To Test or Not to Test: Deciding on and Preparing for Standardized Tests
There’s a lot of confusion right now about whether or not you should take the SAT or ACT with some colleges being test-optional. And if you do decide to test, it can also be unclear about whether you should take the SAT, the ACT, or both. During this 60-minute webinar and Q&A session, CollegeAdvisor Admissions Expert Maria Acosta Robayo will share her insider knowledge to help you make the right decision for you.
2022-03-17 To Test or Not to Test: Deciding on and Preparing for Standardized Tests
[00:00:00] Welcome to To Test or Not to Test: Deciding on and Preparing for Standardized Tests. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll start up with a live presentation, then answer your questions in a live Q and A. On the sidebar, you can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the Q and a tab. Now list meet our panelists. Hi everyone. My name is Maria Acosta Robayo and I’m a Harvard alumni class of 2020, where I studied sociology and global health policy and where I was.
Uh, pre-med cool. So getting onto our first poll, um, we’re gonna ask, what grade are you in? Eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, or other. And other can be if you’re a transfer student or a parent on the call, or if you are taking a gap year and while we wait for those answers to roll in, can you tell us a bit about, um, what made you choose, um, to go the pre-med group?
Sure. [00:01:00] Yeah. So, um, coming into college, I had a sense that I wanted to be, um, pre-med mostly just because it was the most direct track to going to medical school. And so for those of you who might not like, know those terms, pre-med is just, it’s not a major or anything. It’s a track that people majoring or students majoring in lots of different, um, concentrations or subject subject areas can follow in order to meet the med school requirements, um, or the requirements to apply to medical school while you’re in college.
Um, so it was more of like, okay, I knew I wanted to be a doctor. And so I knew I had to follow the specific path and curriculum. Definitely. So it’s looking like we have 9%, eighth graders, 27%, 10th graders, 45%, 11th graders and 18% other.[00:02:00] [00:03:00]
Uh, sorry, I don’t mean to, uh, interrupt, but there is no sound right now. And, um, there is someone in the audience saying they don’t have sound either. Okay. Can y’all hear me now? Yeah, I okay, perfect. Um, do you have a sense for like when the audio went off in the webinar, uh, when you started talking okay. I thought it was just my computer though.
Sorry. Nope, no worries. Okay. Perfect. Well, Now that everyone can hear me. And, um, I’ll just kinda like start from the top again. Um, so, um, yeah, so in this webinar, we’ll be talking a little bit more about testing or not testing. And, um, this comes at a particular time in, uh, college application history where a lot of schools are becoming test optional.
And so it is a little bit at murky, whether you should be testing, shouldn’t be testing. And what situations might it be better to not, um, versus to go ahead and add that as part of your application. [00:04:00] And so today we’ll be talking a little bit more about, um, what are the standardized tests out there? What is the impact it could have on your application?
Um, and I can tell you a little bit more about my experience. Um, my experience would be pre COVID. And so we’ll be talking about a little bit of the caveats of, um, deciding whether to test or not during the current cycle. Um, so first of all, one of the big questions here is what impact does standardized testing have on a student’s application?
And so standardized tests are really important, but again, they’re not the most defining part of your application. Um, admissions officers are looking at your academic rigor at extracurriculars at, um, your background and experience as a person, as, uh, reflected by your essays. And so tests will be one consideration if you decide to submit those.
Um, but they will have other academic components that they can consider such as your GPA, such as other awards. Um, Other AC academic extracurriculars. Um, so it can help you to get on like that [00:05:00] bubble of consideration. Um, and again, it’s helpful for the admissions officers to have potentially another data point for them to be able to decide whether you’re you are the right fit for their school and vice versa.
Um, but they know that not every talented student is necess necessarily a good task taker. And so, um, admissions officers are also like trained in recognizing that there’s different, um, markers of academic excellence. Um, and then what standards tests are part of a student’s application. So you might have heard of some of these already.
There is the PSAT, which is pre SAT, um, the SAT and the SAT subject tests, which are no longer in circulation. Um, the, ACT and the TOEFL, which is usually for international students, um, to show English, um, fluency and competency, and then, uh, AP exams. Which are usually, um, accompanied by AP classes. Um, so at the end of an AP class, you’ll take your exam, but you may also be taking AP exams without having to take [00:06:00] the TA, uh, the class.
Um, so we’ll go with the first one, the PSAT so, as I mentioned, that is like a pre SAT. Um, and it’s a practice version of the SAT to help you get sense for what the actual test will be like. And so it’s usually taken once per year and administered in your school. And so you might have gotten like pulled out of classes to like, take out your, to, to take your PSAT um, it’s most commonly taken in 10th and 11th grade, again in preparation for the actual SAT, but it can actually be taken as early as eighth grade.
Um, however, even if you take that from eighth grade up to 11th, only your 11th grade scores will be considered in the program called the national merit scholarship. And this is a scholarship that can help, um, Like monetarily help with like, uh, getting into college. It also is like a good network of, um, people who, um, can also help review your applications.
And again, it’s seen as very prestigious award that is, um, taken into account as a academic award in your [00:07:00] application, um, and less than the top 1% go on to be for. And so again, this is a very rigorous like prestigious award. Um, the test itself is two hours and 45 minutes long with a maximum score of 1,520 points.
Um, and again, uh, that, that’s just a small recap of kind of what the PSAT is. Um, Then what is the SAT? So we just talked about the PSAT, which is the practice version. So this is the real deal. Um, this is the one that you would submit to an actual college, um, and it’s administered seven times per year, and it’s longer, it’s three hours and 50 minutes with the highest score being 1600.
Uh, that score is split between, um, two different kind categories. It’s math, which is the maximum of 800. And the other half is split between two other like sub, uh, categories, which is evidence based, reading and writing. Um, and the maximum for that together is 800. Um, the math is 80 minutes [00:08:00] and 58 questions, and it usually tests the, the topics of algebra problem solving data analysis, advanced math, um, while the English, uh, the, in the evidence based reading and writing part, um, is, um, focusing mostly on, um, Like other aspects that are more English that are not focused too much on like the stem parts.
So you wouldn’t be using like a calculator or anything like that. You would also, you would just have different types of questions. Um, you might have seen those already in some practice tests. Um, and then you have your essay, which is an optional 15 minutes.
Um, and then what is the ACT? The ACT is a counterpart of the SAT some students decide to take theACT instead of the SAT, because if it has an additional section, that’s the science section. Um, it, the math that it covers is also different and the time split up is also different. And so some students feel more comfortable with the sure of the ACT um, and schools [00:09:00] don’t discriminate between the SAT or the ACT both are taken as, um, you know, one of the two options you can use for standardized testing.
And so this test is also administered seven times per year. Um, it’s shorter than the SAT. This one is three hours and 35 minutes with the highest score being 36. And it’s split between English, math, reading, and science. Um, you can score up to 36 points in each section, um, but it’s not, um, like an additive score.
It’s an average of the four scores that, um, Get calculated to make up your composite score. Um, for English it’s 75 questions in 45 minutes and it tests, grammar, usage, punctuation sense, and structure, um, strategy, organization, and style. And so if you’ve taken some of those practice tests that will be familiar, the math is 60 questions in 60 minutes.
And that one test pre-algebra elementary algebra bra, intermediate algebra coordinate geometry. Um, and a couple other topics, again, that I, um, these [00:10:00] slides will get disseminated, uh, later, but I just wanna point out that these are different. Um, even though both SAT and ACT have a math section, the, the actual like content within those sections can be different.
And so, again, it’s better to get a sense of what the questions will be and what are the topics are, will be covered before you sign up for one of these tasks. Um, then they have the reading section, the, the a C T then has the reading section and the science section, um, because the science section is new.
I’ll just go ahead and say that, um, it’s 40 minutes long with 30, uh, 40 questions with 35 minutes long, um, and a test interpretation analysis, evaluate reasoning, and problem solving. And that what materially that looks like on the pages, you might be asked to interpret a graph. You might be asked to interpret in a science experiment with resulting in X and Y data.
Like, what does that tell about the experiment? And so it’s a lot of. Testing your critical thinking, uh, skills and being able to distill visual interpretation of data into like [00:11:00] an actual argument for if something worked, what didn’t work. Um, and then again, just like the S a T there’s an optional writing portion.
Um, and so as I mentioned before, you might be someone that to take both the SAT and the ACT and see which one is a better fit for you. Um, you might have limited time and resources right now. And so you might not want to take both of them, and you just try to take your best out at the one that you think that fits, um, your academic knowledge better, and the time that you have to study.
And so, um, I would say like some key questions to ask is, uh, what are your strengths? Right. You know, if you are really good at, um, science and analytical thinking, when it comes to like interpreting data, you might wanna take the, ACT. Um, it also, you might wanna consider what topics you have covered in school.
As I mentioned, different math sections cover different topics. And so you might wanna consider, um, which things you’ve actually learned in the classroom versus what things you [00:12:00] would have to learn on your own. Um, also if you’re comfortable with non calculator math, um, and so some, one of these has a calculated the other one doesn’t.
And so I put a screenshot there of some of the key differences, um, but also, uh, put up a link that’s attached to the slides so that you could also do that on your own time. Um, Yes. So now we’re gonna do another quick poll. So, um, where are you in the application process? So haven’t started, I’m researching schools.
I’m working on my essays. I’m getting my application materials together, or if you’re really lucky, I’m almost done. And what we wait for those answers to roll in. Oh, what made you choose Harvard? Yeah, so, um, Harvard was, um, I think I had heard about Harvard ever since I was little. And so it becomes kind of like this dream school, just from the get go when you’re, when you’re young.
Um, as I got older, I did, uh, really wanna go to a research university. Um, so that means a school that, um, you know, has a lot of usually [00:13:00] is located near facilities where you can do a lot of research. And so it was close to a lot of the hospitals that I wanted to work at and do research in. Um, also just had really great professors that I had read, like their books in like high school.
Um, and then also I just loved the, the city of Boston and Cambridge. Um, and so it, it was a pretty easy, easy fit for me, um, to like say, you know, without taking classes just yet. I really loved, um, kind of the opportunities to be a at Harvard. Definitely. So it’s looking like 30% of the audience haven’t started and 87 are researching schools.
Great. So wherever you are in the application process, um, some of you might have already taken standardized tests and I’m trying to figure out like, should I report my score? Should I, um, take this test again? Um, some of you might have not even thought about test taking just, yeah. And this is your first experience.
So, um, this webinar is meant [00:14:00] to cater to every one of view who everyone that falls in that spectrum of, um, answers in that poll. Um, and so I just wanna go back to like thinking again in the big picture, there’s different types of standardized tests. You have your PSAT, your SAT, and ACT, and then you have your AP tests.
And so you might be acquainted with different ones so far. Um, so when do most students first take their standardized tests for college admission? Um, as I mentioned with the PSAT it’s most commonly taken in 10th and 11th grade, but some of you might have taken it as early as eighth grade. For the SAT / ACT a lot of students start their junior year and, um, continue into their senior fall.
But we do usually do not recommend that seniors start taking, or that students are taking it their senior fall, because you’re also, at that time filling out, you know, you’re writing your essays, you’re filling out your common app, you have classes, um, it’s really stressful time to be doing all of that together, um, all at once.
And so we usually recommend that students are taking it their [00:15:00] junior year. Um, so it’s, I think like the sweet spot would be taking it your junior spring or early summer. Um, and then the AP test, this is usually just based on the year that you take the course, but again, some students used to take the test class without actually taking the class.
And that’s also available for you, um, any year in high school. Um, what are the best ways to prepare for standardized tests? So I think that the best way to prepare is actually just taking a lot of practice tests. Um, you can study by reading a lot and, um, getting a lot of sense for examples, but until you’re actually putting that into practice and you start developing like that muscle memory of identifying, um, questions that even though the number is maybe D.
The strategies are the same and you start to get the muscle of like, okay, I’ve seen this type of question before. Um, and I think that the best way to get that is by just doing practice tests. And that doesn’t mean doing a full like three hour test at once. It could be just seeking a practice section. Um, but making sure you’re doing it in [00:16:00] a time to fashion.
Where you’re actually able to get a sense for like the time pressure that you would be under, because a question that may seem very easy when you think that, um, you don’t have any, like, time pressure could become something that like, you kind of blink on if you have, um, external pressure on testing. And so I definitely say to take a lot of practice tests, um, a lot of students also choose to sign up for a test prep course or to buy a prep book.
And self-study, um, that’s what I did. I bought a prep book and self-study, and took a lot of practice tests. I’ll talk a little bit more about my experience, but these are three options that you have. Um, college advisor does have a link to, um, resources that are available to you if you are. Um, one of, um, I think the IV or the platinum, um, packages, um, for, for the organization.
So, um, I would reach out to your advisor to see which ones of these are available to you. Um,
Um, what are some tips for the [00:17:00] day of the test? Um, I think starting out with just eating a good breakfast, and I know that this is like what you might see on a poster at school, in your cafeteria or something like that. But I think it actually really matters here. And like, I’ll just give you the small, like biological reason why, um, you wanna make sure that you have a, a breakfast with a low glycemic index because, um, it’ll allow you to have more stable energy over a long period of time.
If you have something that has a lot of sugar content, um, if you’re eating like. You know, high sugar cereal, or you’re having like coffee, you’ll feel that burst of energy. But if you’re taking a three hour test, that’s not gonna last very long. And so you wanna have something that you’re eating that will give you a stable amount of energy over time.
So that could include oatmeal or some whole grain breakfast sandwich. Um, again, something that doesn’t spike up your blood sugar and then, uh, causes you to crash halfway through the exam. Um, also getting a good night’s sleep. This is one of the easiest ways of like, even though it doesn’t seem like much, maybe in high school, you’re not used to sleeping eight hours.
Um, but trying to get into, [00:18:00] um, yeah, taking more time the night before to just rest so that you don’t have. Um, yeah, so that you’re, you’re more aware and, uh, less tired in the morning when you’re taking the test. Um, I would also say wake up with plenty of time. Um, something that students don’t realize is like, if you are getting to the test center and you’re really late, or like you’re right on the wire and like are already like.
Um, kind of like out of the zone, it could actually affect like your actual test seeking ability because you could be, um, again, like worried about, you know, getting late to the exam and it takes up your time and energy to, um, actually like focus on the questions that you’re taking. Um, I know that this has happened to friends of mine before, and it happened to me a as well, where like, I was almost late to a test and like, it also made it more difficult to concentrate on like reading the instructions for how to fill in the bubble sheets.
Like my mind was just a little bit jarred with like trying to get somewhere on time that it was hard to transition from like, okay, I’m getting ready to go to the [00:19:00] test center to like I’m at this test center. My focus is on the questions you wanna take some of that time to prepare before, while you’re at the test center and before you’re taking your exam.
Um, double check your calendar, um, to make sure you have the right test center and the time the night before, um, I also had an experience where I accidentally went to the wrong test center, but I had woken up early enough and got in there early enough that I was actually able to drive across town to the correct testing center.
Um, and so that’s another plug for making sure you you’re there with plenty of time in case something like that happens. Um, prep, your test, taking materials ahead of time. Um, it’s just so much better. I don’t have to worry about like, okay, did I bring my calculator? Did I bring like enough pencils? Um, if you’re taking like a, um, a or actually nevermind.
There’s no more SAT subject test, but back when there was a, and you were taking a language one, you wanna know like, Do I have like my, you know, Walkman and recorder, like to be able to hear the sound. Um, and then, [00:20:00] um, just taking a deep breath and remembering that you’re so much more than your test score and that, uh, there’s so many other factors that go into your, your application other than your tests.
Um, So, um, the next question here is what is the timeline for standardized tests in a college application? Um, so you wanna start by just prepping the summer before your sophomore year, um, in your junior year and try to take your first one year junior fall or your junior spring. And again, I mentioned this because it gives you the time to retake it without prep pressure, um, and to actually consider preparing for taking other standardized tests, you might have done the SAT first and recognize that was in your test.
And you wanted to take the ACT it gives you that leeway to be able to do that. Um, it also keeps you from being stressed out, having to do college applications and also study for tests. Um, you already have a lot that you’re juggling on your plate if you’re a junior at this point. And so, um, or if you’re a senior at this point, and so you wanna [00:21:00] make sure to try to balance that load a little bit by, um, doing some of that testing earlier on.
Ultimately, you have to submit the scores before the application deadline. So, um, just plan for a test that allows you to actually receive your scores before the deadline. Um, and again, that means like, make sure that you’re keeping in mind the early application deadline, the early decision deadlines. Um, and then some colleges will also accept a C T and S a T scores after your application deadlines.
But I would say don’t rely on that always seek permission first and have that be like an emergency case, not something that you’re shooting for.
Um, so I’ll just tell you a little bit more about like my standardized testing experience. Um, I took the PSAT four times just because it was offered at my school and they pulled everybody from my to take it. Um, and I had no idea what I was doing until my junior year. I decided as an opportunity to take a break from work.
And then my junior year I realized like, oh, wait, there’s like a [00:22:00] scholarship for this. So I actually like, was trying much harder to, um, do better on that one. I took the SAT twice. My school offered like an online prep course. That was not really a prep course. It was just like a lot of practice questions split up into sections.
Um, and to me that was like the best resources be those best resource. Cause I didn’t have to sit through like, you know, a webinar, right. I didn’t have to sit like through like a lecture. I just like could go at my own pace, um, and just practice as many questions as I wanted for as long as I wanted. Um, and so that’s exactly what I did.
I took a lot of practice, sex tests and sections. There’s also a lot of practice tests online. Um, and then I took the S a T test consecutively. So I didn’t leave too much time in between. Um, I kind of wanted to, I knew what score I wanted to improve. And so, um, I really focused on my math skills because I that’s the one I wanted to my score to jump a little bit higher on.
And so, um, I, I specifically, I kept on working on the other sections as well, but I spec [00:23:00] specifically like hammered in the math. Um, and then I also took the SAT I just didn’t know which one I would be better at. And so I just, um, practiced the, a lot of the math and the like English and writing transfers over to the ACT, but I just had to study for the science a little bit more and then took the SAT practice tests and sections.
And then, um, the actual test just once. And then I took nine AP exams, just because those were, I took nine AP classes. And so over the course of like all of high school. Um, and so it was just easier to take it, like, after I took my, um, my class, I didn’t take any AP exams that didn’t correlate with classes.
Although some students choose to.
Um, and then how important do you think test scores are in an application? And so I think that this is kind of the big question. A lot of you are asking. Um, I think some of you might have also asked this in like pre questions and might also ask it in, in the Q and a. And so, um, I wanna bring you all specifically to this [00:24:00] question to say that the test scores are very important.
Like you don’t want to like, do really badly in your test scores and turn that in, but they’re not the most defining part of your application. And I say that because you are showing four years, right? Your GPA is four years of academic validation of where you are as an, as a student academically. And so a like admissions officers will get a sense for your academic rigor through the level of courses that you take your GPA, um, potentially other academic awards.
And so it’s one academic indicator. Um, again, it’s, this is part of like an earlier slide that we already talked about, but, um, I just wanna hammer in that. You can choose to take tests if you want to. And if you do well to submit them, but even if you take the test and you feel like, Hey, this is something that’s not representative of my academic work.
You don’t have to turn that in. When schools say that they’re test optional. What they’re saying is like we have other data points that we can see where you [00:25:00] are academically, want to submit extra data points. Great. If not like you don’t have to. Um, I would say when it comes to like scholarships, um, it’s the same deal.
They’re looking at your academic rigor. Um, you have to be very careful to see if taking a test, a standardized test is a requirement. Um, and so you have to look at the very specific scholarship application and say like, okay, do I, I need to take a standardized test for this or not, but usually more merit based scholarships tend to look at holistically your academic scores.
And so they might not require a test. I would just say, definitely make sure that you read the requirements. Um, So what’s some last advice I would give students preparing for standardized tests. Um, I would say, look through that comparison chart that was on one of the earliest slides to find out which one is the best for you.
If it’s the aACT or the SAT, um, based on your strengths, weaknesses, and just your academic experience thus far, um, I would also say start early. Like I mentioned, you don’t have to, [00:26:00] um, take the test technically until the one right before your application deadline, but it’s gonna really reduce your stress and help you to focus on other areas of your application if you get that done early.
And so it’s much better to take again, the sweet spot is senior spring, early summer between junior and senior year. Um, and take a lot of practice tests. It’s I think generally the best way that you can do the best way that you can prepare for these tests.
Yes. So that was great. So, um, that is the end of the presentation part of the webinar. I hope you found this information helpful and remember that you can download the slide from the link in the handouts tab, and this webinar is being recorded. If you would like to view it later on our website, moving on to live Q and a, I’ll read through your questions you submitted in the, um, Q and a tab, and then read them a lab before a panelist gives you an answer as a heads up.
If your Q and a tab, isn’t letting you submit questions, just make sure you join the webinar through the custom link, send to your email and not from the webinar landing page. If you join from the webinar [00:27:00] landing page, also known as the website, you won’t get all the features of big markers. So just make sure you join through the custom link sent to your email.
Okay. And now, okay. So our first student is asking how many times in total, can you take the S a T and or a C T? Yeah. So I think there isn’t, um, like. you? I, I have never heard of someone getting like PLA uh, getting a limit placed on like the number of times. I think maybe it gets like you don’t wanna be taking it more than like three times, maybe four times max.
Like, I think it’s more of a recommendation. Um, there might be an actual like, limit on it, but I think that you don’t wanna, the, for are like soft limit that you wanna reach is where, which one, like admissions officers will start wondering like, okay, why. Are they taking it so many times and like the will they start considering, like, why are other scores were not so good?
Um, so I think if you’re taking it like more than four times, I would reconsider, even if you’re allowed to take it for more than that. Um, once you get to three [00:28:00] or four, I would reconsider, um, I would also reconsider if you’re taking the right test, maybe the a C T is a better one. If you were taking the S a T um, what I would also say to that though, is that, um, you might have not done well the first time and that.
Doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take it a second time. You might have not done the best a second time. Doesn’t mean you should have taken it the third time. Um, again, the sweet spot to stop is maybe like a test four, um, based on like what I’ve heard from different admissions officers and, um, from peers who have taken the test, but, um, a pro taking it like a second or third time is you could show like progress.
Um, and so because you submit all your scores, you could, if you, if you submit all your scores, admissions officers can see like progress and can see like you really grew. Um, and like, again, can be an example of like perseverance and growth. Um, it might also be the case that, um, you don’t submit your first test, but you submit your so second one and taking our first test just gave you the first glimpse of like, what it was like and helped you to better [00:29:00] prepare for the second time.
Um, and so it’s also an opportunity for like, if you didn’t feel really well, like you, you felt sick or like you just were feeling out of it on your first test, you always have a second chance. Um, So to recap, it’s good to do anywhere between one and three max four. But after that, I would just stop and reconsider whether you studied well enough to take that test and maybe kind of like study a little bit more before the next one, or to consider if you’re taking the right test.
Another benefit of taking the test most multiple times is that at some schools may allow you to super score and super scoring is where you can take the highest, um, score from a section of, uh, your test. Like if you took it the first time you got like a 800 on the math and then only a 400 on the English.
And then the second time you take it, you get a whatever score on the math and then a 800, the, uh, English, you can take those two highest scores to make your combined super score. [00:30:00] Not every school allows this, but that is a good option, um, for taking, um, the test. Multiple times. And you can do the same thing with a C T if you would just be getting those, um, four, um, sections from your score.
Um, uh, yes, I I’m pretty, yeah, a C T can super score. And then, uh, going on to the next question, going off of that, um, with taking multiple tests that does bring on a lot of cost, how can students reduce the cost of taking these exams? Yes. So, um, you could have a, um, a waiver and so usually students who are free and reduced lunch will have a waiver for seeing the S a T a C T and also for applications.
And so I would talk to your school counselor or your registrar to see if you apply for that mm-hmm and that would be a code that you put in when you’re registering. and then some schools I’ve heard, um, like I’m pretty sure my high school did it. I just never used it. They gave us two [00:31:00] free, a C T and two free SATs, um, that we could use either a junior or senior year.
So some year schools may already have, um, exams prepared for you. And my school was a title one school. So that may have been the reason they had that resource. But just check and ask your counselor or college counselor. Um, if that’s an option for you going on to the next question, this one was a bit random.
So I did look it up. Um, a student is wondering if you can use dual lingo, um, to replace the, to off, um, test for international students and online, it does say yes and do a Ling is an official test now. So, um, but I don’t know if it meant all schools, but it did say us and UK schools. So you may just wanna, uh, ask the schools that you’re applying to, if that’s okay.
Uh, going on to the next question, um, What scores did you end up submitting? This is like going into a, a double question. Yeah. So, um, I submitted my, um, [00:32:00] my S a T a C T I, I submitted all my scores pretty much. I felt confident enough that, um, even my first S a T test, which didn’t have like my optimal math scores, um, as, um, Mackenzie was saying, you could super score.
And so I knew I wanted to use some of my, um, like yeah. Some of my scores there and then just combine it with a later test. Um, yeah. And there wasn’t really any test that I felt like, oh, I had done like, so, so badly that I didn’t wanna turn it in. Um, at that time we also didn’t have test optional. You had to submit test scores.
And so I think that was a different, like, you know, analysis that I was making as, as I was deciding whether to submit a score or not. And going off of that, um, since you are pre-med and I was originally pre-med also, um, would you, um, some students wonder since it does have the science section, um, does that make it better for like pre-med or stem majors?
Um, or is either test fine? Yeah. So I think that either test is fine. [00:33:00] Um, I think it’s similar to, um, yeah, actually I think the distinction for pre-meds here matters more with your like recommendations actually, when I was applying as a pre-med, it actually mattered more to have a science teacher or some science, really a teacher to have a recommendation.
That’s not to say like, you have to, but if you have the opportunity, like if you have a science sure. That you think could talk well about your academic and your like, you know, your kind of character as a student, um, then that was actually one place where you could really like leverage the science part as a pre-med.
Um, I was never, um, Like directly advice to take the S a, a C T instead of the S a T it was just a different, like category of factors that, um, admissions officers were looking at. They just wanted to use it as an extra, like, academic, um, kind of like factor, but not necessarily like a, getting a chance to see, like, whether I was better at science or not.
I think the re the, the, [00:34:00] the scores for my science classes mattered more than taking the, a C T. Um, so they definitely did want me to take, like, you know, higher lover, biology, higher level, like chemistries things that showed that I was interested in like the sciences and could just use that to validate like my passion for medicine and my profile as a premed.
Yeah. Oh, did you end up applying early decision or early decision early action or just regular? Yeah. So I, um, applied through QuestBridge first. So QuestBridge is an early application program for low income households, uh, or students living in low income households. And so my I applied early. Um, I submitted my application, I think, in September.
So it was pretty early on. I knew in October I had matched with Princeton. And so starting in late, I think, yeah, I think it was late October I, or late October. I knew I was a finalist. I think November, I knew, um, or early December, very early on. I knew that, um, I was, uh, I was going to [00:35:00] Princeton and then I only applied regular decision to other schools that I thought I would be a better fit for.
Um, and so that’s where I applied just to bird. And then once I got my admissions letters, I was able to, um, yeah, just make that decision based on like going on visiting weekends and trying to match, um, which one was, was better for my personal academic track. mm-hmm, going off of that. Um, when was like the last time you actually took the exam compared to when you applied, like how far apart was that?
Yeah, so I wanted it out of the way. I did not wanna worry about S a T a C T during my senior year. I had enough worry. I, I had enough to worry about, um, with my AP classes that I was C at the time with writing essays. Um, I don’t know about you all, but it took me a minute to actually like, get into the groove of writing a college essay.
It’s a different type of essay than the regular, like, argumentative. Um, like all the other ones that I was taught in school. And so, um, going into junior year, I was pretty [00:36:00] aware that I wanted to like crash course my S a T a C T testing time into my senior spring, uh, my junior spring. Sorry. And so the last test that I took, I think was in April or may.
Um, and that was my junior spring. I didn’t take any more tests during the summer or my senior fall. That was all devoted to, um, essays. For me, I, um, took the a C T first when I was in eighth grade and I did pretty good for an eighth grader without a calculator. And then, um, I took it again 10th grade year on homecoming day.
So I had rollers in my hair getting ready for homecoming that same day. And then, um, I did improve my scores, but didn’t feel as good of a score for the schools that I was going to apply to in the future, even though I was just a sophomore. And then when I got, um, I didn’t take it junior year because I got into a summer program called thrive scholars.
And so for my rising senior summer, I was in Boston doing the summer program. So I didn’t have time to take the exam [00:37:00] anytime earlier. Um, so I knew once I got back home, um, I was gonna take the a C T just, I mean, not the, a, the S a T just to see what it was like. And I was applying early for Cornell. So I took the exam.
I, I think it was like August. And then I was applying in October, um, which was a bit stressful, but I was able to just get the bare minimum score that I needed to get in. Um, and then, um, which call it, I was able to apply early decisions. So it is possible. It is just better to take it earlier than when you’re applying.
And you wanna take into consideration if you’re applying earlier regular when, um, you’re deciding when to take these exams. Okay. Going on to the next question, um, how can, um, students that don’t test, um, prepare themselves, um, or what are some methods they can use, um, to help improve, um, their performance?
Yeah, so I found that for a lot of the students I’ve worked with who. Again are incredibly brilliant and do really well [00:38:00] academically in other settings, but just tests are really difficult. The testing environment, um, the best way that they were able to get over or to do better in that environment was just to practice.
So it’s putting yourself in that environment until like, you know, maybe it’s not ever gonna be super comfortable, but it’ll become more comfortable and just familiar. Um, and it helps with the nerves. And so it, uh, unfortunately just means like putting in more like hours or time into actually doing more questions and doing more tests and making it as like real life as possible.
And so that means like taking more time tests, um, and fitting it more into your testing schedule. And that might mean having to bring more time for testing, um, and test prep than you would’ve otherwise. mm-hmm . And for students that do are looking for accommodations for the exam, so like, um, extra time or different setting for the exam.
Um, I do think they have that listed on like the, a C, T or the S a T website. Um, well, college board for the S a T, um, where [00:39:00] you can, um, find those, um, resource and how to get those accommodations. And you can also talk to your counselor, and I believe you do need either a doctor’s note or some sort of documentation that says that you are eligible for those accommodations and just real quick, um, for those in the room who aren’t already working with us, we know that the college admissions process is overwhelming for parents and students like our team of over 300 former admissions officers and admissions experts are ready to help you and your family navigate in, um, Navigated all in one-on-one advising sessions.
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on our website. And again, um, depending on which package [00:40:00] you get, um, you can get those extra resources and a code for those resources, um, to get extra, um, test prep going on to the next question. Another student is ski, um, which we call, uh, what is the difference between, um, test optional and test blind?
Yeah, so I think test optional, um, I think to be super Frank. I don’t know the specifics. Um, I think the way, so just to be super honest, and I can also do a couple Google, a bit of Google searching here in the back end. Um, so I’ll actually Mackenzie I’ll, I’ll bump that over to you. If you have that answer right off the bat, I don’t actually know what the difference would be.
So test optional means that, uh, when you’re submitting your scores, it’s not technically required. Um, but it won’t affect your admissions chances. And that is with like a little caveat that I’ll talk about test blind means they aren’t gonna consider your scores at all. [00:41:00] For the most part. I’m pretty sure that just means S a T a C T, but I think it might also include like AP or IB exam to, um, Smith college, which is an all women’s college in Amherst.
Massachusetts is a good example of test blind. And so that means that regardless of if you did great, or if you did bad, or if you didn’t even take the exam, they don’t care pretty much. And so it just doesn’t affect your chances at all. Test optional is what a lot of schools are doing now. And some schools had before where you don’t necessarily need to submit your scores and it won’t affect your admission chances though, some people do still wonder like, oh, if other students are submitting their scores, even though it’s saying test optional, should I still submit mine?
Um, to increase my chances. That’s really just a, the, depending on what the admission cycle was looking like that year. Um, so it really just depends. And then also some schools like I, um, I was working with students on different HBCUs. Um, some, a lot of schools would like merit based [00:42:00] scholarships, um, and not need based financial aid are gonna still be looking for your test scores.
And you just wanna read like the fine print about each school. So if you’re looking to go in. like just apply for the school and they say, they’re test optional. Then it is test optional for admissions. But if you wanted financial aid or scholarships, you still had to submit your test scores. So that means you still have to submit it, even if it doesn’t matter about your admissions, chances it mattered when it came to the money.
So you really just wanna look at each school, um, for that specific end answer and going on. Uh, did you have anything else you wanted to add? No, I think that’s something to like a good point that you mentioned there is making sure that you talk with the admissions officer or you get confirmation from the admissions officer about like the difference between financial, what you need for financial aid versus for admission.
Um, I think that like a lot of students have found that. Like you said there might not be test. Um, it might be test blind. Like they don’t [00:43:00] consider your tests or test optional, you know, they will look at your test, but you know, it doesn’t affect your score too much, um, for admissions, but it might actually be a requirement for financial aid.
So I just wanna hammer in that point. Mm-hmm uh, so going on to the next question then, uh, some of the students were asking can, uh, a high academic, um, profile, like good grades, good GPA at your school offset a bad score on the exam. Yeah. As I mentioned, I think at the beginning of the, of the webinar, um, your tests scores are a, just one portion of the like academic factors that admissions officers take into account.
And so they would be looking at yes, like the rigor of your classes, your GPA they’ll look at what awards you’ve won. Um, yeah. Other like summer programs you might have done, like anything related to academic, um, Like academic classes, academic experiences, like that will also be taken into consideration. I think that, [00:44:00] especially after COVID, like, it’s become so much more, um, important to look at a student also holistically and consider all their other like nonacademic markers, such, such as extracurriculars and essays.
Um, and so again, I would emphasize that this is a test are, could be, and like a one like one factor in many in your academic, um, portion of your application, but also recognize that admissions officers will know that, you know, not everybody who’s like a brilliant, like academically talented person is a good test taker.
And so that’s something that admissions officers are aware of going on to the next question. Um, you did mention that you took the exam multiple times to improve your score. Um, how realistic is it for a student to, um, like take the exam study and improve their score? Like what goes into that improvement?
Pretty much. Yeah. So I think it takes a lot of intentionality and being real about like, or being honest with yourself about, [00:45:00] um, like where do I do well and where do I, where am I not as strong? And so I took, again, the, I took the S a T twice the first time. I just wanted to do my best in all sections and see where I could improve.
And then I recognized that the math section was one where I needed to improve. And so the way I, I focus on that is I didn’t stop practicing the other sections. Cause I didn’t want to then not do super well in the other ones. Um, because a lot of schools super scored, maybe I could have done less well in the other ones, but I didn’t.
Um, if those also improved, like I wasn’t going to like, you know, close that door. Um, but I did focus my studying more on math once I knew that was the score I wanted to do better on more than the others. Um, when I was studying for just the first test, it was just trying everything like, uh, pretty equally trying to do my best on everything.
Mm, definitely. Um, on that note, um, what you, we call it, um, when I was taking the [00:46:00] exam, I, um, I took the a C T just because, um, it was the one that I thought I needed. And then, um, the science section is what completely threw me off. And then when I, um, took it again, the science section was still just not my strongest, just because I’m not really a science person.
And then when I took the a C T I, I did better on that in comparison, like on relative scores. Um, just because, um, again, the content was a bit easier for me to understand. And then also the pacing of the exam really made a difference for me because having that extra time to really go through all the questions, instead of feeling like I’m being rushed with the a C T cuz it is technically shorter sections, but also less time, um, like that pacing just sort of threw me off.
So like the slower pace of the, a team did make me feel a bit better. Um, Okay, going on to the next question. What are some additional things that, um, you thought helped you when you were taking the exam? Like non, [00:47:00] like test related, just things you did outside, like to calm yourself or to like prepare? Yeah.
So I think, um, something that really helped me was again, taking a step back just meant and reminding myself that this was gonna be one of many things considered in my application. Um, I think something like, at this time it was not test optional was test required. And so there was a sense of like, okay, I have to take these tests and like, um, I just have to try to do my best.
And there was like, , um, just kind of this like moment of reckoning where I was like, okay, I could do, I could ACE this exam and still not get into the schools I want to, um, or I could do not as well as I’d want to and still get into the schools. And so I just had to meet this like mental threshold of like.
What I thought would be a score that I felt confident that like I had tried my best, um, because what I wanted to make sure is, regardless of whatever school I got into that, like [00:48:00] whatever, yeah. Decision came out from those schools that I felt like I had done my best. And so it was a little bit of restructuring my perspective of like, it’s not about acing the test.
It’s about making sure that I get a score that reflects how hard I worked. And like the practice tests that I had been taking and had been improving on. So I think there was much more mental work in the preparation, like as I was taking tests and I was like, okay, this is not the score I want, I need to work harder and I need to do more tests or I need to take a break because cause I’m getting burnt out.
Um, and it was a lot of that mental kind of like training before the test. Um, and then when he got to test day was like, okay, I just wanna make sure I do like the best I can and that it reflects what I’ve been doing. And like, I had never like aced a test. And so I was like, not expecting necessarily to ACE it.
Um, but I felt comfortable with like how, like high I was scoring. And, um, I was aiming for that. Definitely, uh, also [00:49:00] taking the exam multiple times can really help with those nerves. So like taking it while you’re younger, just to see what it’s like can really help you get a feel for it. And that can really help ease your nerves for later.
And then also again, with the not waiting until last minute to take it, uh, and expecting that final, final, a score, um, that you can submit to be great, um, spreading it out over a longer period of time and way before you’re actually applying can really help with alleviating those nerves of like aiming for a score that you want, or you need to get into a school.
And just little things like, I really liked how you mentioned having your test and materials and stuff prepared before, um, going into the testing room. So like you need your ID, you need pencils though. They do provide pencils, but you definitely need your ID or some form of identification. And then you also, um, may wanna calculator.
There are specific kinds of calculators you can and can’t use. So you wanna make sure you’re following those guidelines. Um, For me whenever I’m taking a test or it may just be the testing room. I don’t know what it was, but [00:50:00] I was always freezing cold in those rooms. Um, so I would always just wear something warm so that I was comfortable because being comfortable can really help with easing your nerves while you’re in the exam room.
Cuz if you’re uncomfortable, you’re gonna be focusing on that in addition to your nerves and that can really throw you off. So I just thought some little things like that are really helpful when taking these exams, um, going on to the next question. Um, so, okay. While I’m looking for another question, if there’s anything else that you feel, um, needs to be mentioned or that hasn’t come up yet, please feel free.
um, okay. I actually found one. Um, do students need a super high score to get into the top schools? Like the Ivy leagues? um, I think that you don’t want to be scoring like, very like on the like lower percentiles, like you [00:51:00] probably want to demonstrate like an academic rigor that you can, you know, kind of withstand the, the like difficult classes that you’ll find at some of like the, the higher rank schools.
Um, but for example, again, I, I knew students who aced the S a T and the a C T and didn’t get into Harvard and I didn’t ACE either. And I got in, and I know people who got like lower scores than I did, who also got in. And so I think there is like a, I don’t think there’s an exact like number you have to reach, but I would think about it maybe in percentiles, like try to be in like the up upper, you know, 20 to 25% Charles, just to like, be again, kind of like show that you like have solidly, like, you know, done your studying and questions and like, make sure that you can back up.
like, if you haven’t done super well with tests, maybe compliment that by like aiming for a higher GPA. Um, but I, again, I just wanna emphasize that people who have ACD, these tests have not gotten into some of these schools and people who have scored less than we have. And so, um, just something [00:52:00] to give a bit of perspective, same getting into score.
Now I didn’t have like a top top score, but it was good for where I was. Um, since it was my first and only time taking the S a T it was the only one I submitted. And then, um, Uh, my friend actually got lower than me ended up getting in. So it is possible to get into these schools without having like a perfect score.
And when you look on the websites and see the scores or the ranges of scores of the average student, remember that that number is just an average or a range of averages, um, of what the admitted class from the year before, um, got in with. So, um, that means that students got in with that score, some got in with a higher, a score higher than that.
And some got in with a score lower than that. So it really just depends on your overall application, cuz it is like a holistic process, as you might hear, um, throughout the admissions process where they really are looking at all aspects of your applic and um, test scores and grades [00:53:00] and numbers do matter.
There are other more qualitative factors like your essays, your letter of recommendation, maybe even interviews that. From what I’ve seen, do count a bit more just because they can get a better sense of you as a person than they can from scores. So just take that into account, if you are a bit nervous about, um, getting a perfect score, um, and, uh, how early can a student start taking the exam?
Yeah, so I, I think that they are start opening up, like even as early as eighth grade. Um, but I would recommend that you wait until you have, um, and for some people, like it’s were great to start early and like that, that works out. But like, I, I would recommend taking the PS a T earlier on, but waiting to save like those S a T and a C T scores until you’ve kind of learned a couple or you covered a more of the, um, material in classes, just so that you’re not like starting from scratch.
And also until maybe you have a little bit [00:54:00] more of like, I don’t know how like difficult your middle schools were, but I felt like there was a significant, like. Pace that I had to acclimate to in high school, because I was taking AP classes and all these things that helped me to mature more, um, academically and be better prepared to test.
And so I think I wouldn’t have been as ready to take like a three and a half hour, almost four hour test in eighth grade in the way in the same way that I was junior year mm-hmm . And then, um, I think that, I think this program is still going, it was around when I was in seventh grade, but, uh, seventh graders across the country could take the, a C T I think.
And, um, it, depending on what your score was, you could get invited into this program called the duke tip by duke university. And, um, it was just like a pro I’m not even exactly sure what the program was about, but if you have younger siblings, I know we don’t really have seventh graders on the call. Um, that is an option.
And so you can take it in middle school. [00:55:00] Uh, if you want, uh, again, the math section is on, um, Algebra one. So if you, um, have an understanding of algebra one, it may make it a bit easier. It isn’t impossible to take it without understanding algebra one, but that sort of math experience can really help you, um, with the actual exam.
Um, okay. Um, and then also there was another part that I had to that, that I can’t remember at the moment, but, um, another student’s asking, is there a systematic or systemic approach? Uh, students may utilize when taking the, a C, T or S a T tests so they can build momentum or don’t get discouraged by feeling like they aren’t are not doing well early in the test taking process.
Um, this, for those, uh, that don’t take, um, Standardized test. Well, so like, is there like, um, a method owned to tackling the test? Yeah. So, um, I don’t know if there’s like, I, I like one, [00:56:00] you know, best method, but I think a couple different strategies that students can do is like breaking it down into chunks.
So like, there are some questions that are easier than other or in an S a T and a C T test. And so kind of starting out with like some of the most, so some of the like easier questions and like really building up the confidence to getting those right. And feeling like you understand the types of questions better, um, in kind of doing like bite sized, like sessions where you’re practicing tests and where you’re like, something that helped me.
It was just like doing only a couple, a couple questions, but reading the explanations for why each answer was wrong and why the right answer was right. And so what it helped me to do is build up this confidence of knowing like, exactly why. The question, like why the answers were they the way they were.
And they give me a better sense for like the type of question. And also like, I was investing time and not just answering questions, but learning about how to answer them. So, um, it was less about like, oh, did I get this question right or wrong and more about like, how is this [00:57:00] question? Right. And how can I avoid getting it in the future?
And so it lowered the stakes from like, okay, how many am I getting? Right. Like a percentage of, of getting them right. To like, you know, what a, it became qualitative, like what makes this question? Right? Like how did they arrive at the answer? And so I think that that’s like good steps at the beginning to build up confidence.
Um, and then just as you build that up, kind of adding on more questions, adding in the time aspect and like building that in slowly. mm-hmm, going off of, um, that, uh, what I was told about the S a T by one of our partners is that, um, well, one of college advisors partners is that the S a T. And I think the a C T two is just, um, it’s the same question over and over again, just written in different ways.
So like, um, well, the math section is a bit more versatile cause it’s math, but the Lang the English section is just asking about four, I believe, [00:58:00] different grammar rules in a sentence. So you’re just applying that to like a bunch of different sentences. So getting used to the, um, like she was saying the types of question and why a certain is, right.
It really just goes up. You really just need to know, like the rules, the grammar rules, um, and the sentence structure rules and all those little nitpicky things about the English language, um, is really what it’s asking. Like, it’ll ask you, um, which, um, version of effect or effect should you use in a sentence and you have to kind of know those little rules, um, and I just remember the other thing I was saying, um, taking the exam earlier, like when you’re in ninth or 10th grade and even eighth grade can really help you with getting, um, offers from not like offers, but like getting letters, um, where like mail from school or getting on their email list or, um, getting, uh, emails and letters from different scholarships, um, programs for high school students, because they send [00:59:00] your information, like your email to all these different programs when you apply.
So to ask you a question on the actual exam, like, do you wanna send us, do you want, will you allow us to send your information to these third party, um, partners essentially, and that’s how you end up getting all of those letters, um, from school as, so when you hear students saying that, that’s what they mean.
Uh, okay. And now that we are at the last minute of the webinar, is there any last minute thing you wanna add? No, that’s all. I wish everyone who’s taking tests, um, in the spring, in summer or in the upcoming year. Um, the very best. And just to get, keep in mind that this is one of many factors going into your application.
So thank you everyone for coming out tonight and thank you to our panelists. Uh, that is the end of the webinar. We hope you found this information helpful, and we had a really great time telling you about standardized test. Um, remember this webinar is being recorded and you can download the, download the slides from the [01:00:00] link and the handouts tab.
Um, if you wanna, um, review this information later and, um, we do have other webinars on other aspects to increasing your admissions odds. So if you would like to know more about different aspects of the admissions process, do check those out and there are other webinars on, um, test optional and then also other standardized test, um, webinars, if you would like to know more inform about this specific topic.
And I’m pretty sure we do have blogs about it too. So if you wanna go over there and check that out, that’d be great. And, um, thank you everyone for coming out and.