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College Admissions: SAT Myths Busted

Monday, January 05, 2015

 

As your child heads into standardized test season, make sure you're armed with the facts.

For high school juniors, SAT time has arrived. Many are beginning test prep courses and going online to register for winter and spring test dates. The SAT is about to undergo some significant changes which will make it a very different test. And with these changes have come rumors and misinformation. As you forage your way through the SAT forest, here are a few myths and realities to help you.

Myth #1: Colleges only see the scores I decide to send them.

This is often accompanied by rumors like “it doesn’t matter how many times I take the SAT because colleges won’t see it” or “I will just focus on one section of the SAT at a time because colleges will take my highest score for each section.”

Reality: Score choice does exist for the SAT, HOWEVER colleges set their own rules on what scores they require. These regulations are then programmed into the Collegeboard system and go into effect when you send your score reports. Some colleges do allow you to cherry pick the scores you send, but others require all scores, and still more use “highest overall test date.” A few of the more popular colleges that require all test scores include: Cornell, Georgetown, Stanford, Tufts, U. Maryland, UPENN and all the University of California campuses. While many of these colleges state that they will still “superscore” (use the highest section from any test date), the jury is still out on why they want all the scores. Some surmise that they want to see how many times a student took the test, and others believe that they want to see what the increase was due to test prep (so that students who can’t afford test prep are not disadvantaged in the process). Most believe it is simply in the interest of making certain that they have all the correct data to select the highest scores.

Myth #2: I don’t need to take SAT II Subject Tests.

Reality: First of all, you WILL need them if you are applying to the Ivy League, many small competitive liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Haverford, Williams, Pomona, etc.) or some popular universities like Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Swarthmore and Tufts. Second, there is a large group of colleges that “recommends” SAT IIs, and make no mistake about it, they like to see them. These institutions include: Emory, George Washington, Northwestern and most of the U. California’s. Finally, some colleges that don’t require SAT IIs in general, do require them for certain programs like engineering or nursing. A few even specify which subjects they require (Bio, Chem, Math Level II, etc.). The bottom line is that junior year is too early to cut off any options as to where you will be applying. And the best time to take SAT IIs is at the end of sophomore or junior year for subjects you have just completed (i.e. if you just took U.S. History and Chemistry, take those tests); that way the material is fresh in your mind. To read more about SAT II Subject tests, go here.

Myth #3: Colleges respect the SAT more than the ACT.

Reality: All four year colleges in the U.S. now accept the ACT, and it is highly regarded. Some admissions professionals will even tell you that they prefer it over the SAT because it is based more on coursework and better reflects how a student will perform in college. From a student perspective, the ACT will fulfill the need for SAT Is and SAT IIs at many colleges. I recommend that all students take the ASPIRE (pre-ACT) or a diagnostic ACT to see whether the SAT or ACT is a better test for them. Several sites offer free full length practice ACT tests.

The bottom line is that you need to understand the landscape surrounding the SAT I , SAT II and ACT before you take the tests. Arm yourself with facts, not rumors, and set your testing schedule well in advance. The best time to begin taking the SAT is in March of junior year. If you wait until May or June, you will be deluged with SAT Is, SAT IIs, final exams, AP exams, proms and sports playoffs all at once. You also won’t have any backup test dates if you get sick on test day. So, plan now for a successful testing season!

Cristiana Quinn, M.Ed. is the founder of College Admission Advisors, LLC which provides strategic college counseling, SAT prep and athletic recruiting services www.collegeadvisorsonline.com.

 

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