Navigating the ACT and SAT

Don’t let the ACT or SAT tests overwhelm you! Mastering these exams is not just about being a whiz in English, Mathematics, Science, and Writing. It’s about understanding the tests’ structure, familiarizing yourself with the strategies, and arming yourself with the right techniques to answer questions accurately and efficiently. Join CollegeAdvisor for a helpful webinar, “Navigating the ACT and SAT,” featuring Yale University alum Mariko Rooks. The webinar will feature: – Comprehensive overviews of the ACT and SAT, including the structure, question types, and scoring. – Proven strategies to enhance speed, accuracy, and confidence in each test section. – Insider tips to help you interpret and respond to complex questions effectively. – Q&A Session . Empower yourself with knowledge, strategies, and the confidence to excel in your ACT and SAT exams. Register today and join us on the path to acing the test! Your journey to college success starts here.

Date 11/05/2023
Duration 1:01:34

Webinar Transcription

2023-11-05 – Navigating the ACT and SAT

Anesha: Hi, everyone, and welcome to tonight’s webinar. My name is Anesha Grant. I’m a senior advisor at CollegeAdvisor, and I will be a moderator today. Today’s webinar is, “Navigating the ACT and SAT.” Before we get started I just want to orient everyone with the webinar timing. So, our presenter will share some tips.

Resources and guidance, and then we will open up the floor to respond to your questions in a live Q&A one quick note on questions. We cannot do an admission analysis of your score. So, please do not share your score with us and ask us about your chances at any particular college university. My standard advice is that if you, you are a competitive candidate, if your scores are in the mid 50 percent range.

for any particular school, and you can find that range on the school’s admissions website or at College Board. So again, please don’t share your scores with us. We are going to give some overarching advice and guidance on the test though. All right, so again, you can submit your questions in the Q& A under the Q& A tab, and you can also download the slides from tonight’s session under our handouts tab and start submitting those questions whenever you get ready.

All right, now let’s meet our presenter Mariko. Hi Mariko, how are you? 

Mariko: Hey, I’m doing all right. How are you? 

Anesha: I’m great. I’m great. Um, we’d love to hear you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. 

Mariko: Absolutely. So as Anesha said, my name is Mariko Rooks. I graduated from Yale actually twice, once in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in the history of public health and our ethnic studies program.

And then again, in 2022, um, with a. Masters in public health and social and behavioral sciences. So most of the work that I do focuses on the intersection between public health and racial equity. 

Anesha: I love your background. I love hearing about it every time you talk about it. And I’m really interested in your work.

So, okay. But before I let Mariko get started, we just want to do a quick little poll. So let us know What, what test you’re thinking about if you’re thinking about the ACT, the SAT, both, neither is an option, or if you are still deciding, and perhaps today’s session will help you, um, make your decision. I always ask about food while we’re waiting for the poll response to come in.

So I’ve heard things about Yale’s pizza or Connecticut’s pizza. I’m just wondering if you have a favorite. favorite or preferred pizza shop in the New Haven area? 

Mariko: Ooh, that’s a tough one. I think probably the most famous in the New Haven area is Pepe’s, which does like a very nice, um, white sauce and clam pizza and definitely is worth the hype.

But my personal favorite would have to be a newer place called Moderna, which does, uh, number of very fancy pizzas with ingredients that you don’t always think go well together, but you’re like, okay, like honey and figs on a pizza and then it tastes really good. So I think that was my favorite, especially my last year because I had a roommate who actually worked there.

So free pizza once in a while, which was very nice. 

Anesha: Very nice. Um, I love, I love experimental pizza. I think we’re just gonna kind of throw some things out there. All right, we will go ahead and close our poll. So, um, some folks, uh, from our attendees right now, about 50 percent are deciding between the SAT or both.

Um, and so not too many takers for the ACT 50%, but, um, all right, well, I will stop talking. I’ll hand it over to you and I will be back a little bit later for any questions. 

Mariko: Great. Thank you so much. Uh, welcome everyone. And definitely this Overall comprehensive overview of both the ACT and the SAT, what kind of test they are, the sort of way in which each test caters to different skill sets and different test taking styles can hopefully assist you in making your decision about which test you would be interested in taking.

So let’s go ahead and get started. So first of all, right, I think one of the big things that’s very difficult to assess is, you know, what actual impact of standardized testing have on a student’s application. A lot of people focus on these test scores, but what do they really do? The first is that it is a standardized emphasis on standardized academic metric across many different demographics.

High schools all over the world have vastly different class types and difficulties and assessments. Some folks have AB or AP advanced placement courses. Some folks have IB international baccalaureate courses in the US. Some folks have neither. And so even though their most college admissions officers do a nice standardization of your GPA and your metrics, A class at one school could look completely different than a class at another school.

So providing standardized testing metrics can help give a baseline because everyone’s taking the same test and answering the same kinds of questions. These tests, of course, are testing for something. And in this case, it really, you know, they really just want to see if you can perform certain skills that will likely be useful to you in college and beyond, right?

And so some of these skills include being able to quickly recall academic concepts that you’ve learned over the Course of several years of schooling, critically using and thinking about new material on the spot and so we can think about right if there is a reading passage or a comprehension question about a topic or a word that you haven’t seen before being able to quickly and.

Efficiently answer questions about something new, and of course, your timing and organization, which are both really important professional and academic skills. How can you take the test and finish on time? How can you make sure that you’re maximizing the time that you have to answer questions? I will say that standardized testing has become much less essential over time, certainly less so than 2017 to undergrad.

There are a lot of increases in test optional. admissions, especially this year and the two previous years because of COVID 19. But also, there’s a larger reckoning with the origins and the actualities of standardized testing as quote unquote fair or unbiased metrics. On the one hand, right, if we look at the SAT, especially historically, we know that a lot of the folks who were responsible for creating these tests back in the 1920s, such as eugenicists that were focused on creating tests that would prove or demonstrate that people who were not white and especially black folks, um, were intellectually inferior to Caucasian folks.

And so that’s very much baked into the overall approach towards building aptitude tests, both In the high school and also at the military level. And a lot of these are done by the same people. In the present, a lot of times people who have access to greater resources, so things like private tutoring or the ability to get ahead on certain topics can also influence how they perform, which means that it’s not always an indicator of intellectual aptitude, but rather the kinds of Privilege and access that you have.

So between those two things, there’s been a larger discussion about how useful and how impactful the SAT and ACT should be on your college admissions. And COVID certainly propelled that forward because of the inability and the inequities. In standardized testing, uh, sort of, especially during 2020 and 2021.

And so there are a number of different standardized tests that are part of an application. You’ll see the PSAT or pre SAT, which you take your junior fall normally, and that will qualify you for things like national merit scholarships. There’s the SAT and the ACT, which are the two main standardized tests that most folks take their junior spring or senior fall.

for international students. Students, there’s the T-O-E-F-L or TOEFL exam, and also AP exams are included in your overall college admissions portfolio and are submitted to individual schools. So let’s start with the SAT, which is the more popular of the two main tests. But they are counted equally is not better than the other.

It’s more about what you feel most comfortable taking. So the SAT is administered seven times a year in the United States. It takes three hours and 15 minutes. The highest score that you can get is a 1600 used to be 24, but that has been changed in recent years. And that score is split evenly between two sections.

The first is math. And the second is evidence based. So when you actually sit down for the test, there will only be two total sections that you’re going to take that will add up to that total score.

On the math section, it takes about 80 minutes, and there are 58 questions. And the primary focus is of the math section on the A level. SAT, and we want to pay attention to this because the ACT is a little bit different, are algebra, problem solving, data analysis, and advanced math across, um, sort of all math disciplines.

The evidence based reading and writing section is majority, um, like two thirds, give or take, uh, evidence based reading questions. So that’s 65 minutes for 52 questions. And that focuses on our understanding. Meaning of complex passages and identifying words in context. So you will get the passage to read, it’ll ask about the definitions of certain words, and it’ll ask about the themes, the argumentation, etc.

in the passages. The writing and language section, which is only 35 minutes and 44 questions, mostly tests your grammar. And so that is the sort of fill in the blank kind of question of which one of these sounds correct, which one does not. There’s also an optional essay question, which you would get 50 minutes to write what is normally an argumentative essay using no outside source work.

So they’ll ask a question, you’ll state a response to the question, and then you’ll defend that response using any evidence and rhetorical logic you can come up with in the context of the test. Some schools do require the essay, so it’s worth to look into the specific schools you’re interested in to applying to In applying to before you register for the SAT so that you know whether or not you have to take the essay I would generally if you’re interested in reach schools that are at the sort of little Ivy to Ivy level Recommend just taking the essay no matter what right?

You don’t have to submit the essay score but It often can be useful or helpful for certain schools. So that is our SAT. And again, notice, right, this sheer split between sections. And these sections will be rated and then added up together for a score of 1600. So no averaging, nothing complicated. Added, each question is worth the same amount as every other question.

And that total will be out of 1600. Now the ACT is a little bit different. While it’s also administered 7 times a year in the US, it’s only 3 hours and 35 minutes. The highest score that you can get is a 36. And that 36 will be an average, not just a sum, of 4 total sections. English, math, reading, and science.

The number of questions correct in each section translates to a 1 36 score. And depending on the number of questions which are not consistent between each test, sometimes if you get 12 questions correct, you can still get a 36 score. or a 35, or sort of whatever the higher number is on the higher end of that score.

And then scores are averaged across all of the fields for a composite. So you could feasibly get a 36, 36, 36, and then get a 35 on one section of these four sections, and you could still get an overall. 36 because that would be the average rounded up, right? So there is a little bit more room for error on the ACT in a good way, but that could also not go your way if you don’t have those sort of bonuses or cushions within your particular test.

And that’s something that you sort of have to gamble on. It depends on the test. So the breakdown for these tests are you have four sections, and each of those sections is anywhere between 35 and 60 minutes. So English is 75 questions in 45 minutes. This is focusing on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and organization.

Uh, you’ll normally have two to five, well, two to three paragraphs worth of text, and they’ll ask you to replace certain words, to move certain words around, that kind of thing. Math 60 questions in 60 minutes, and that focuses on pre-algebra and a number of different kinds of algebra. There is a higher, consistent emphasis on geometry and trigonometry on the math portion of the ACT.

After that, you get a longer break and then you move into your reading, which is 40 questions in 35 minutes, and that is. specifically reading comprehension. So unlike the evidence based reading and writing section, uh, the reading portion of the SAT, you won’t be asked as much about things like vocabulary words or, um, what certain But rather, the reading comprehension about sort of the themes and organization and topics within a longer passage.

Lastly, and this is the most different from the SAT, is the science section, which is basically also reading comprehension, but instead of being a sort of classic passage about, you know, history or current events, it will be, um, a summary of a science experiment, and you’ll be asked to interpret tests and analyses and evaluation and reasoning within that.

There will also be some problem solving that might include basic math skills or asking you to compare certain numerical or quantitative values, so there is a quantitative aspect to reading this, but it is mostly quantitative comprehension as opposed to quantitative or numbers based problems. Problem solving where you’re trying to come up with a clear and numeric answer without really larger context for why you’re doing that kind of math or that kind of algebra in the like most literal of terms.

There is also an optional writing section and again that is one essay in 40 minutes argumentative. Okay, so, I’ve just described, right, these two tests, and there are a number of factors that are different between them. So, what are the things you should consider before deciding which of these two tests you would like to take?

First is the quality and the quantity of questions. On the ACT, there are four sections, right? There are more questions. And therefore, there’s going to be less time per section per question. However, because there are more questions, each question counts for a total fewer points, right? And there’s that averaging of scores.

So if you are someone who is prone to, like I was, making careless mistakes, right? Um, or you can read rather quickly, but you don’t want to Have one question sort of really cost you a lot on a particular test. If that’s the kind of test taker you are, then the A. C. T. probably gears more towards you on the S.A. T. One of the other things to note is that there’s less geometry, but there’s higher algebra skills in the math section. So you need to be at a higher level of algebraic learning in order to score well on that test. So if you hated geometry, if that was not your jam, but you really love algebra and calculus, the SAT might be a good way to go.

If you’re not going to be in, for example, pre calculus by your senior year of high school, the ACT will gear more towards some of the geometry concepts that you’ve learned if you were on that track, right, in probably your 10th grade. In terms of reading comprehension skills, right, there’s also a larger emphasis on reading comprehension across the ACT.

As I mentioned before, the ACT science section is basically just STEM reading comprehension, right? So if reading comprehension is your strong suit, and if especially reading comprehension in science or in STEM is your strong suit, then the ACT provides a clear advantage over the SAT because three total sections of the ACT require more reading.

On the other hand, if reading isn’t something you’re comfortable with, or if you know that you’re better at sort of operational math, then especially in a short and constrained, stressful period of time, then the SAT might be a better choice for you.

In terms of your timing on these different tests, there are a couple of different steps, right? Most PSAT and, um, 11th and sometimes in 10th grade, though it can be taken as early as 8th grade. Some schools will offer it as an in class session and some will not, but regardless, only your 11th grade scores can be considered for National Merit Scholarship.

Uh, less than about 1 percent are National Merit Scholars finals and then there are You know, semi finalists, commendations, et cetera, et cetera, depending on how well you do on that PSAT year 11 point here. Most people start studying for their SAT or ACT either their sophomore or junior year with the intention of taking it their junior year.

Some people do extend into their senior fall, especially if they’re going to retake the SAT. One of these tests, but I would recommend getting it done if you can your junior year so that it doesn’t overlap with when you’re doing the bulk of the actual writing on your college admissions. When it comes to AP tests, right, which we talked about as a third form of testing for your overall standardized test portfolio for US based students, normally AP tests you take during or at the end of the year that you take your course, but some students will choose to take an AP test without taking the course if that course is not offered at their school, or if they don’t have the time in their schedule to take the course, but they feel a strong amount of Background knowledge and self study will be sufficient for them to earn the score that they would like.

Now, regardless of what test you’re taking, there are a number of best practices in preparing for standardized tests that definitely helped me and have helped my students, who I advise, in their testing career. journey. The first is, and this is the thing that I recommend the most, and the thing that I hear about the least, is practicing tests in actual timing, in actual testing conditions.

So that means taking your phone and your computer, unless you’re taking the test on a computer, and locking it away, shutting off the internet on your computer, telling your family, Or friends or whoever you live with, not to bother you putting yourself in a isolated or secluded room somewhere and really holding yourself to the timing and the breaks on a mock test.

This allows you not only to truly understand what the timing of the test will be in real time, but also will make you more aware of things like your nerves and your spatial comfort, which are all important aspects of taking the test. Spatial comfort meaning, right, you know. What is around me? What do I prefer in terms of pencils?

Where is the clock that I’m going to be looking at? When do I take my breaks? When do I eat my snacks, right? And all of those things, that kind of mentality is really helpful to have figured out before you test. As a former collegiate athlete, I’m a big believer in the phrase practice how you play and play how you practice.

And so getting in critical thoughtful and accurate practice for your test will definitely be a lot more impactful than studying the same questions over and over and over again, or just continuing to go to Turing without strategizing about your actual test day. The second thing that I would recommend is sort of Again, recognizing quality over quantity, right?

So making sure you’re critically reviewing why you miss the questions that you miss in practice problems and review, instead of just marking them off and then trying again. Understanding the types of questions that you struggle with, the topics that you didn’t understand and need to review, the times where you’ve gotten caught up on the language of a particular question, because the language often repeats itself across practice tests, across actual tests, And the questions where, for example, you had to choose between two answers and you consistently chose the wrong answer on a 50 50 decision will help you improve, um, study session to study session and test to test, which is a big game changer if you are trying to increase your score.

Also, we recommend concentrating time and effort on topics that are more difficult for you. It can be easy to fall into the trap of studying things we already know, but it’s really important to sort of push ourselves in the questions and in the areas that we’re struggling in. And lastly, I would suggest figuring out how to minimize careless, quote unquote, mistakes or errors, or errors and mistakes that are not due to your knowledge and your ability to solve the problem.

Rather, the circumstances with which you were approaching a question in that testing environment, right? Are you underthinking questions? Are you overthinking questions? Are you going too fast in this reading question? Are you running out of time? Right, these are all questions that I would be asking myself as someone preparing for a standardized test.

In terms of the day of the test, right, Some things that I would recommend that are sort of universally I found work pretty well. First of all, sleep. Get good sleep, not just the night before, but two nights before your test, so you feel well rested and ready to go when your test starts. I would also recommend laying out all of your testing materials in advance and making sure you have materials that you’re comfortable with and that you’re not scrambling to find anything the day of your test.

The things that you will most likely need. For your test, I know that the SAT is moving on to a computer based format, but you’d still probably want these things anyway. Are your ID to make sure that you can get in the building, pencils, water, and snacks. I would also recommend not cramming the morning before the test or even the night before the test.

If you don’t know it by then, you’re probably not going to learn it in the last 24 hours. And it’s more important to get sleep and have your head in the right space you Able to take your test being the most well rested and most prepared possible. Also, have a plan for your testing breaks. Both the SAT and the ACT have breaks where you can get up, go to the bathroom, clear your head, and eat some food.

So thinking about what snacks are most helpful for you to eat to make sure that you maintain your energy without crashing or dropping. These are really long tests and you’re going to be focusing for an incredible amount of time. So being able to really narrow in on how you’re going to maintain your physical.

Mental and emotional health during that three hour plus test is really, really important. And so everything from the way you’re feeling your body to the way that to the routine that you have, maybe when you go and walk around, right, or you go and get up and stretch is really, really important and can make a huge difference in keeping you calm, relaxed and unfatigued on the day of your test.

Now, I’ve obviously said all of this stuff. I’ve talked a lot about the kinds of tests that you can take. I’ve talked a lot about sort of test preparation and testing day of strategies. And all of this definitely comes from personal experience. And so I’m so excited to share mine in hopes that this might be somewhat useful for you.

So the very first test that I ever took out of all of these different Test options in high school was actually an SAT subject tests, which are not things that really exist anymore or exist with any kind of relevancy, but the subject that test that I took was in biology, and that was right after I take an AP biology.

So the timing was different, but the content was pretty much the same. Um, but it was a really helpful. Early introduction to the processes of standardized testing, right? Getting up in the morning, waiting in line, sitting down at a school that I didn’t go to, right? To take the test. All those kinds of things.

And I think it helped me put, put myself in a sort of good headspace in terms of understanding how the systems that run these standardized tests work. work. My junior fall I took the PSAT and the old version of the SAT because again, this was way back in the day when the SAT was out of 2400. I did moderately well on the PSAT.

I wasn’t happy with my overall scores, but I put together like a decent showing. I knew that I was capable of scoring higher and I also did moderately well, but I ran into a specific test that wasn’t compatible with my particular math strength. The kinds of problems that were on that test versus what I knew that I was good at operationally in math didn’t really add up, and sometimes it is the luck of a draw depending on a particular kind of test that you’re taking.

And so I was like, all right, I see what I’ve seen. Um, there were also a couple of vocabulary words that I just simply happened to not know, which was unusual for me as someone who clearly talks a lot and spends a lot of time thinking about the English language and thinking about vocabulary and writing and grammar.

And so there were just a couple of things on that that didn’t go my way. So I knew that I was going to want to retake something. My junior spring, I decided to flip to my ACT instead of staying with the SAT. In large part it was because the SAT format had changed from the old format to the new format and I knew that the new format was even less compatible with my testing strategies and math strength.

But also because I took a practice ACT and found that this was a lot easier for me and I decided, you know, why fight it? Why make things more difficult than they need to be? Let’s play to what’s in our wheelhouse. And so some of the strengths that were really useful for me on the ACT. The first was sort of how fast paced it was.

As someone who reads relatively fast and complete questions, and can complete questions relatively fast, the timing on the ACT was actually a little bit better for me, and I wasn’t as stressed out about each question because All of them counted for fewer points and because there were more of them, so there was less to agonize about, in my opinion, over sort of one right answer or one incorrect answer.

It also had a huge focus on reading and science, which are the things that I do in combination in my academic and professional life to this day. I read a lot about science and equity and talk about how to make those things better in service of healthcare and then execute that within communities. So, Something at the particular intersection of my interests worked really well.

I use the ACT practice book almost religiously. Their official resources are quite good. There’s five practice tests in the ACT brand practice book, as opposed to a secondary option like Kaplan or, um, Princeton Review or another sort of test prep, uh, website. And so I also found that the practice tests for the ACT were very, very similar to the actual test that I was taken.

So I took the test in April, I think, of my junior year. And I got lucky on my SAT. And again, I want to emphasize there is some luck and sort of variability in this. The test that I took for the ACT was incredibly well written. It had reading passages that I still remember to this day because I thought the topics on the passages were interesting, which is, I feel like, not something that people normally say about their standardized testing experience.

But there was an element to me that was actually intellectually engaging and fun, In that particular test that was conducive to me scoring better on that test because I was sort of Intellectually curious and actually thinking about the material the way that I would, even if it wasn’t assigned to me.

And so I got really lucky in that regard. I took it once, I was happy with my score, called it a day, and then stopped doing any more standardized testing out in the sort of national arena of things. Um, of course took AP exams my junior year. and senior year, but ended with that ACT score. So, some of the advice I would give based on that experience is, um, the first would be, definitely just vibes.

Figure out a test that feels right for you. Make sure that you take a full practice test for both the SAT and the ACT before you start comparing to one or the other. It might be, easy to commit to SAT because everyone else is doing it, but the ACT might be a better fit for you. Conversely, you could really struggle with the ACT and then pick up SAT and realize that that is much easier for you.

So actually being in tune with yourself rather than the people around you, rather than what you’ve heard on social media or things like that. Through I don’t know, like the reddit college forums, but really taking the time to see what works best with you as a student, right? And as someone who is pouring intellectual labor into this test is something that I find really important because again, they are equally that are in the college application process.

1 is not better than the other will not help you get into college more than the other. It’s just about that overall score. Also, that being said, remember that these tests are a small, small part of the problem. of your overall portfolio, and that again, some schools will probably still be test optional for the next few years, if not indefinitely.

If you do test poorly, what in your portfolio makes up for that test score, right? So extracurriculars, academics, um, personal statement, what are you cultivating that will show that you are a sort of rigorous and intellectual individual that maybe doesn’t test well. If you do test well, congratulations, right?

Remember that though, everyone applying to elite universities, their scores also test well, right? So you need to, you need to, you have to, develop a well rounded portfolio that goes beyond test scores and numeric metrics. I think this is where people get caught, right? I’ve seen both in my advising career and in my personal life, people be flummoxed that they didn’t get into the schools that they wanted when they had really good test scores and they had a high GPA.

But remember that when you get to a certain level of competition, you’re Everyone has the school. Everyone has the numbers. So it comes down to what are you doing for your community? What intellectual questions are you exploring? And how will your inquiry make the campus around you a better or more joyful or more rigorous place?

Right? These are the kinds of questions that elite institutions are considering. So I would, so for a lot of students, I would recommend, instead of pouring all of your time and all of your energy trying to increase your score by 10 points on the SAT or 2 points on the ACT, that spending time developing your extracurriculars, spending time enhancing the academic work you do outside of school.

Those are the things that are going to make you stand out more than a perfect score. A perfect score is like a little gold star or a nice checkmark, but it won’t make or break whether you get into one of these schools. Lastly, as I sort of mentioned before, right, studying smarter is way more important than studying harder.

So the strategy and the Improvement rate when you iteratively move from test to test is going to make a much bigger difference than the hours and hours of repetition that some students put in when they study for these tests, unless you know that repetition works for you. And that’s what you need to do.

Right. Um, but if you just sort of keep. And if you keep practicing to practice with no end goal in mind and no idea of how you learn how you can encourage yourself to learn better, then you’re going to end up thinking a lot of time and energy on the testing process without the results that you want.

And that time will be taken away from, again, these other parts of your portfolio that need to be equally robust.

Okay, so that brings me to the end of the recorded slides portion of this webinar. So I’ll turn it back over to Anesha to moderate our next section.

Anesha: Thanks so much always a great, great presentation. And I just want to reiterate your penultimate point, which is around holistic review that the is 1 point of many that application that application readers will keep in mind.

So, that is the end of the presentation part of our webinar. I do hope that you found the information helpful and just a reminder that you can download the slides of the handouts tab, and you can start submitting questions whenever you get ready under the. Q& A. The way that our live Q& A will work is that you can submit your questions.

I will read them aloud so that Mariko will have a chance to respond to them, and then I’ll paste them in the chat so that everyone who is watching can see as Mariko gives an answer. Again, if you are, or as a heads up, if you’re not able to submit questions, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email, and not from the webinar landing page.

And if you are having any trouble, you might have to log out, log back in in order to submit your questions, but also a reminder that we are recording tonight’s session. So, if you miss anything, you can go back to the website and check that page for any recordings to review before we jump into questions.

Last reminder is just again, please do not share your scores with us in the chat. We cannot give you an admissions assessment and again, just to check out the mid 50 percent ranges for the colleges that you’re interested in on the college website. Or on College Board. Okay, moving forward to our questions.

My first question for you, Mariko, is do universities look at standardized, state standardized tests, or is it just the ACT and the SAT, et cetera? 

Mariko: So most private universities do not look at standardized test scores, at least with, um, sort of great earnestness. Uh, particularly the. Sort of OB institutions, right?

The Yales and Harvards of the world where state standardized testing can Very occasionally and it depends on the state come into play is in scholarship programs that are specific to that state And so, um, you’ll find that in a couple of states Uh, but you would need to check for your specific state to see if that would be relevant But the general rule is No, but I am giving this caveat because this did come up in my application cycle this year with a couple of students in ways that I was not expecting someone from California where your state standardized test scores do not really count at all for anything except for to clarify that you can graduate high school.

Anesha: Yeah, I’ll add at least from my personal regional experience that I know in New York, the New York state. Um, tests are kind of more scrutinized to make sure that you are at a level of of competence and even private universities that are taking a lot of students from New York also tend to pay attention to that, um, to those state tests.

So I think it is regional. It really does depend on your state. 

Mariko: It really does. And would you say that for New York? So that is because of New York sort of meritocratic? State tests related culture that sort of especially in New York City that puts a high emphasis on Standardized testing throughout most of the sort of admissions process in high school as well 

Anesha: Yeah, and I mean it’s the admissions for a while.

I think the admissions process within high school is a separate. Yes There’s like the test schools and exam schools in New York, but I think it is, I think it does speak to your point about the meritocratic culture within New York generally, and then also because a lot of those tests are seen as graduation requirements.

So in order to have a regent’s diploma in New York, it is something, it says something, it says something about the additional classes you took, the quality of classes you took, and how well you did on those exams, the regent’s exams. So I think it’s, yeah, I think it’s complicated in New York, but. The tests are very, very structured, especially the public education there and also it’s such a big school district.

So if you’re coming from New York or L.A. or Texas, where there are very large school districts, I think also that tends to influence the impact because they know that they’re going to get a significant number of students from those school districts. And so the test, I guess, adds a little bit of additional weight.

Okay, um, moving forward from that question, because I feel like we could probably have a debate about, about the meritocratic culture of testing. There’s lots of, 

Mariko: there’s lots of, 

Anesha: um, but okay, so this is a quick or a brief question, but can you still take the SAT if you are an early graduate? 

Mariko: From my understanding, yes, but you do need to make sure that you submit it by the college’s internal deadline.

For receiving test scores, which is normally December ish for most schools at the very, very latest, so you are not sort of stopped from taking the test. I don’t think you could, I don’t think it would make sense for you to take it after you graduate. You’re graduating a semester or like half a year early.

If that’s the question, because you will have already graduated and. Colleges would already be in review, right, for what would be most people’s senior spring, uh, but you can definitely still take it. Just make sure that you’re submitting it, uh, that you’re taking it before you physically graduate and that you’re submitting it on time for whatever application cycle you’re using.

Anesha: You might run into the challenge of Not being able to see your scores before you submit, depending on how long you wait to get to get it in. So, yeah, that’s it. The earlier you can take it as an early graduate, I think the better. Okay, would, so this is an interesting question. Would you still recommend doing your best to take the test if you don’t plan on going to a highly competitive school?

This person specifically said an Ivy League, an Ivy League school. 

Mariko: So I recommend. So the first thing that I would recommend is doing a litmus test for yourself, right? Taking both practice tests all the way through, seeing what your baseline score is, and seeing how you felt about both of those tests, right?

So if you take it, your baseline score is, you know, maybe in the 40th, 50th percentile for your target students, So you’re sort of ideal schools that you want to go to and you like, you know what, with a little bit of study or a little bit of practice, I could bump the score up, right? Um, but yeah, absolutely.

Go ahead. If you take it and you, and this would be the case, even if you were applied to an IV, right? If you take it and you absolutely vomit, you absolutely hate it. You can’t seem to get better at studying, you know, these kinds of things and no it as long as these cycles are test optional. It’s not worth it to submit a score.

That is, again, a sort of initial set at the very beginning of the webinar right under that sort of 50th percentile range for any school. Um, the only difference is the 50th percentile ranges still. very close to perfect, right? Um, but if you do take a standardized test and you score higher, right, if you’re in the highest, uh, in the higher percentiles of a particular school’s range, regardless of what the school is, then definitely take it because it’s worth it to submit.

It will be a nice little check mark on your application, right? Again, not to make it or break it, but help yourself. Right? Make your portfolio as robust as possible, and that definitely would be one of the ways you could do that academically, um, particularly if you’ve had an inconsistent GPA, but even if you haven’t, so my advice always, you know, is always free to practice test.

It takes nothing but your time. See what your practice scores are. Talk to your advisors, your counselors, your teachers, right? And really assess how much time you’re going to need to study to get the kind of score that will make sense for your application portfolio and go from there. 

Anesha: Our next question is, are there certain administrations, so time of year, that are recommended to take the SAT over others?

Is the March exam easier than the November exam, I guess? 

Mariko: I wish that that was true because it definitely would make Certain testing cycles, you know, more appealing than others, but, um, there’ll be different tests. The test, of course, is not going to be the same test, uh, but one of those tests will not be easier than the others.

It will mostly depend on, I think, the sort of quality of the questions that particular round, which are decided far in advance. Um, and also what questions work best with you and your learning style, right? I gave the example of my SAT being sort of. Loaded in with math that I was not particularly good at at the time, um, and so that hurt me for that test more than it would have for the test that was the previous administration because I had seen the example questions from that test and like scripted the test for kids taken it and I knew that that test would have probably been a better fit.

And so there is a little left to draw, but no, one testing sort of cycle is not going to guarantee be easier than the other. 

Anesha: That’s such a fascinating question to me because it’s one I have not thought about before of like, it is, um, and I was like, but I don’t, yeah, I’ve not heard of the pattern emerging quite yet where students feel more successful in October versus January or anything like that.

But that was just a really interesting angle to think about it. Okay. Um, on the SAT, is there a limit to the number of times that you can take it? 

Mariko: So. There is no limit to the number of times that you can take an SAT. What you want to be thoughtful and strategic about is if you start taking it more than three times, um, colleges and, It’s changed a little bit over the last three or four years, but this sort of super scoring or taking averages across multiple scores has been a thing that has hurt people if they’ve taken it too many times in the past, but that practice is.

Drastically changed a bit in the past few years. Um, I would say if you’re taking it six or seven times, you might want to assess how you’ve ended up in that situation and whether it’s worth it in terms of time, energy, resources and money to take right more than four times or five times, but I would say taking the test two or three times is very normal.

And I normally recommend for my kids three, four max, right? If you can take it three to four times and feel good about that score. Thank you. Um, Call it a day because there’s also going to you’re going to hit a ceiling for most folks You’ll have a nice steep improvement when you start studying But then there will be sort of a baseline score that you’ll be averaging around And it’s really just sort of can you get like, you know A slight point boost with sort of one test taking versus the other based on like differences between those two 

Anesha: All right, I’m going to take a quick break and do a quick little PSA regarding CollegeAdvisors. So, for those of them who aren’t already working with us, we know how overwhelming the admissions process can be. We do have a team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts, like myself and money go, who are available to help you and your families navigate the process through when I want advising sessions.

You can take the next step in your process and in your journey by signing up. For a free 45 to 60 minute strategy session with an admission specialist on our team. During that meeting, we will review your current extracurricular list, talk about application strategy, talk about testing, talk about everything lines up to the potential college list that you are considering for yourself and give you any any tools that you need to stand out in a competitive admissions.

world. So we will leave that QR code up on the screen for you all to reference and we’ll get back to the question. My next question for you, Mariko, is if you could talk a little bit about the National Merit Scholarship. So I’ll read the question, but it’s generally about that. If you want to apply for the National Merit Scholarship, how do you receive the information to give to give it to those to get the information?

And how do you know if you already get it? Um, so if you just talk about the that process through the community. 

Mariko: So the National Merit Scholarship process is kind of nice because you don’t have to do anything. All you have to do is take the PSAT, your 11th grade year, uh, and make sure you’ve put down, you’ve gone to the school that you go to.

Um, the College Board automatically sectors people based on their scores, um, into these sort of, uh, uh, commendation, semi finalist, finalist categories. And once you are in those categories, it’s not up to you anymore. So that’s pretty nice. Um, in terms of actually getting money out of the National Merit Scholarship, that is something that is quite interesting because it depends on the school that you go to, um, and It depends on sort of what their relationship is with the National Merit Scholarship Program.

So that bit is a little bit different. I will also add that the scores and qualifications for National Merit Scholarship are by state. So because California has a lot of people, the num, the sort of average score for these different rankings of sort of finalists semifinalist etc are very different than those of like Wyoming.

So also keep in mind that there is a little bit of variation depending on where you live geographically that can actually make quite a huge difference in. What tier you qualify for. 

Anesha: Yeah, I’ve had this year. I’ve had some students qualify, like, win it for their state because they did very well in Montana.

They did very well in Alabama. So, even if you’re not doing national, the state, I think awards end up being a great opportunity for students as well, especially from more rural and more densely populated states. Um, okay. The next question is, what is your opinion of test optional schools and how this affects your application?

Um, the other question being, how much weight do these tests hold when applying? I know you spoke to this, but you could add a little bit more flavor to the topic. 

Mariko: Yeah, absolutely. I think in general, I’m very pro test optional policy. I think what the SAT and ACT tell you about a student is if they’re a good test taker.

And given that, you know, especially at liberal arts colleges, where the majority of your curriculum is not tested, it’s about sort of rhetorical and argumentative analysis and critical thinking, uh, where you’re having to produce your own work in college and beyond. I don’t necessarily think that the SAT or ACT either prepared me particularly well for that kind of environment or tested any skills that were useful in that kind of environment.

very much. Beyond being able to write a proper standard English sentence, um, and while that is a really important skill, that also is what spellcheck is for. So I do think that I am a big fan of test optional policy. I also think that A lot of these tests are not universally accessible, we talk about sort of disability rights and advocacy, and while you can get accommodations if you have a disability for one of these tests, uh, the inherent standardization of them means that they aren’t designed well for certain kids who are brilliant, but perhaps learn differently.

And so for that reason, I am sort of morally a fan of the Test optional schools. Um, when it comes to sort of the weight of test optional schools or how that sort of changes, right? Um, the ability of, you know, sort of what weight did the test hold and how would that be changed by test optional score? I would say that I, in my experience in talking to admission officers, it doesn’t change honestly that much.

Um, I was a tour guide at Yale for many years and the, Uh, sort of scripted answer that they always give during their admissions talks is that when you are looking at S scores, the SAT ACT window is pulled up in a tiny little window on the right side of the admissions officer’s search bar. So it’s there.

They look at it. They consider it. But it is not a window that takes up the entire screen and that’s for a reason. So I think it’s a very helpful metric again If you have an inconsistent gpa or if you’re testing much higher than your gpa That can show that you have potential that isn’t necessarily being activated for some reason And so it can be a nice little boost for people Right who want to prove sort of specific academic skill acquisition and quicker Uh conversely though, you can really hurt students who you do a really good job in class and, you know, are doing very solidly academically.

So I think it’s sort of just depends on right. The sort of weight and impact of test optional versus not just optional policies really depends on the individual student because some students will be helped and some students will be hurt by test optional policy. So that is sort of My overall take on it, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 2 to 3 years as, um, you know, vaccines continue to roll out for the pandemic as people return to in person engagement and how that will affect whether schools decide to go back to being less test optional or not.

Anesha: Yeah, I know that they will be at least for the class of 2027, I believe that because I think that was the last class that had a COVID year at some point and so into some anticipated type of learning loss, but I think, yeah, TBD year by year until we’re kind of fully out of the pandemic going back to the previous question that I meant to ask when you were talking about national scholarship, can you use the ACT for scholarships?

Is the ACT a scholarship? tests and any kind of? 

Mariko: Unfortunately, no, but also neither is the SAT. So the SAT, the real, like, no P, just SAT, is also not a scholarship. It is just that one PSAT that you take your junior year. And so obviously, if you’re already studying for the SAT, it does make it easier in that you may have to study for one type of test, right?

Um, but I will say both your Enter SAT scores are often factors considered in scholarship selection. Um, so having good scores in those categories, um, does help with overall and holistic merit scholarship evaluation or. A lot of private scholarship programs and what scholarship program in particular, but particularly private programs definitely look at that as part of your portfolio, because they’re basically evaluating you the same way that colleges are evaluating you.

So, I know that it definitely helped me to have a good score and some of the scholarships I won and I took the right, but there is no sort of formalized program through the program. test body itself. 

Anesha: Um, is it true that if your GPA is high enough, these tests are not required? 

Mariko: No, unfortunately not. Um, having a high GPA will not get, there are very, there are no schools, at least as far as I know, if you do, if you’ve heard something different, drop it in the chat, um, where if you have a certain test score, then, or if you have a certain GPA, then tests become test optional.

Normally schools either have all tests optional, We’re all required. There’s no mediation between those two policies, at least as far as I know. 

Anesha: Yeah, I think the only variation that I can think of is I know for some schools, a specific major like the major program will want to see test scores. So it depends on the major that you select whether or not your testing is optional or required.

That’s the only other kind of shift that I’ve seen. But yeah, I agree with you. Okay, um, how long before the SAT do you recommend studying? 

Mariko: I would say give yourself a few months at least, right? Um, and always give yourself more time than you think you’re going to need, especially if you’re expecting to maybe have to take the test twice, um, which could happen to anyone, right?

You get sick the week before the test, you know, something, Wonderful or terrible happens to you that really affects right here. You’re testing. Um, so I would say at least a couple of months. But again, a lot of it depends on your baseline. So I would recommend that, you know, 4 or 5 months before you really start thinking about like, this is what I must take this test, um, take a practice, right?

And you can even take a practice earlier than that. I took a full length practice test. Um, for both the SAT and the ACT, I think every single year of high school just to see where I was at and what I had already learned versus what I was going to like the next year trigonometry that I could answer on the ACT as a first year in high school.

So I think, right, your baseline will determine how long you need to study for as long as well as how quickly you study and improve, which is very different from person to person, right? And. What else is happening in your life, right? Don’t schedule your test in the middle of your finals period, right?

Don’t schedule your test right before after someone is having a wedding in your family, right? So some of the how long you need to study for is going to depend on your personal calendar, right? Because What might be technically four months of overall studying for you might actually only be three if one of those months is monthly vacation, right?

So whatever that might be for you. 

Anesha: I love that thought of just being mindful of your own life in the context of these tests and making sure, remembering that you are a human, and that so many other things are happening when you have to fit these tests into your schedule, into your life, but yeah. Um, I appreciate you for sharing that reminder.

Um, for pre med track, is it better to take the SAT or the ACT? I get this question a lot in the science section, but yeah. 

Mariko: Yeah, no difference. No difference. Um, I would say as someone who Was is and continues to be very interested in research development and analyzing research the science section of the ACT is probably the only thing that’s even relatively close to what I still do now professionally because I do read a lot of experiments and then I do evaluate whether or not they were good.

So, I think that for me, it was a more helpful professional test, but as a sort of. Pre med, pre clinical physician, neither here nor there, because you will have to take a lot more advanced algebra than I have ever had to take at the collegiate level. So, um, being sort of really locked in on that SAT math section very much could help you, um, if you’re, if you’re putting a lot of time and effort into the algebra section in your, Baseline sort of pre med courses in college.

Anesha: This is a mid test question, I think. So someone said, how do you have advice on how to ease test anxiety when time is winding up in a particular section? 

Mariko: Absolutely. So the first thing I’d recommend, right, is The best way to deal with your timing is to plan in advance and then know what’s going to happen if your plan goes off the rails.

Right? So the first thing that I would take a look at is way before you even start the actual test day, right? Or test anxiety, right? Take a look at how many questions are in this section, how much time it’s going to take per question and do the math for how long it takes for you to do each question. So, um, for example, there’s one section.

Um, That’s 40 questions in 40 minutes, right? That means that on average, that’s going to be a minute per question, right? But you want to leave time at the end to go back and deal with the problems that you haven’t dealt with before, and if you need to give yourself five minutes to do that, right? And so you sort of talk yourself through, right, a strategy that will eventually get you to what is your actual time per question, and then what you can do is while you take the test, and then buffer, always build in buffer.

Always build in buffer. An extra two to three to five minutes of buffer never hurt anybody, right? Um, but that will help you because then when you actually start taking the test and I always always recommend bringing in your own analog watch in addition to whatever they’ll have because that analog watch if it has a second hand will give you much more accurate timing For you when you’re trying to time question to question, right?

So let’s say I do all this math for this story This section, right? And I know about I have about 30 seconds per question, plus 10 minutes extra at the end. If I can’t solve a question in 30 seconds or narrow down the options in 30 seconds that I know in my head, I’m going to move on and go back to that question, right?

And I make my way through the entire test, knowing that I must make it through that first time in, um, you know, The 30 seconds per question, give or take, right? I might take a little longer on one question that I know I can just knock out. I may take no time on a question because I read it. I don’t understand it.

And I know I’m going to skip it and go back, right? Whatever that might be, but. I then have my time plus my extra buffer time, right, to go back and really work through the gnarly problems that are giving me issues. Um, check through all of my questions. Again, big careless mistake person, right? Um, but that also will alleviate my time anxiety about a particular hard question, because I know that I can go back to it later as opposed to potentially Giving up my time on multiple easier questions that will then be rushed through by spending too much time at the beginning of a section on a hard question, but in reality, that question is only one question, right?

It’s worth the same as every easier question. So, right, I would say that in terms of anxiety, right? The best way to deal with it is to plan first and to give yourself that buffer, right? Build into your plan. Um, extra time and resources for if things go wrong and also have a good sort of mental plan about sort of how you’re going to approach, um, your mentality and mindset in taking a test to reduce that anxiety, right?

So what if it’s affirmation, but you say to yourself, it’s, it’s breathing techniques that you work on. Um, my big thing was I would always actually like close the entire test, put my head down and count to 20, which gave a lot of testing administrators. Like mild concern right before I would open the test back up again and start reviewing question for question when I checked and during that time I would literally like sing a song or something or get myself completely out of the headspace right so having the mental strategy built in to reduce the anxiety along with the actual infrastructural design of how you’re taking the test that will guarantee that you have a plan that too will reduce the having anxiety about the test winding down because you shouldn’t be in a place where you’re panicking by the time that section is, or you know, right, that you’re always short on time for this section and you have a good mental plan to approach that, 

Anesha: whatever it is.

Last question that we’ll wrap up with is, will colleges work with me on the test since I have autism? 

Mariko: Colleges will not work with you on the test, but the college board, which is the test administration, um, body will work with you on developing accommodations. Um, if you have accommodations that make sense or make, like, I say this with large quotes right within the context of what the College Board can give.

So the College Board has a list of accommodations that it provides. So things like, um, sort of reduced sensory input, individual tests, taking longer time, those kinds of things. And so work with your health care team. And sort of those college board regulations and folks at college board to determine what the accommodations will, what accommodations will work best for you.

And of course, it’s always good to note, right, any sort of, um, sort of learning differentiation at some point in your call, in your holistic college application, right? But that could be a small essay, um, or a small part of your book. statement or something like that, just to make sure college is having full picture of who you are.

Anesha: Awesome. Thank you so much. Um, always really thorough, always really knowledgeable. Really appreciate having you. So thank you to everyone for coming out tonight. Thank you to our presenter. Also please join us for our sessions coming up. So we hope that you gained some insight today on navigating the standardized testing process through college applications.

Also, we hope that you’ll join us for our later webinars on November 9th. We’ll continue our conversation around standardized testing with a session on test optional to submit or not to submit. So for folks who are having questions and concerns there, please join us on the 9th and then we will have a series on supplemental essays.

So we’ll be tackling Stanford on November 13th, Harvard on the 15th, Yale on the 19th, and we will also have a session to finalize University of California applications on the 15th. We hope to see you soon, but until next time, have a great evening, everyone. Thanks so much.