I chuckled a little bit when one of my friends posted to Facebook about the “large number of high school students outside nearby high school building early on a Saturday morning.” March 13th was one of the SAT test dates around the globe. Were you there, furiously scribbling your essay in pencil, and carefully writing the testing statement in cursive letters that you haven’t written since 3rd grade? Whether you haven’t sat for standardized testing yet, or you have a score sheet with a dozen entries, testing remains an important component of applying to college.
For most colleges and universities in the United States, standardized test scores are one important, although not be all end all, factor in the admissions process. Almost all of the colleges that require standardized tests give students the option of submitting scores from either the SAT or the ACT. It used to be that students in the Midwest often took the ACT, while students on the east and west coasts, as well as abroad took the SAT. In recent years, that has been changing as both tests are available nationwide. And despite my love for Saturday mornings, I often advise my students to take both exams. While both tests aim to provide a level playing ground for comparing applicants, the SAT and the ACT are slightly different tests, and some students score significantly higher on one than the other. The ACT tends to be a little bit more subject oriented, testing scientific reasoning among other things. The SAT is known as a test that challenges critical thinking and problem solving skills, rather than classroom knowledge.
The format of the tests is different as well. In the SAT, students write the essay at the beginning of the test, and then complete multiple choice (and a few non-multiple choice) sections that range in time from 25 minutes to 10 minutes in length. In the ACT, the essay (which selective colleges require) is optional, and is given at the end of the exam. The ACT has fewer sections, each one lasting a bit longer – up to an hour for the mathematics section. The SAT penalizes guessing, the ACT does not.
In addition to the ACT and SAT, you may also need to take the SAT II Subject Tests. These hour-long, content based exams are given in a variety of subjects. Some universities, or even schools/divisions within universities require specific tests, others give you the freedom to choose your strengths. After years of administering these exams, my strongest words of advice are to avoid taking three subject tests in one sitting if possible. A room that starts completely full soon dwindles, and the remaining students start to look drained as they approach the final hour. Consider taking a subject test or two this June, when the coursework you have just completed is fresh in your mind.
If you’ve got this under control, and have mapped out your remaining test dates, congratulations. If my words above resemble multiple choice bubbles, ask a question in the comment section below, or head ove
For more information about colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT exam, see FairTest.