.

Um, if you don’t, you know, score a 1600, it is not the end of the world. You are not a failure. Um, you will still have a successful college admission process and you’ll still, you know, do well going forward. So, um, you know, I think relaxing, especially going into the test itself is very important. You know, getting a good night’s sleep the night before.

So you’re over relaxed, you’re refreshed, you’re ready to go. Um, I [00:34:00] will say that I remember the day itself being exhausting. Um, partially because maybe I was kind of amped up a little bit. Um, but you are kind of, you know, you’re reading a lot. You’re going through a lot. You’re sitting in one spot for a number of hours.

You know, it’s not like you’re running a marathon, exhausting, but it is, you know, mentally draining. Um, for sure. Um, you know, make sure you get some food in you. Um, you know, my, uh, dietician fiancé, you know, Mamie, uh, put this in. You gotta eat breakfast, you gotta fuel your brain before you go. Um, so that’s really important.

And ultimately, you know, put your best foot forward, you know, do your best. Um, and that’s the most that we can ask of you as admission, um, officers. Um, that’s the most that you can ask of yourself. Um, so do your best, um, and, and put your best foot forward. Um, so that would be my advice. Um, overall in terms of preparing for your standardized testing.[00:35:00]

McKenzie: Yes. So, um, that is the end of the, um, presentation part of the webinar. I hope you found this information helpful. And remember, again, that you can download the slide from the link in the handouts tab. Uh, and this webinar is being recorded if you would like to view it again later on our website at

Moving on to the live Q&A, I’ll read through your questions you submitted in the Q&A tab and read them aloud before our panelist gives you an answer. As a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, just make sure that you join through the custom links into your email and not from the webinar landing page.

I’ll also that as the website or else you won’t get all the features of big marker. And real quick, I did add some additional information in the public chat. I don’t think it gets saved with the webinar, so if you wanted it, you can, um, copy and paste it, but just, um, some little tidbits. The science section of the ACT is not like traditional science, it’s more so reading with a science theme.

Um, so you don’t need to know like, um, advanced physics or anything. [00:36:00] Um, to pass it, you just need to know how to read graphs and understand, um, problem solving. And then, um, the math on the exams. This is why most people take it, their 11th and 12th grade years. It includes, um, , it’s a little bit different on each exam.

And, um, let me read what the internet said. It says that, um, both tests focus heavily on algebra, but unlike the, uh, SAT, the ACT also has a longer section on geometry and trigonometry. And the ACT allows for all aspects of the test. Were, um, all allows calculators for all aspects of the test. Whereas the SAT, uh, has one math section doesn’t, that does not allow a calculator.

Um, so if that’s going to be something that, um, sways you just, um, make sure that you understand geometry and trigonometry if you’re taking the ACT or that you’re comfortable doing math without a calculator if you’re taking the SAT. But moving on the Q&A. [00:37:00]

Brian: Thanks for that, McKenzie. Very thorough.

McKenzie: Yes.

Uh, so, um, also the highest score you can get on the ACT is a 36 and the highest on the SAT is a 1600. So for our first question, students ask what is considered a good score on the ACT and SAT?

Brian: Yeah, I mean that’s so variable. Um, truthfully, it, it really depends on, again, it depends , um, it depends on the institution, um, that you’re applying to.

So I think that was one of the slides, um, earlier in terms of, um, you know, what is a good score, um, because. , you know, not to completely generalize, and I won’t to, to avoid that. I won’t say specific institution names, but, um, you know, a test score submitted to, you know, the number one, number two ranked institution, um, in the country versus, um, you know, a smaller, uh, you [00:38:00] know, liberal arts college or a state university.

Not to say that state universities aren’t really strong schools, um, but generally speaking, um, the rigor in terms of the admission process is not quite the same. Um, you know, they might look at a standardized test, um, you know, in the number, uh, a little bit differently. Let’s put it this way. Also, there are plenty of people applying to the Ivy League that get cert 16 hundreds and 30 sixes that are still not admitted.

Um, so it’s not the end all be all.

McKenzie: Uh, yes, that was going on to my next question. Do you need a perfect score to get into college or into the Ivys? And Brian pretty much answered that. Also for me, I got into Cornell, which is an Ivy with a 1320. Um, and that was early decision, so you don’t need a perfect score.

My score is considered mid at best. Um, but, um, [00:39:00] just do your best and make sure all the other parts of your application are as best as they can be if test taking isn’t your thing. Um, going on to the next question, um, do you need, uh, to take the test if you are applying to scholarships or financial aid?

Brian: It depends on the institution.

Um, again, so, you know, you gotta go back to the institution’s test policies. Um, if they require testing, um, then you will need to, you know, take that, um, in order to qualify for, you know, admission and, and probably, uh, financial aid and, and scholarships. There are also some schools that, well, they are test optional for admission.

Um, in order to receive certain scholarships, you do need to submit, um, your standardized testing. So, or even, you know, some that you, you might, if you wanna be admitted to a specific program. So again, there are literally thousands of colleges and universities in the United States. So I can’t speak to every single, because [00:40:00] every single one has a different policy on this.

Um, so make sure that you check their institution, uh, website, um, reach out to the admission officers at those institutions. Um, I say this in pretty much every webinar that I do, but the truth of the matter is that, um, when you work at a college or institution, um, there are things in the admission office called, um, counselor of the Day or Admission Officer of the day.

Um, and literally your job during that day is to answer the phone and answer emails, um, and answer these questions that come in from prospective applicants parents, uh, school counselors, et cetera. So, um, there are people that are ready to, to answer these questions, and that is literally their job. Um, so definitely reach out to the source.

McKenzie: Yes. And, um, even within a I’m just gonna keep using Cornell . Um, even within, um, Cornell, there are different colleges. So we, we have like the College of Engineering versus the College of [00:41:00] Human Ecology and the College of Engineering this past admission cycle was test optional, I believe, but the College of Human Ecology was not.

So depending on even which college you were applying to within a school, um, you were either had the option or not. Mm-hmm. , uh, going on to the next question, um, as soon as asking where, uh, can I check, uh, where can I check the average range for test scores of a school?

Brian: Yeah. Typically the school website, um, you know, the admission, um, page.

Um, and, and typically most admission offices are gonna post their, what I call the admitted student profile. Um, and this has again, How many students, um, typically how many students applied, how many enrolled? Um, average GPA, average standardized test score, ACT, SAT. Um, and then some schools provide that mid 50% as well.

Um, I kind of, [00:42:00] I kind of refer to this as kind of the, you know, the, the, the kind of gold standards or, or the platinum standard if, if they provide that number, because I, I find it to be really helpful, uh, for applicants. Mm-hmm.

McKenzie: uh, real quick, um, for the PSAT and the, yeah, for the PSAT, um, most, uh, people take it their 10th or 11th grade.

Uh, it only counts for the National Merit Scholarship, your 11th grade year. Not a lot of people take it their 10th grade year. That’s only usually if your high school just offers it like mine did. Um, so you just take it or you just sit through through it? Um, just to get practice, but 10th grade doesn’t really matter.

11th grade is the one that matters. And if you don’t take it your 11th grade year, I don’t think you can take it your 12th grade year. It’s only for 11th graders. Um, but going on to the next question, does not finishing the SAT or running out of time to complete all the questions negatively affect your score, should you guess [00:43:00] and fill out the rest of the answers?

Brian: Yeah. So, um, the way that, and, and you may know this as well, McKenzie, cuz you, it’s, you’re a little bit closer to your testing than, than I am. Um, but, uh, as I remember it, the SAT, the way that they score it is based off of the number of questions you get, right? Not the number of questions you get wrong, and therefore you are less likely or you are, um, it is to your advantage to guess.

um, and fill out the bubbles, um, and not leave it blank because if you happen to guess, right, you get, um, you get the points, and if you get it wrong, um, you would’ve, would not have gotten the points if you left it blank. Um, so you’re better off, uh, kind of guessing. Um, and, and just going [00:44:00] all the way, all the way through.

I, I almost am nervous to kind of even say this in the webinar, but I once heard that like c is the best one to, to pick. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Um, but, uh, you’re, you’re better off guessing for the SAT I honestly forget what the ACT policy is.

McKenzie: Um, ACT I can’t remember what their testing is.

I know for the ACT, the SAT I know it’s best to guess, but I think for both of them it’s just best to guess. So like for me, when I took it once I got to the last five minutes, um, as I went through the exam, I just skipped all the questions I didn’t know, so I didn’t waste time cuz it is pretty quick.

Yeah. Um, for the ACT you have four sections and I believe they’re 45 minutes, um, for each section. Um, and depending on how quick you read for different sections or how quickly you do math, um, that can affect, um, how quickly you get through it. And then once the section is done, you can’t go back [00:45:00] to it.

So once they got to the last five minutes, I, which is bubbling the answers, the SAT and this is why I preferred it, um, because, um, I mean I don’t really like reading about science, but, um, it had a bit more time on each section. I think it was like, I wanna say 75 minutes, um, for the reading section and then 75 minutes for the, um, Math section.

Uh, and so I had more time to like read through the questions and like, check my answers though, on that math section, you don’t get to use a calculator. So pretty much just to sum it all up, depending on how you pace yourself on the exams, once you get to the last few minutes, just bubble in everything. Um, that’s blank.

Um, but going on to the next question, um, a student,

Brian: and also to that real quick, McKenzie, um, to the kind of point of there’s a way to learn how to take the test, the timing is a big part of that, right? If, if, if you had unlimited amount of time to kind of [00:46:00] answer these questions, you know, you could, you could sit back and, and kind of just relax and just kind of go through the pace, but you know, again, it’s a few years ago that I took this, but I remember being a little stressed, kind of just making sure to look at the clock, know how much time I had left and, and be in that process along the way. So that’s where practice and taking the test multiple times, um, will come into to, to help.

McKenzie: Yes. And if you are a student that has testing anxiety or generally doesn’t do well in test, or if you have an IEP, I’m not exactly sure on how you get it, but you can get accommodations for the SAT and the ACT at, at your testing center, um, which does give you additional time if you need that for your exam, to make it fair in the admissions process so you can find out more information on their websites.

Um, the SAT is the ACT is through the a [00:47:00] and then the SAT is through College Board. So you just go to those websites to find out more. Correct. Uh, going on to the next question, uh, how long should, um, students prepare for the exam?

Brian: I mean, it really varies. Um, different people have different strategies.

Um, you know, it, it depends on how you know, you, um, how you prepare. Um, you know, I think that again, um, you know, we did a webinar with a test prep, um, you know, expert and, and she was mentioning that, you know, she has, um, her students, you know, preparing months, you know, um, multiple months, um, in advance. Um, and you know, so it really kind of depends, um, on, on your strategy and, and kind of how you want to go about, um, going through that process.

So it really does vary, um, by, by student and by the process.

McKenzie: [00:48:00] Yes. And a student was asking if they get a perfect score on the, um, PSAT, do they have to take the SAT or ACT?

Brian: Yes. Yes. Um, the PSAT is not a college admission, um, test. Um, and, and also the scoring has no bearing on your, your SAT or ACT, um, either.

Um, I’ve seen people do far, far, far, far, far, far better than what they did on their PSAT, and I’ve seen people, um, not do as well. So, um, it really, it, it’s a completely different test. Um, you know, and so there is not a whole lot of correlation between them. Um, but yeah, it, the PSAT I think we might have, um, gotten maybe a little bit too deep into that.

The, the really, the only. I hate to phrase it this way, but the, the, the value of the PSAT and the college admission process is specifically for national merit, [00:49:00] uh, consideration and only for national merit consideration. It does have, has no other bearing in your admission process whatsoever.

McKenzie: Mm-hmm. ,

uh, going on to the next question. Can you get accepted ED, uh, early decision or early action if you apply without test scores, will your application be competitive?

Brian: Yeah. So again, based on the test prep, uh, the test submission strategy, if you apply to a test blind or a test flexible school and they’re not requiring tests and you don’t submit one for early decision, then it’s not gonna hurt you.

You still can be admitted. Um, again, schools are evaluating you a little bit differently if you don’t submit your standardized tests. Um, but absolutely you can still be admitted. Um, if it’s not a requirement of the application, if they require tests and you haven’t taken them, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not gonna be admitted.

Um, but if they’re not required, um, then, then [00:50:00] absolutely you still can be, uh, admitted to that institution.

What else we got here, McKenzie? Yeah.

McKenzie: Okay, there we go. Sorry, my computer froze again, but, okay. Uh, yes. Um, students, students can be accepted, um, ED, REA, um, uh, even if they, uh, don’t submit their test scores. Um, for this past admission cycle, one of my students applied to Washington State, Washington State University, St., Louis, and she was admitted early decision.

Um, she decided not to submit her test scores cause she felt they were a bit low. Um, when she didn’t submit the test scores, the school said that they would review her, other parts of her, the other parts of her application, such as her essays and um, um, her grades and extracurriculars a bit more rigorously.

And those really stood [00:51:00] out because as I was working with her, we really took the time to make sure that her narrative really shown, uh, shown through, um, the, uh, essays and you really heard her voice and you got to know her and her interest and what she did throughout high school. And so for those in the room who aren’t already working with us, we know that the admissions process is overwhelming for parents and students alike.

Our team of over 300 former admissions officers such as Brian and admissions experts such as myself, are ready to help you and your family navigate it all in one-on-one advising sessions. Take charge of your family’s college admissions journey by signing up for a free strategy session with an admissions expert using the QR code on the screen.

Um, with College Advisor, you get paired up with an advisor, uh, either at the school that you’re interested in or who was accepted into a range of schools that you’re interested in, um, or in the same programs that you want to apply to. And, um, they really help you with, um, getting your essays, um, making sure that your whole application, um, is very [00:52:00]

Very strong, not just your test scores, but we do also offer services for those and making sure that, um, if you do wanna apply test optional or if you do wanna submit test scores, that everything is, um, in the best, uh, way it can be. Um, but now back to the Q&A. Uh, so going on to the next question, how do you balance studying for the exams and all the other parts of the application process, including, um, being in high school?

Brian: Yeah. Um, it, it’s, it, it can be a lot. Um, and so you, you kind of need to find out what best works for you. Um, you know, I think that, um, you know, hopefully most students, um, you know, their number one job, um, between, you know, The age of 15 and, and 19 or 14 and 18, whatever it may be for you, um, is, is to be a student.

That’s their number one job. And so hopefully, um, you can [00:53:00] prioritize that. Um, I know I definitely, you know, , I look back at my high school days fondly because I thought I was busy, um, and was, you know, had a lot going on and I know it definitely feels, um, like you do at that time. Um, but I think prioritizing your time, um, you know, when you have, you know, the ability to do so.

Um, and, and, and split it up into homework and, and test prep and, you know, maybe any other extracurriculars or work that you’re doing. Um, the other answer is that in many ways doing homework is test prep in and of itself, um, in many ways, right? Because you’re studying. Um, and so hopefully that, you know, you’re not taking these classes for nothing.

Um, you know, they’re, they’re hopefully you’re learning, uh, through the process. Um, and so that will help you, uh, along the way. Um, but yeah, carving time out to, to do it is important for sure. [00:54:00] Um, but also I, I, I definitely also think it’s important, um, for kids to be, you know, not to patronize, but for kids to be kids, um, and, you know, to, to enjoy, um, your time as well.

Um, and so I hope you’re able to still find some, some me time, um, as well. Balance is really important. Um, and that’s why I get back to like, The SAT ACT is not the end all be all. This is not the most important thing. And if you have to prioritize, if you have to look at test prep versus, you know, doing your homework and doing well in your classes, you gotta do well in your classes.

You gotta do your homework every single time, right? Because that is much more important to the overall admission kind of process and review. Um, and making sure that you’re doing well in your classes. I don’t care if you get a 1600 in the fall, if you have, you know, a bunch of Ds or, or, or poor first quarter [00:55:00] grades, um, in senior year, doesn’t matter what your standardized test score is, you’re not gonna do, you’re not gonna probably do very well in the admission process.

Um, so again, gross generalization, but it’s really important to do well in school, um, and to kind of balance those things out. Um, mm-hmm. , go ahead McKenzie.

McKenzie: going off of that, is it better to take the exam over the summer then instead of during school?

Brian: So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember a whole lot of test dates over the summer.

Um, I think the majority of them are September through November. Um, so it really, you are kind of beholden to when the test is offered. Um, cause there are specific, uh, test dates where literally everyone, not just in the country but in the world, are sitting for the SAT or the ACT, um, on that particular Saturday.

Um, so there are specific dates that, that are [00:56:00] available and those are posted on the ACT and CollegeBoard website. But you can schedule, um, based off of what is available for you and what works for you, what your schedule looks like.

McKenzie: Uh, going off of that, do uh, individual high schools provide the exam or do we have to go to an outside, um, location to take the exams?

Brian: So, um, testing, uh, where tests are offered are typically designated testing centers. Um, they can be high school, so that may be your high school. Um, I did have to go to, um, a local high school, um, for both my SAT and my ACT, and they were different schools. Um, but, you know, definitely, um, very, you know, 10, 15 minutes from my house.

Um, so hopefully, um, you know, they’re within the region, uh, for you. But again, that’s what I meant. Uh, earlier when I was saying that the SAT, uh, versus ACT are more popular or more [00:57:00] available in various areas, um, there may be more opportunities to take the test, um, one of the tests than, uh, the other in your locale.


McKenzie: Yes.

Um, my, uh, exams were offered, um, this testing center was my high school, so I was very lucky. But you applied through, um, the ACT or through the SAT, um, to, um, register for the exam and then, um, you pick which testing location you would like. Always make sure that you know the exact location so that you aren’t having a rush to the exam.

Um, cuz you will not be able to, um, go into the exam if you’re late. Um, but going off of that, do they allow walk-ins to the exam or do you have to register?

Brian: As I remember, you have to register. Um, and, and, and as I remember, they also do fill up. Um, and so, um, you know, because there are x amount of seats available, um, you know, you do wanna be a little bit preemptive, [00:58:00] um, with some of these, uh, dates.

Again, there are many dates available, but you know, if there’s one specific that you’re really focused on, um, that may be, you know, a popular date that year for whatever reason. So, um, be sure to kind of be somewhat proactive and, and definitely not, uh, doing it last minute.

McKenzie: Yes. Um, if there are any, uh, last questions that you wanted to get to that you saw, um, please feel free or give any last advice.

Brian: Yeah, so I think that, you know, generally speaking, I would just, again, like to reiterate that the college admission process is a very individual process. And so treat it that way. Um, especially when it comes to tests. I remember being, um, I went to a pretty competitive, uh, private, um, Catholic high school, and I remember when tests were released, everyone being like, oh, Brian, what’d you get on your SAT?

Oh, what’d you get on your SAT? And truthfully, it didn’t matter.  [00:59:00] it wasn’t any of their business. Um, and, and you know, so don’t compare yourself to your friends, to, you know, your neighbors, your siblings, your family members. And that goes for where you’re applying, where you ultimately get in, where you ultimately enroll, you know, really focus on your individual process.

I think that that’s the best advice I can give. And you’ll be, you know, the process will go, you know, better and smooth, more smoothly for you. If you’re not worried about, you know, kind of the, the noise, if you will, because there are definitely a lot of opinions out there and, and people are going through it.

It’s definitely something people like to talk about. So that would be, that would be my last advice that I would give everyone and leave you with is really kind of just focus on your own individual process and you’ll be all right.

McKenzie: Yes. And also I just wanted to throw in for the exams do [01:00:00] cost money. To get fee waivers you usually are eligible if you are eligible for free and reduced lunch at your high school. And you can get the fee waivers from your school counselor, college counselor at your high school. If you are homeschooled, I believe they have an answer on the website, but just Google how to get fee waivers for the exams.

And then also just a little tidbit, for different schools that I applied to, I applied to Cornell and Howard. Howard has merit-based financial aid, whereas Cornell has need-based financial aid. We have other webinars for that. Cornell, my score on my exams didn’t matter and didn’t affect how much money I got.

It was all based on my need, but for Howard, my score was a factor in how much money I got. So, depending on which scores you’re looking at and what type of aid or scholarships you’re looking for, your score may or may not matter in regards to that. If you’re [01:01:00] applying to any of the Ivys, it doesn’t matter.

It only matters in terms of the admissions process, but not in terms of how much money you get. But yeah. So thank you everyone for coming out tonight and thank you Brian for all of this great information about when to take your first standardized test. And so here is the rest of our January series. On January 18th.

We have two sessions on advice from admissions officers, where they’ll share insights on starting applications early to stand out. And on January 24th, they will share college application tips for parents, if that is something that folks are interested in. But do check those out and have a great night everyone.