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SAT or ACT: How to help your child get ready

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By GreatSchools Staff

(5) Find out how colleges weigh tests

Colleges vary in the degree to which they consider a student's SAT or ACT scores in the admissions process. At many colleges, tests are just one factor considered when evaluating an applicant. Other factors include high school grades, extracurricular activities, an applicant's personal statement, and recommendations from teachers and counselors. Other colleges have have dropped admissions testing as a requirement altogether. A national commission recently recommended that colleges and universities consider dropping college-entrance tests as a requirement, claiming the tests don't accurately predict student success in college.

Colleges also differ in the way they use test results in making admissions decisions. Some colleges, for example, will look at an applicant's highest math and reading scores even if the student earned them in two different test-taking sessions. Others will average the scores if a student takes a test more than once or look only at the highest score earned in a single session.

It's important for students to ask questions before deciding which tests to take and when. Your child's high school counselor is a good place to start.

(6) Plan a test timetable

Students usually start by taking the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) in the fall of their junior year and sometimes in their sophomore year for practice. This test, administered by your child's high school, is not counted for college admissions, but a junior who gets a high score can qualify for a scholarship.

Students typically take the SAT or ACT in the spring of their junior year of high school. By then, they have completed most of the coursework that will help them in the test, and they can still retake it in the fall of their senior year if they feel they can improve their scores.

It's important to research college admissions deadlines to be sure that the test results your child needs to report will be available in time, and also to check to see if SAT Subject Tests are required. These tests measure a student's knowledge in specific subjects such as English, math, biology or language. They cannot be taken on the same day as the main SAT test, which means your child will need to take all these tests into account as he develops his timetable.

Your student should also consider when he can spend time preparing for the test before deciding when to take it. If he can only spend time taking practice tests in the summer, then taking the admissions test in the fall of junior year may be a better option than waiting until spring.

A final note on retesting

If your child takes the SAT or ACT more than once, he can select the test results he wants to send to colleges. However, many admissions officers say they only look at the test with the highest score. Again, it's important for students to find out the policies of the colleges they're interested in.

Research shows that students can often — but not always — improve their scores by retaking the test a second or even a third time. The College Board reports that students who take the test a second time typically see a 30-point increase on their combined score. But experts also caution against taking the test over and over unless a student has a solid reason to believe he can significantly improve his results. In addition to being expensive, test prep and testing take time a student might otherwise invest in improving his grades.


Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

01/30/2012:
"Great article. Thank you. "
02/5/2009:
"Found a great SAT Math tutor in NYC - here is her website: http://www.mcelroytutoring.com/tutor.php?id=904"
01/20/2009:
"Free unlimited SAT tests are available at Examville.com Also they provide free study aids as well."
01/9/2009:
"I used this article to help do my homework before buying my son any preparatory material for the SAT. The information provided was very helpful, so thank you! My son is just starting to study for the SAT and after trying to find trusted services that were paid for, I ran across a free site that seemed to have their act together. I am not sure how it remains free, but has been very helpful to my son. I would just like to let other people know because rarely do we come across a service that is trustworthy and free."
12/17/2008:
"Thanks for your involvement in today's youth"
09/25/2008:
"very helpful.. Thank you"
09/25/2008:
"At our high school, we coordinated with Kaplan who offers a SAT vs ACT combo test. This is a four hour test that has section from both test. A week after the test, Kaplan will return with the test results evaluating how your student did on each section. This will help highlight on which test your students does better than the other. In the end, it is a guideline that helps you determine which of the test (SAT or ACT) your child may do better on. You can then focus on preparing for that."
04/21/2008:
"What is an average SAT Score? Is a High Schools average SAT Score of 1000 OK?"
04/9/2008:
"I wish I had known how important it is to take a scored practice test of the SAT before signing your kid up to take it in junior year. Once your kid has taken the SAT, there is little you can do to prevent colleges from seeing their score, especially since you will have to send in their SAT subject test scores. Better to have them take a sample ACT and SAT and score them, then choose which is best for your kid. With the ACT, they will send to colleges only those scores that you want them to see. Most colleges that recruit nationwide accept either ACT or SAT, so choose the one your kid does best on."
03/24/2008:
"I have a child who will score low on psat and sat but she is a B student. Should we still make her take the SAT? What other options are available to help into college?"
02/4/2008:
"Your site was very helpful in finding the right help that would best help my child start off in the right direction. Thanks for Number2.com"
09/4/2007:
"XLPrep.com offers free 3 day trials of their SAT and CAHSEE test prep software. The site provides a comprehensive and effective overview of students need to know to get ready for their tests."
08/10/2007:
"The Princeton Review is offering free SAT and ACT practice tests in Southern California on Sat., October 13th. Check it out at www.princetonreview.com. "
08/2/2007:
"Parents should check out the FREE online test preparation service Learning Express Library, which many public libraries subscribe to. This lets students take timed practice tests for the ACT, SAT, Advanced placement exams, Catholic High School Admissions test, and many others. The test is graded online, and the student is shown which answers s/he got wrong and why. A terrific, publicly funded benefit for families who can't afford expensive prep services. To see if your local library gets Learning Express, call them or go to the libray's website. To find your library's phone or website, go to www.publiclibraries.com"
03/23/2007:
"The Princeton Review is offering free SAT and ACT tests all across the city on Saturday, April 28, so students can help figure out which test is better for them! Check out www.princetonreview.com/ntd"
01/4/2007:
"My child was having a real hard time preparing for the SAT's. But I found a free informational site that really helped her out and it saved me alot of money (without paying for a tutor.) www.eprep.com"
04/14/2003:
"the SAT is not a test that measures one's intelligance, therefore, why do colleges still require them unless colleges are only interested in how well their future guinea pigs are good at taking ETS tests. Furthermore, it is also noteable that, indeed, the SAT creates barriers for minorities and low-income families. "
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