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Testing: PSAT, SAT, and ACT

Which tests should you take?


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     The simple truth is that there is no "one size fits all" answer to testing questions. Itís really tough to know what tests to take until you have at least some idea what colleges you might apply to. With that said, here is the best advice I can offer.

     First, you could ask the people that make the tests. They have comprehensive (but perhaps not objective) information available on their sites. You can visit them at PSAT, SAT, ACT. (Some students will also have to take one or more SAT II tests, but these arenít needed for most college applications.)

     If youíre not sure you want to take their advice on this subject, a general approach to this question requires that you answer two questions. First, do you plan to attend a four-year college straight out of high school? Second, have you taken appropriate (college prep level or above) classes during your years in high school? If you donít plan to go straight to a four-year school, you may not need to take these tests. If you havenít taken a college prep schedule in high school, you may not be prepared for these tests.

     The general approach is obviously very quick and easy. The problem with it is that if every student decides on testing this way a few who should take the test will not. It could be the student applying to a selective program at a community college. It could be a student who is recruited and "helped" through admissions due to some exceptional talent that the school wants to add to its community. In either case, test results may be required.

     For these reasons and others, I can only suggest one approach without reservation. Determine which schools (and which programs) you want to apply to, and find out which standardized tests they require and/or accept. It takes a little more work, but at least youíll know youíre on the right track.

     If thatís not for you, but you want to be very well prepared, you may want to take the PSAT in grade 10, followed by the SAT and the ACT in the Spring of grade 11. This will give you a good idea of where you stand before you visit schools in the summer after your junior year, and allow you a bit more time in the Fall of grade 12 to retake any test if you feel you could improve your scores.

     If a careful review of your situation indicates that the SAT test is in your future, I strongly recommend that you take the PSAT first. There are several reasons for this. First, the PSAT will give a student some idea of what to expect on the SAT test prior to taking the SAT. Second, the PSAT is a bit more relaxed, and less expensive, than the SAT. Finally, and most important in my mind, is this. When PSAT results are returned, they come along with the actual test booklet, all of the studentís answers, and all of the correct answers. This will NEVER be done with the SAT results, and it offers a great chance for students to learn from their mistakes.

     Please be aware that fee waivers are available for those who canít afford to pay for these tests. You can find info on SAT fee waivers and ACT fee waivers online. Please note that students who are eligible for testing fee waivers may also be eligible to have college application fees waived. Also note that students receiving special education (or 504 Plan) accommodations should check out the following links for info on SAT accommodations and ACT accommodations.

     In closing, I want to ask you to try to resist the instinctive urge somehow bred into many high school students. This mysterious urge compels them to take the SAT or ACT test for reasons they donít entirely understand. Please donít misunderstand me. Iím not anti-testing; I just donít like to push the expense and effort on students who may not need these tests. Bottom line: take the tests you need.

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