SAT vs. ACT vs. Test-Optional: Standardized Testing Strategy for College Admissions

Join us for an insightful webinar tailored to high school students and parents as we delve into the intricate landscape of college admissions testing. We will unravel the complexities surrounding the SAT, ACT, and the growing trend of test-optional policies. This session aims to empower you with the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about standardized testing on your college journey.

Admissions expert Mariko Rooks will discuss:

  1. Understanding the SAT and ACT: Explore the fundamental differences between the SAT and ACT, shedding light on their structures, content, and scoring systems.
  2. Strategic Test Selection: Gain insights into how colleges perceive SAT and ACT scores, helping you strategically choose the test that aligns with your strengths and preferences.
  3. Deciphering Test-Optional Policies: Uncover the implications of the test-optional trend and learn how colleges evaluate applicants in the absence of standardized test scores.
  4. Impact on Admissions: Explore how SAT and ACT scores, or the lack thereof, influence the college admissions process, and understand the broader context of holistic application reviews.
  5. Preparation Strategies: Receive practical tips and resources for effective test preparation, whether you opt for the SAT, ACT, or pursue a test-optional application.
  6. Decision-Making Tools: Acquire decision-making tools to navigate the choice between SAT, ACT, or test-optional paths, aligning with your college aspirations.

Join us for an informative session that aims to demystify standardized testing, providing you with the knowledge to strategically position yourself in the college admissions landscape.

Date 02/18/2024
Duration 1:06:06

Webinar Transcription

2024-02-18 – SAT vs. ACT vs. Test-Optional/ Standardized Testing Strategy for College Admissions

Okay. Hello, everyone. Great to somewhat see you. Uh, welcome to “SAT. vs. ACT vs. Test Optional: Standardized Testing Strategy for College Admissions.” My name is Lydia Hollon and I am your moderator for today as well as a senior advisor here at CollegeAdvisor. I’ve been with the company for about three years now, and in addition to advising students, I’m a proud co captain of our essay review team as well as a moderator.

for our webinars. I’m also a proud graduate of New York University, and in addition to my work with CollegeAdvisor, I’m an education consultant who works with schools, government agencies, and non profits across the country to make education more accessible, and I’m also a former high school teacher and college counselor.

So to orient everyone, you. With the webinar timing for tonight, we are going to start off with a presentation, and then we’re going to answer your questions in a live Q& A. So on your sideboard, you can download our slides, and you can start submitting questions in the Q& A tab. So now, let’s meet our presenter, Mariko Brooks.

Hi everyone. Let’s see, I’ll go ahead and advance our slides forward. Oh, great. Hi, my name is Mariko. I am a, I’ve been with CollegeAdvisor for, oh my gosh, four years now. I joined in 2020, and I am a graduate of Yale, actually two times over. I was in our combined bachelor and master’s in public health program, so I graduated in 2021 with a double major in the history of public health and ethnicity, race, and migration, which is our And then with my master’s in public health in social and behavioral sciences.

And right now I serve as a public health equity specialist on a number of different research projects. And I also maintain a faculty position at Loyola Marymount University. And so I’m really excited to be with everyone today to talk a little bit about your standardized testing options. And. giving folks a baseline to figure out what pathway is right for you at this point in your college application and admission journey.

So let’s go ahead and get started. All right. Okay, so we are going to start off with a quick poll just to Get an idea of where everyone is at. So I’m opening it up now. The question is, what grade are you in? So while we answer that question, Mariko, could you just tell me a little bit about your experience at Yale?

What did you like about it? What made you want to apply there? Absolutely. So I will always be really, really thankful for my experience at Yale. It’s definitely not an easy place to go to college, but I think that the people and the opportunities make it absolutely worth it. I first toured Yale the summer after my sophomore year of high school.

And I knew immediately that I really gravitated towards the. The atmosphere in the campus culture, I think at any highly selective university, you’re going to get a roughly analogous education, right? When it comes to the opportunities and the level of rigor. So the vibe of the campus ends up being really important as you choose what is the best fit for you.

And I loved how genuinely and unironically enthusiastic was at Yale. I loved the emphasis on intellectual curiosity. And on being excited about learning new things, uh, coming from a pretty competitive high school, I really welcomed a change in atmosphere that was really much more centered around, you know, what you want to explore and what you want to learn more about.

And of course, how are you going to use that learning to hopefully change the world around you for the better? So that was sort of what led to my application journey there. And, uh, I liked it enough that I stayed for two degrees, so I can’t complain.

Oh, Lydia, I think you’re still on mute. Thank you. So looking at our results, it seems like the vast majority of you all are still in 11th grade, which makes sense since this is about standardized testing and 11th grade is when all of that really comes to its peak. Um, so 64 percent of our, our attendees tonight are in 11th grade.

We’ve got 25 percent in 10th grade, 9 percent in 9th grade. And one person who say they are other. So, thank you all for sharing that. Definitely makes sense with the topic that we’re discussing tonight. We’re going to move on to just one more poll question, which is, which standardized tests have you taken or are you planning to take?

And again, just while I give you all a chance to answer that question, Um, I would love to hear from you, um, Mariko, what, like, how did you feel about standardized testing when you were in high school? Was it something that gave you anxiety? Did you feel really confident with it? How did you make the decision, um, on which test you would take?

Absolutely. So I graduated at high school in 2017, which meant that at that time, standardized testing was still mandatory. So I knew I had to take one. Um, and this was also during the time period when the SAT formatting was switching from the old SAT into the current SAT. So those were all things that I was factoring in that you may not have to factor in, but that were sort of an essential part of my journey.

I started out taking the PSAT, and we’ll talk a little bit more about that. that in 11th grade, and I said, Okay, I don’t mind this test, but it doesn’t seem to play to my particular strengths. And so while I did take the SAT, and I was okay about my score. I decided to try out the ACT because I knew that the formatting of the test, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, um, lent itself more towards my strengths in critical thinking and in reading lots of stuff very quickly.

And so that ultimately was sort of what shifted me into being more interested in taking the ACT. And so that was eventually what I took and submitted to the ACT. Colleges asked my official standardized test score, but I do have experience taking both and experience with both the old and the new SAT, which I think is a little bit unusual, but that was just sort of how the cookie crumbled from my ear.

Well, uh, we’re in the same boat there. I graduated the same year as you did. So I also, You remember? Yes, I remember doing test prep freshman year, preparing for an SAT that no longer existed by the time I was a junior at high school and All of that. So a unique boat to be in, but I’m glad that our attendees listening tonight do not have to experience that, or at least hopefully they don’t, but they’re navigating its own unique terrain with figuring out, you know, test optional strategies.

So looking at our responses here, it seems like the majority. of our attendees tonight are interested in taking the SAT and then AP exams are in second place there and then we’ve got about 22 percent of participants interested in taking the ACT. Only a small percentage, 1%, who are planning on taking none and a few who are taking IB exams or some other form of standardized test, but ACT, SAT, and AP exams are dominating.

Okay, well, without further ado, we will go ahead and jump into our presentation for tonight. Great. Okay, so all of these different acronyms that you just heard Lydia name off and that you voted for in the poll are different kinds of standardized tests. Right. And so the way that we can sort of think about standardized tests as a broad category are that they are standard academic metric across many different demographics, right?

High schools have vastly different class types and difficulties in assessment. Some schools have AP programs and some don’t. Some schools have IB programs and some don’t. And even, as I’m sure you’ve talked to your friends at other schools, your AP history class may be very different from their AP history class in terms of the level of rigor and difficulty, and whether it actually is a true facsimile of a college course or a college preparation course.

And so the goal of standardized testing is to be able to assess certain kinds of skills skills and accomplishments across these different schools and across these different demographics. And it’s worth remembering, right, that standardized testing isn’t testing how smart you are. It’s just testing if you can perform a certain type of skills in a certain kind of atmosphere because the theory behind it is that those skills in and being able to sort of time manage those skills will be really important in ascertaining how well you might be able to do in college.

And so really what it’s expect, really what these tests, all of these tests are expecting you to do are to quickly recall different academic concepts, be able to think critically about new academic material, summarize material you’re given, and analyze material that you maybe haven’t seen before, but Um, features topics that you should have covered at some point in high school.

And most important in this is that even if you know every single problem on any of these tests, if you don’t have good timing and good organization that follows the format of the test, then you won’t be able to finish it in time. So those two things are being tested just as much as your sort of academic knowledge.

And now, as we sort of talked about and alleged in our own experiences, these tests, however, have become less essential over time. Because of COVID 19, there were about two years where things were truly, truly test optional, in that there were a lot of students that were physically unable to go and take a standardized test due to COVID 19.

And there was also this large recognition that COVID 19 was going to disrupt people’s ability to be prepared for, These tests as well as to physically take them. Another thing that sort of had come up even prior to COVID 19, however, is the fact that these tests, while they do serve as a decent metric for being able to ascertain certain skills, are in their very origin not actually as equitable as they might seem.

Many of the original standardized tests, including the SAT, were built by eugenicists, which were a branch of scientists that were really convinced that, um, They could further the human race by basically selectively choosing genes, which included intellectual genes. However, that particular branch of science was founded in racism, and particularly trying to further the white race at the expense of other races.

It’s a pretty wild sort of thing that happened in the 1900s. And so even prior to COVID 19, there was some reckoning with the fact that these tests might not be as objective and as standardizing as one would hope. Both in their development and also in their execution, because some people have greater access to outside test prep resources than others.

So, this is sort of why the test optional question, the sort of test optional option has come to be. Okay, I’m going to go ahead and move to our next slide. And so, there are a couple of different standardized tests that will be a part of your application. Uh, the first is the PSAT or pre SAT. Pretty much every single high schooler in the United States, excuse me, international students, um, will take the PSAT their junior fall of high school.

And the PSAT is Very, very similar to the SAT. It’s a little bit shorter, but it’ll qualify you for a national merit scholarship, if that’s something that you’re interested in. And so because of that, it can be something that you will see in your, for example, your awards section of your common app or your course.

University of California app, um, as part of the extracurriculars there. The two main tests, and colleges normally only require one, are the SAT and the ACT, and we will go over exactly what those are and what the differences between those two things, these two tests are, but just know for now that these are exactly the same.

In the eyes of colleges, there is no preference whatsoever between the SAT and the ACT. And if you want to find a score converter, there are several online, so you can understand roughly what your SAT score converts to an SA an A CT scores and vice versa. Um, but really important to recognize that there is no difference.

Colleges will not penalize you for taking one more than the other. I think that the SAT has a bit. more brand name recognition, so it tends to be everyone’s default test. But I’d really encourage you, and that’s why we’re here today, to really look into both tests, because the formatting is very, very different, and one might be much more beneficial for you than the other.

The other two kinds of tests, which we won’t go into detail as much today, are, um, the TOEFL or the TOEFL exams, which are sort of the international student equivalents for ACT and SAT and AP exams, which augment your ACT and SAT scores. If you are in a school that has an AP program, or if you decide to take an AP test, even if you are in a school that doesn’t have an AP program and AP classes are designed to be sort of collegiate level, introductory collegiate level classes, there are some schools that will give you college credit.

for these AP exams and some schools that won’t, um, but most competitive schools expect you to be taking AP classes and taking AP exams if your school offers them. AP exams are given once a year nationally and they are scored on a scale of one to five with three to five being a passing grade. So these are the different kinds of tests.

Again, today we’ll be focusing on ACT and SAT and also what to do if you don’t want to take either of those tests. Alright, so let’s start with the SAT. I think the most well known, the SAT is administered about seven times a year. It takes. almost four hours, a little bit less, and the highest score that you can get on an SAT is a 1600.

That score is going to be split between two sections. There is a math section, which will require you to do applied math through around a pre calculus level, and an evidence based reading and writing section, which is a combination of reading passages, analyzing them, and being able to talk through all of the themes.

And being able to correct spelling, grammar, and vocabulary errors and choosing the best options when it comes to vocabulary and grammar combinations. This score is added together, and this is going to be important because that’s not what happens on the ACT. So you take your math, your math is converted into a score out of 800.

You take your reading and writing, score out of 800, these are added together, and this will get you your total of 1600. So that’s the SAT. And now we have the components in a little bit more detail. The math will take 80 minutes. There are always 58 questions. Again, lots of different math topics that are covered.

Algebra, problem solving, data analysis, and advanced math. Reading and writing will have Reading, which is the passage reading, and then writing and language, which is going to be your grammar and your argument building. The reading is 65 minutes and 52 questions. The writing and language is 35 minutes and 44 questions.

So notice here that there are many more evidence based reading writing questions, then there are math questions, right? Um, there’s 96 versus 58. However, both of these total out to only being a maximum of half of your score, which means that if you are someone who is very strong in math, this is great for you, right?

Because your math is going to be half your score and you’re not doing as many questions. But if you’re someone for whom reading and writing are both very strong, separately strong, then you might want to consider taking the ACT instead. And I’ll explain that in more detail in a second, but just note that that is not going to shine on this test in the same way as it will on the ACT.

So these are things that you want to consider. There is also an optional essay portion that’s about 50 minutes. Some schools may require the essay, so just make sure to check or ask before you register if the schools that you’re interested in going to require the essay. For most. Super selective schools, like the Ivies, expect to write the essay as well, and that essay is going to just be your standard argumentative or persuasive essay on a topic of their choosing.

Okay, so that is the SAT. Now, the ACT is a little bit different. Around the same time, it’s a little bit shorter, three hours and 35 minutes. Um, it’s still administered around seven times a year. The highest score you can get on the ACT is a 36. And the score is split between English, math, reading, and science.

Each number of questions correct per section translates to a 1 through 36 score, and sometimes, depending on the number of questions, because they are not necessarily consistent between each test, if you get one or two questions incorrect, you might still get a 36, depending on what the average is. But the important thing with the ACT that’s very different than the SAT, is that your scores are averaged across all subjects.

all fields for a composite score. So your final number that you walk out with is an average, so adding all of these up and dividing by four, as opposed to the SAT, which is adding two sections together. And so why is that potentially important? If you are, feel like you are pretty well rounded, then the ACT is great because All of your scores will reflect, roughly, um, sort of your level of mastery.

But, if you’re a little bit lopsided, one score, because it’s an average, may, from a math perspective, tank everything else. So, if you get a 33, And then 28, right, um, your overall score is going to be much lower than that 33, even though you had the 33, right, in total. And so, this formatting is also very different when it comes to specific sections of your test, right?

Um, English, 75 questions in 45 minutes. This is pretty easy. fast pace. However, this is only going to be sort of the writing portion of the evidence based reading and writing on the SAT. These are the analogous questions. So they’re testing grammar and grammar usage, punctuation, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.

And so that again is sort of what would be half, give or take, of the SAT’s evidence based reading and writing. Math, 60 questions in 60 minutes. Um, there’s a little bit more of a focus in trigonometry and geometry on the ACT often compared to the SAT, although it depends on the test. Then you have reading, which is just reading comprehension of Normally there are three to four passages that are given.

You read through the passage, they ask you questions about the passage. Notice though, again, 40 questions in 35 minutes. So the speed on the ACT is a little bit faster. And then the thing that is completely separate from the SAT is that is the science section, which is again, 40 questions in 35 minutes.

And the science question will give you a number of different experiments, and it’ll ask you questions about those experiments. So either being able to actually calculate using quantitative or numbers based data, an answer to something related to the data in the experiment. Or asking a question about sort of how the experiment is set up, what conclusions can we come to from the experiment, those kinds of things.

So it’s still pretty reading comprehension heavy, more so than math heavy in that case. And again, there is an optional writing essay as well. And so, again, some things to note here, right? Your English and your reading are split, um, in, in the ACT versus the SAT. And, again, there is this science section that is different.

And so, ultimately, what’s going to be important here is averaging across all of these sections in a way that is sort of strong. And, again, pacing is also very different, right? A lot more material, a lot shorter reading. Time. So it really sort of depends on what makes sense for you and what you feel the most Comfortable with.

Okay, and so then how do you choose between these two, right? Quality and quantity of questions, right? ACT is going to have more questions and less time But each question will count for fewer total points and sometimes the averaging of the score can help you out The SAT, as we said, less geometry, higher algebra skills on the math section But You’ll have more time per question and less of an emphasis on English.

Also keeping in mind that reading comprehension skills make a huge difference in terms of what makes you feel more comfortable on which test, right? As discussed, the ACT Science section requires a lot of reading comprehension across STEM questions. You need to be able to analyze experimental data and answer questions that aren’t necessarily adding or subtracting or multiplying.

So that means that Three total sections of the ACT require some kind of reading in addition to your arithmetic ability on the math and science versus on the SAT, there’s a lot more, um, calculation in terms of total percentage of what’s going to be math related, but we want to keep in mind, um, these differences.

And so when do we take these standardized tests, right? PSAT is normally taken. in 10th or 11th grade. The 11th grade scores are for that National Merit Scholarship finalists or semi finalist award, but you can take it earlier than that. Some schools will offer as early as 8th or 9th grade. I think my school offered both 10th and 11th grade, so we were able to take it twice.

Again, SAT, ACT, you normally start taking your junior year based on the math that you’re taking. That’s normally about when you’ll hit the point where most of the math that you are covering in school is what’s covered on the test. Depends on the school, depends on the math level, right? But give or take. I would not recommend leaving this until senior fall, although some people do with great success.

I would say the goal should be to probably get this done by the end of the summer after your junior year, just so it doesn’t bleed too much into actually filling out applications and writing essays and the other things you’ll need to do to make sure you can apply to college on time. And then of course, AP tests are usually based on the year that you take a course, though some students choose to take a test without the course, so it depends on your profile and how many classes you’re taking per year.

For me, I took two classes, two AP classes my sophomore year, three, four, four AP classes my junior year and four AP classes my senior year, so I ended up with a total of ten AP classes. That sounds right. I think that’s right. It was a while ago, but roughly within there. And so as you’re preparing for any test, there are definitely some things that I would recommend, uh, in order to make sure that you feel the best and are able to sort of study the most effectively.

I think a lot of times when it comes to ACT and SAT, people really prioritize volume over strategy, and I think strategy is something that’s really important more so than paying a lot of money to do 8 hours of practice problems a day. The first thing that I would recommend is practicing your tests in actual testing conditions.

So removing all additional electronics, shutting off, um, your phone, taking the test with the same timing that you take it on the actual test, and really trying to simulate to the best of you can, the best that you can, the conditions on test day. And that really helps with things like timing, but also things like your nerves and your comfort with sort of the kinds of spaces where testing happens, which are very different necessarily.

Potentially from your dining room table, right? I would also recommend that as you prepare for your tests you critically review Why you missed the questions you missed in practice problems in review Is it because you didn’t have enough time? Is it because you didn’t understand the concept? Is it because you are prone to sort of making?

Silly little mistakes that you knew the answers to that question, but you were rushing and you missed it, right? Whatever that might be. And really sort of also concentrating your time and effort on topics that are more difficult for you when it comes to the conceptual based errors, while figuring out how to minimize these sort of careless mistakes and errors.

Are you overthinking? Are you underthinking? Those kinds of things. And so this is sort of what shakes out for All of the test prep strategies that I think work across the board regardless of what score, regardless of what test you are going to take and what score you are aiming for.

For the day of the test, I would also say again, regardless of the test, here are some other things that I’d recommend. The first is to get good sleep two nights before, not just the night before, but also the night before that, because you tend not to feel sleep deficit until around 24 hours after you’ve had the deficit.

I would also say that if you are cramming to study within the two nights before your test, It probably is not going to work super well in terms of retention. So, uh, just like if you’re an athlete, you taper before competition, you’re also going to taper before a test, and maybe do some light review, but don’t try to cram things the night before or two nights before.

I would also recommend laying out all of your testing materials in advance. Um, most testing centers require you to bring an ID. They’ll tell you, you can bring your water and your snacks for breaks, and if you are taking the test, not on the digital SAT, but if you’re not taking the digital SAT, but you’re taking the paper SAT, then you also need things like pencils.

So just making sure all of that is ready to go. Again, don’t cram the morning of the test. It probably is not going to help you and also have a good plan for your breaks. All of these tests, regardless if you’re taking it digital or on paper, SAT or ACT, they will give you breaks at some point. during the test.

So knowing when is most useful for you to eat so that you can keep your energy up, when are you most likely going to have to go to the bathroom, those kinds of things. Um, know exactly how you’re going to use your break time so that you can be the most well prepared and you can have the best endurance possible for what is going to be a really long day.

And again, that’s where practice testing is really helpful because if you take a full practice test in testing conditions, you’ll get a better sense of how your body and how your brain are responding as you go. along the test and try to finish everything. I for one had like a minute where I would simply put my head down during breaks because I would get tired.

So whatever that works. So whatever works for you. Okay, so what about test optional schools, right? Many schools are test optional, especially since the advent of COVID 19. If you are test optional, it doesn’t mean that your test scores are not considered. So if you still submit your score to the college, they will still see it.

And also, it means that for some test optional schools, if you are not, if you do not, do submit a score, that score will factor in positively or negatively into your application. And so I would say there are a couple of more selective schools especially where they are face value test optional, but it is kind of still expected that your test, that you’re submitting a test score if that test score aligns or is higher than the rest of your profile.

When it comes to thinking through whether you want to be test optional or not, I think there are a lot of different. factors to keep in mind. Um, some of it is sort of what are your target schools and what are your reach schools. Does it make sense? Or are they expecting a test score? The other thing I would keep in mind is what does your test score look like in in relation to the rest of your profile?

If you, um, Struggled maybe a semester with your grades, but you have high test scores that can sort of demonstrate, especially with a small paragraph on why you struggled that semester, that you are capable of delivering what colleges are expecting you to deliver at the level of school that you’re applying to.

If, however, your test score, no matter what you do, is just lower than all the other demographics on your profile, then I wouldn’t recommend submitting it because it’s not going to help you, um, with your application. But unlike a year or two years ago, if you watch any of these older webinars, um, I would more strongly recommend at least studying and seeing how you do on your standardized testing than I would have in 2020 or 2021.

And so, right, um, If you’re going to submit a score, right, again, sort of remember these different facts, right? Um, how is your, how is your score balancing? How can it sort of demonstrate skill that is analogous with the rest of your profile, right? Um, and avoiding submitting scores if they are for some reason really, really significantly low.

Okay, um, actually, before we go on to this slide, I think the last thing that I do want to mention, which is not on this slide deck, is how many times can you take these tests, and what does that look like? So, Again, different schools have different policies, so make sure you check your school to see what makes the most sense.

Some schools will superscore your tests, which means they will take, um, sort of the most favorable sections of multiple tests and put them together. Some schools, however, if you take a test more than three times, will start averaging out that score, right? Um, if you’re taking a test six or seven times, that will be flagged to them as something that they will notice.

Um, I would say that When you are thinking about how many times you’re going to take a test And how often you want to take a test I would just generally recommend like no more Than four to five times maximum really you should be aiming somewhere in the lines of like three um at a certain point unless you are drastically improving in leaps and bounds between test scores, most schools are just sort of looking for a range of scores, right?

The difference between a 1480 and a 1490 is not crazy, but the difference between a 1480 and a 1520 is. So if you feel like you’re being able to sort of jump up brackets within your scores, then feel free to continue retesting, right? Especially if there’s one test where you just got a bad test or you had a bad test taking day.

But if you’re aiming for like one or two points and you’re Pushing tons and tons of time and energy and potentially money into like a one or two point increase that time, I would strongly say can be better spent for most people in developing your extracurricular portfolio or in doing something else that will advance your application.

So I would say, yes, you can take more than once, but really sort of think through strategically what makes sense for you. And again, what each school’s policy is on retaking tests, particularly after the third. time. So just make sure you check on that first. Okay. All right. So we talked a little bit more about, um, we talked a little bit about my standardized testing experience, but I can sort of walk folks through, right?

Um, I took a number of AP tests, right? Sophomore, junior and senior year. I took Also SAT subject tests, which are not a thing that are sort of really counted anymore. Um, but that was, that was what was still sort of on the docket, um, when I was applying through. And I took both the old and the old SAT and the PSAT.

And so I was like not super happy with my SAT experience. So I flipped to the ACT my junior spring. And again, right, that played to my particular strengths, right? It was fast paced. It was a lot of reading and a lot of science, which. My current career involves reading about science for the most part. So it worked out very well for me, right?

I would say that, um, The ACT official practice test book is really good. I think that it mirrors what’s actually on the test quite well, more so than some of the third party Tutoring brands like Kaplan, and I think that’s more true for the ACT than the SAT, and so I got really lucky, um, The test that I took was also pretty well written and played to my strengths, especially in reading comprehension, And so I was happy with my score, I only took the ACT once, I only took the SAT once, I only took the PSAT once, um, But mainly that was because I was pretty, at that point, I was pretty familiar with what kinds of tests were best for me and was able to study that way.

So again, think really critically about, um, really critically about format. And then my advice, right, find a test that feels right for you. Again, sort of the formatting, what feels more comfortable. Instinctively, some people just do much better on one test than the other. Remember that these tests are only a small part of your overall portfolio.

I think, again, there tends to be a real, uh, sort of disproportionate overemphasis on SAT scores because they are one of the few. The only sort of objective things that you can use to compare between kids from different schools. But, I know students who got 25s on their ACT’s. and were at Yale with me and did a brilliant job.

And I know students who got perfect scores on their ACT’s and didn’t get into Yale with me. So just keep that in mind, that the testing is in conjunction with the rest of your portfolio, your grades, your extracurriculars, and your essays. And those things are considered together. You can’t isolate one part of that portfolio and compare it without comparing the other things.

So ultimately, whether it makes or breaks anything. Not normally, right? Unless your profile is so identical to someone else’s that that’s what it comes down to, but that very, very rarely is the case. Um, it really is going to be run in conjunction with everything else, right? And if you test well, and you’re really looking to apply to selective schools, congratulations, but just remember that everyone test well.

So there’s going to be a certain level of elite school. And this is really where we’re sort of talking at the Ivy level for where for the most part. Thanks. Um, folks will be turning in scores that are similar to yours. So you must develop a profile beyond your test scores, beyond your metrics. Everyone will have the test scores.

Everyone will have the metrics. The question is, what are you going to do with the skills that you’ve demonstrated? By taking these tests. Well, right. Um, and again, the last thing is studying smarter is greater than studying harder. So your strategy and being able to identify what you need to improve on and how to improve on it quickly is far greater than a number of hours spent in repetition, unless your thing is repetition and you know, that’s how you’re going to get results.

This also comes into play when we talk about test prep classes as well. I did not take a single test. paid test prep class throughout my entirety, the entirety of my high school career. I was able to do all of this with self study and asking my parents to like buy me a couple of review books from the ACT review company.

But that was because I knew how to critically analyze the What I was doing poorly on and what I needed to improve upon. It’s great to have a tutor or someone else and CollegeAdvisor does provide resources as well to help you if you are not at that point. But just remember that at the end of the day, um, enrolling in a really, really expensive eight hour a day SAT or ACT prep course is only going to work if you know how to personalize your strategy and personalize your improvement.

Okay. Based on what works best for you and that that can carry through into how you’re going to take the test on the test day, especially if you struggle with sort of test performance anxiety or any number of very, very valid stressors that relate to being able to take a test in a specific amount of time.

Okay. All right. Great. Um, so that’s the end of our presentation part of the webinar, but we are going to continue. I hope that you found the information so far helpful and remember that you can download the slides that we’ve been presenting on from the link in the handouts tab. So, we’re not going to move into the live Q&A, I will read through some of the questions that you all have submitted.

And, um, put them in the public chat so that you all can see them and then read them out loud for our presenter to give you an answer. As a heads up, if your Q& A tab isn’t letting you submit questions for any reason, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email and not from the webinar landing page.

So I’m going to start with a question that’s kind of related to what you were just talking about, which is, is it recommended to take the SAT in my junior year even if I haven’t taken SAT prep classes yet? Yes, so my biggest suggestion is before you even sign up for an SAT prep class is that there are several online free practice tests for both the ACT and the SAT.

I would suggest taking one of each and seeing where your score lands. If you take it and you walk out of This was the worst idea of my entire life. I scored so badly. I don’t even know where to begin. I definitely need to take a prep class or at least do some serious self studying before I take the test.

Then delay, right? Um, then figure out a testing and a timing plan that makes sense for you. Even if it’s a little bit later, you’re taking the summer after your junior year or something like that. If you take the practice test and you’re like, hey. That wasn’t terrible. I think I can score decently if I just put in a couple of hours a week or a couple of hours a day.

Then adjust your plan from there. So it’s a little hard for me to write, um, you know, give you a catch all answer because it kind of depends on your profile as a student and what your schedule is like and what you’re trying to do. But my recommendation before anything else is to find some sort of baseline assessment for yourself so you know where you need to go and plan based on that.

Um, and I would definitely agree with that. Um, I never did a test prep course at all. I was a National Merit Scholar. Um, and all those things. And I, I didn’t feel like it was particularly necessary for me. I think I had one ACT prep book, prep book. I never actually did a SAT prep, only took the SAT because I did well on the PSAT and I had to take the SAT in order to verify my score for National Merit.

Um, I think that test prep courses can be very valuable if you’re the kind of person who maybe doesn’t test very well naturally, which If you’re in 11th grade at this point, you probably have an idea of whether or not you test well, or if that’s something that you struggle with. Um, and also if you kind of struggle with the regiment that is required to prepare for standardized testing.

I think that doing well on tests, a lot of it is building up stamina. So if you’re someone that’s easily distracted, for example, or is easily bored, and kind of, Loses your train of thought and maybe will struggle with the test that takes two and a half hours to complete Um that may require you to do something like a test prep course or you just struggle with Um commit committing to a specific regimen to improve your score in specific areas Having an external Motivator, like a test prep class that you go to every week or something like that can be really helpful in improving your performance if you’re not able to hold yourself accountable, but I don’t think that it’s completely necessary.

There are so many great ways to improve your performance without paying for a test prep course 100 percent agree. So another question. that we have is what precisely do schools know about your testing? So does the SAT or ACT tell them how many times you took a test? If you don’t submit a score at all, do they know that you tested?

Yes. So first of all, if you don’t submit a score at all, um, you, they will not know that you took the test. Um, you, Nothing automatically shows colleges if you’ve taken an SAT or how many times you’ve taken an SAT. Most colleges let students who have taken the SAT multiple times select which of your test scores by date that you want to send to colleges.

However, some colleges do require applicants to send all test scores, so they will ask, right, um, you know, for all of them. So, again, it’s very specific to The college. Um, so make sure as you are building your portfolio that you are choosing colleges that sort of strategize, um, helpfully when it comes to what will be sort of reflected the best in your overall.

portfolio. And you can find that by checking a college’s admissions website or by contacting the admissions office directly. And the only time, um, where a school would be able to know how many times you took it is there are some universities that require, if you do choose to submit test scores, that you submit all of your testing history and not just cherry picking specific scores.

So that’s the only time where they would know. But if you’re choosing not to submit any scores at all, um, like you said, there’s not a, they’re not going to know what, that you took the test and maybe just weren’t satisfied with your score or anything. That is why, um, in relation to another question that I’ll publish, someone was asking, when is the best time to take the first test?

It’s important to be mindful of when you choose to take that first test because if you do apply to a school, like I believe Georgetown is one of them, that requires a full testing history. If you choose to apply to a school like that, let’s say that you take your first SAT really early, like your freshman year, which is usually too soon for most people because you haven’t taken all of the math or taken all the courses that are going to be relevant for the standardized exam.

You may have a really low score that first time. So that’s why most people will usually take their first standardized test either late their 10th grade year or or junior year because by that point they’ve already gotten exposure to all the core content that would be on the SAT or ACT. So definitely before you decide to take your first standard standardized test, take a practice exam at least once or twice to get an idea of where you’re at.

So that if you do apply to a school like Georgetown, for example, or Carnegie Mellon, that require a full testing history, um, all of your scores are really strong rather than, um, you know, maybe having one score that is really low and then having to show that you grew a lot by the time you reach your junior year, senior year and take the final exam.

Okay. So, um, Another question that we have is, are SAT scores becoming more of a necessity? Necessity, necessity for students who are borderline. Even the schools say it is an optional thing. So I dunno if more of a necessity is maybe like a, a way to frame it, because I would say compared to 2020 and 2021.

Yes, because like there was just no way that someone was going to be able to take an SAT or an ACT during that time, right? So test optional made much more sense because like people were physically not able to get into test centers, right? And so in that sense, yes but in general Well, I would say that some of it depends on how long the school has been test optional for.

If the school has always been test optional, then that probably reflects on sort of their focus on testing or lack thereof. I would say in general, if you are quote unquote a borderline student, right, what’s going to matter is not if you submit an SAT score, but if your SAT score is higher or helps your profile.

Right? If your school, if, if it helps your profile because your SAT score is maybe like sort of a little bit higher than on average, um, the score of a student with your sort of grades in your portfolio, then yes, it’s going to be a little, it’s going to be, it’s going to factor in in a way that’s like helpful, right?

Conversely, if it’s like really low and you’re already on the border, then they might look at you and be like, well, You’re not helping your own case, right. But I think whether it’s sort of a necessity or not really depends on the score in relation to the other elements of your application. I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule about sort of what is a sort of yes or no necessity wise, especially because the likelihood of you being directly compared to someone with the exact same profile is, is low, right?

Because every student is different, even if you do the same extracurriculars and have relatively the same grades, likely your essay topics will be different. Definitely. Another question we have is, if a college requires you to put all your test scores on your application, would they view it poorly if you got a lower score at a later date than you did at an earlier date?

I think ultimately it’s going to depend on, first of all, how, how big was that score gap, right? Um, and secondly, I would imagine that you’re not turning in your lower score as your final testing score, right? If you scored higher and then you scored lower, my assumption would be that you would probably, you might as well just take it a third time and hopefully score higher than the first two, right?

And I think if that is the case, then it’s probably okay because everyone, you know, can get a bad test, everyone can sort of have a bad day, right? Um, but I wouldn’t end it on your lower score just because that obviously is not a great look. Yeah, I, I agree. It’s, it’s not a great look if your scores are dipping as you go on.

And I would say if you are noticing that for yourself, um, that is a sign that you either need to take a significant break if you have the time. Or you may have just reached your plateau, reached your peak, and you know, it’s all good. So if you notice, let’s say that you got a 32 and you were really hoping to break into that 34 plus range, but the next time you get a 31, that’s not a huge red flag to a school that, oh my gosh, like they’re not, like they’re way less talented or whatever than we thought they were.

It just may be a sign that, you know, even though you put in more studying and more effort, That, that 32 may just be the max that you reach, and that’s still a really strong score, and I wouldn’t keep going and going and going beyond that. Um, I think like we talked about earlier, once you go past that 3 or 4 times mark, that’s usually where people have met their peak of where they’re going to perform, and it can start to look a little off.

If you go into taking the test five, six, seven times until you get the score that you want. So it’s just about being aware of where you may have reached your max potential in certain areas and taking some time to step away and maybe reflect on if you really are going to be able to break into that next threshold because pushing for one more point usually isn’t going to make or break you anyway.

Exactly, exactly. Um, another question we have is on the ACT, what science subjects are being tested? So it depends on the test, but I would say that you’re going to see something that is for sure some sort of natural science based prompt for the most part. Um, so something about like rocks or ecosystems or the water cycle.

So something that’s a little bit of a more macro, you’ll find something that’s a little bit more of a sort of micro in the like biology, natural sciences. Um, and that’s normally like a lab based or controlled experiment. You will have something that is a little bit more math heavy and those normally lean either chemistry or physics, often, you know, one of both.

Um, so I would just say that none of it is at sort of the level of AP physics or AP chemistry or AP biology. Much of it is honestly just about like reading comprehension and then how well you can solve word problems and how well you can read a graph. Um, so those are the skills that are being tested more than specific disciplines though obviously it always helps if you’ve had exposure to similar experiments, just in terms of being familiar with vocabulary and problem setup.

And I always say that for the ACT science, it’s honestly less so about, oh, how well do you know chemistry? Or how well do you know physics? And more so, how well are you able to digest data? and interpret it. So I took my first practice ACT when I was in eighth grade, and I think I got like a 34 on it, even though I had never taken chemistry.

And that was just because I knew really well how to interpret graphs and data, because that’s, you know, The majority of what it is is just, are you able to read this information and determine what it is? It’s kind of similar to ACT reading in that way, where it’s not so much about having a lot of background knowledge, and it’s more about your ability to interpret what the information that you’re getting actually means and make inferences based off of it.

So, um, another question that we had was, for example, let’s say student A submits the ACT with a good score and student B decides to go test optional, which student would be preferential to an admissions team? Would it be the student who submitted a high score or a student who chose test optional. I know that there’s probably more context that we need there, but what’s the general spirit you would say?

Yeah, it really depends on what the test optional person’s profile is, right? If you submitted a test score and it was a solid, and then let’s say it was like a 34 on the ACT, but student B started a non profit that saved 2, 000 lives instead of taking the ACT. Right. One of the, and was like commended by Michelle Obama for it, right?

One of those things is going to stand out much more on someone’s profile than the other. And so I think what ultimately you sort of need to keep in mind is what does your profile look like and how will submitting a score potentially enhance your profile or how might it Detract from your profile because at the end of the day you have no idea who else is applying Well, maybe if maybe you’ll know one or two people who are applying to the same schools, right?

But at the end of the day you have no idea what the true application pool is So trying to compare yourself to like fictional People who don’t actually exist with maybe similar profiles to you who have maybe or maybe not submitted scores Is perhaps a less Efficient use of time than thinking through how can you advance your profile, right?

And what do you, what are you looking for? And what makes logical sense for you in terms of a test taking strategy, right? What is your goal score? What is your ideal score? And do you think you can get there in time? a sort of reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of effort that isn’t sort of overshadowing everything else.

Yeah. And I would just add on to that by saying, I always tell my students that admissions officers only have as much information as you provide them. And so let’s imagine that they’re trying to paint a picture of who you are and the kind of student you would be if they admitted you to their university.

If they don’t have that additional information about your test score, that doesn’t mean that they can’t make an assessment of who you might be or how you might perform, but it’s a lot easier for them to make that kind of judgment with confidence when you give them more information to go off of. So if you have a test score that is in alignment or even makes a, paints a better picture of who you are than the rest of your application, especially when you talk about academics, right?

If you’re a 4. 0 student and you have a 1500 on the SAT, No, that’s not a perfect score, but it’s a very impressive score, right? And it may not be perfect the way a 4. 0 is perfect, but it is going to make your application even more convincing that you are a strong student academically. And so choosing not to submit a score, it’s not that That is going to keep you from getting accepted in comparison to a student who did choose to submit their score.

It’s just that you want to make sure that everything else in your application really instills confidence in them that you are going to be a great addition to their school. If there’s not a lot of other data that they can go off of that gives them that confidence, then they will be wishing that they had a test score that could really, add to convincing them that you’re going to be a great addition.

So it’s really case by case and whether or not you have a test score that’s going to be able to convince them. Obviously, if you don’t have a test score that is going to convince them that you’re a great fit, then don’t submit it. But the more information that they have about you that shows that you’re a strong candidate the more helpful it’s going to be so You’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to prepare for the SAT and ACT.

What are the best books or resources to use? Um, do you have any specific resources that you would recommend? Absolutely. So as mentioned in the uh, sort of me chatting at you part of the presentation the ACT’s official company test prep book is, I think, the best SAT, the best ACT preparation resource when it comes to practice tests.

There are five. Um, it is, it’s, it’s like a book. It has a red cover. Uh, it’s just sort of the official company’s book. I would say that for me was the only thing I used to study for the ACT and that was enough. Um, they also give you explanations of how to go through different sections, which you can certainly read.

Um, but I think, um, Really, the important thing in that book is that the practice tests are accurate, and they are good practice tests that will give you a nice variety of the kinds of questions you’ll get and the combinations of sections you’ll see on your test. For the SAT, I would say number one, things are changing, right, because I know I see a number of questions about the digital test and what the digital test is going to look like, and of course, we don’t know, right, because it’s, it’s something that is starting, right, right.

Now, um, I would say that the SAT also has at least three free practice tests that you can access online. Um, they’ve also entered into an official partnership with Khan Academy, and Khan Academy has a number of shorter, like, one section practice tests. And video review that goes over how to solve each problem on those practice tests.

So that’s also a really useful resource if you’re looking for something that is free. Um, but I would say that, you know, my best recommendation is always to go with like official content first. And then there are places like, you know, Kaplan or like Princeton Review that have good supplemental content.

Again, I do think it is better for the SAT than the ACT though for those third party, um, sources. those third party publishers and I don’t know Lydia if you’ve had a similar experience, but I found the ACT content felt a little bit more disaligned, um, even recently like as I’ve tutored the ACT as well.

Yeah, um, I definitely would recommend Khan Academy, um, as a great resource for the SAT, like you said, because of that partnership. In general, I would say with test prep, the closer you can be to the source, Um, the more useful the materials are going to be. I know Kaplan and Princeton Review, they’re really established in the test prep world.

So I think that they’re helpful in terms of establishing the basics of just the concepts that are going to be tested and building up skill because there are only a certain amount of official SAT or ACT exams that are out there that you can take as practice tests. So I know for me, um, when I did do test prep when I was in high school, I tried to kind of be I guess sparing or like ration out those tests because once you’ve taken it, Obviously taking it again when you’ve already seen the questions and already scored it, it’s not as accurate.

Um, so using the test prep books can be a great way to build those skills and then I would recommend using the official, um, test exams or previously published exams for assessing where you are because that’s going to be the most accurate. I know that I’ve sometimes taken practice tests that were out of a test prep book and the scores have just been wildly inaccurate.

Like I took one and the score was just way higher in comparison to when I took my first practice test that was actually from SAT and things like that. So you just want to make sure that you’re trying to use source material that’s as close to the actual company as possible when you’re taking those practice tests, but everyone learns differently.

So I think Finding a test prep book that explains the concepts in as clear a way as possible for you is what’s going to matter the most. Some people, they’re going to gravitate towards the video. Some people will prefer books that just really spell it out. Some book, people will prefer books that are more about strategy rather than the actual learning of the concepts.

It’s really up to you and what your needs are. Um, and then we have. I have a question just in general about, I saw someone ask about IEPs and whether or not that gets you exempted from tests. So I can just say as someone who’s a former teacher and worked in a school setting and helped students with applying to colleges, IEPs do not necessarily exempt you from having to submit test scores.

So an IEP is going to be a lot more helpful in terms of getting you accommodations for your student, in terms of increased testing time, or getting them alone in a room in order to take tests. It’s, it’s, Generally not going to keep them from having to submit certain materials, but another student, so I would say if your student has an IEP or a 504 or something like that, really use that to make sure that they get the accommodations that they need in order to perform as well on the test as they possibly can, but don’t expect it to it.

allow them to be exempted because generally those college policies of test optional versus test free or test required, that is a blanket requirement for all students. Usually an IEP is not going to keep that from applying to them. But if there’s a specific school, definitely like check with them just in case.

It never hurts to ask. Yeah, it never hurts to ask if you, for some, for some reason, you didn’t do very well, and, you know, the IEP is a factor or something like that. It never hurts to just see if maybe there’s a way that you could get an exception so that you don’t have to submit that score. Um, I think the final question that we’ll wrap up with, since we’re about out of time, is, does test optional really mean test optional?

So if someone chooses to not submit their test Is that, is there a chance that could negatively impact them? So, I would say that for the very, very selective schools, that again, unless you have just an absolutely outstanding, remarkable 1 in a million profile, test optional for the elite schools is not at this point.

As test optional as we’d like to believe again unless there’s some sort of extenuating circumstance that makes it so that test optional makes sense for you, right? And it might be due to some of the like sort of individualized learning things that we’ve been talking about, right? And it might be due to having like a very good reason for not being able to take that test, i.

e. you go abroad for your junior and senior year and physically can’t take that test anywhere, right? Um, but I would say for the elite schools at this point, um, if again, It enhances or is sort of within your profile. I would submit that score. Um, I would say that with other schools, um, that are not at that like super elite, very low acceptance rate level, it does depend a little bit.

on the school and on the score in relation to the rest of the students, right? Um, there, I wish there was some sort of catch all answer that we could give that would automatically tell you what the right path is for you, um, but some of it is a little bit dependent on individual profile and on, um, sort of what the school is looking for that particular year.

And so, um, I will just add by saying that With when it comes to test optional, it’s not that even for the most selective school. It’s not that it is Going to make or break you all the time But you’re just really gonna have to be strong in every other category Think of it as there’s one person who has six pieces of evidence They’re gonna be a great student another person has seven pieces of evidence.

They’re gonna be a great student You may both have really great reasons, but someone who has more reasons is going to have a stronger application They’re going to have more evidence or be more convincing that they’re going to be a great fit So just keep that in mind But obviously if you don’t have the scores, you don’t have the scores if you have a reason Um, like she said, you know, traveling abroad or, you know, maybe financial reasons that you weren’t able to afford to take the test or something and it wasn’t provided through your school or something like that, or chronic illness, like things like that, make sure to provide that example.

But obviously the policy is not supposed to be discriminatory against students who choose not to take the test. And the intention is also to be more equity based. So, we know, like we said at the beginning of this presentation, that standardized testing has a racist history. And so a lot of schools that are embracing test optional are trying to be conscious of the fact that, you know, students of color, students with disabilities, and things like that tend to do more poorly on these exams, even when they do.

in fact, do well in higher education despite doing poorly on these exams. So they’re trying to embrace this by allowing people to showcase their intelligence and showcase their capacity in other ways. Um, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate having even more evidence, even if that evidence is rooted in, you know, not so great history.

Um, so I would definitely say if you are like a student of color or a student from some sort of disadvantaged background, if you’re able to take the test and you’re able to do well, that’s great, but also don’t beat yourself up. If you’re not doing that well, because these tests just unfortunately they were not made for students like you.

Yes, and also remember there are things you can do to make up for, right, not having that particular piece of evidence, right, in your profile. And so thinking about how you can engage with your community, how you can develop your extracurricular profile, how you can write strong essays, all of those things can make up for struggling with this particular part of your profile.

A very broad application which segues us very well into our last point today. Yes so We are here to help you CollegeAdvisors team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts Is ready to help you and your family Navigate the college admissions process and one on one advising sessions.

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Okay, so we are going to go ahead and wrap up Thank you so much for coming out tonight. And thank you to our presenter Mariko Rooks. And that is the end of our webinar. Here is a calendar of the rest of the webinars that we have scheduled for the month of February. We had a great time telling you all about the SAT and ACT and test optional policies.

Hope you all have a great night.