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May 2007 Visits (& News)

on May 6, 2007 in College Visits

satAll About Standardized Tests

Most colleges now accept either the ACT or SAT test, and deciding which one is best can be confusing. For those students who take both the PLAN (a “pre-ACT” test) and the PSAT (a “pre-SAT”), comparing these scores can give you an indication of which test might be best. A more useful comparison, however, is an actual or mock ACT and SAT test. Some prep firms offer mock tests that can help you determine which test is best for you, and scores can be compared with this table.

Once you decide which test is best for you, focus on just one and try not to jump back and forth to prepare for both as this takes time away from other more important things. It is best to make this decision early in the junior year and move ahead with a plan. Many schools have additional requirements for SAT Subject tests, so check either this table from the Common Application (will be updated in July) or the admission page for each of the colleges on your list.

In addition, the ACT is given with and without the writing portion, and many schools like the University of Washington require the writing option. The writing portion is now part of the SAT and while most colleges admit they will not be using the scores from this section, they are collecting the data for evaluation purposes and they also have access to a student’s actual essay. In some cases, colleges are using this essay to compare to application essays if there is a concern about authenticity or plagiarism.

So how do the ACT and SAT compare? The ACT is a better test for students who have a weaker vocabulary, need more time on the essay, are doing well in their high school math (as the level is a bit higher) and have less time to prepare. The ACT has more reading comprehension than the SAT, and also includes a science section. The SAT is good for students who like to think out of the box, like to learn and use strategies or tricks, have a strong vocabulary, and like to jump around more (as the SAT has many more sections than the ACT). The SAT tests more “innate knowledge” whereas the ACT assesses more knowledge that you have acquired, with the exception of the science section which tests your reasoning skills rather than knowledge. Explore more of the differences in these two tests here.

The reporting of scores from the ACT and SAT also differs. Individual ACT test scores can be sent to colleges at your choosing. For the SAT and SAT Subject tests, your report is cumulative and colleges will see all scores from all previous tests.

A third option is to “opt-out” completely from the tests. While many schools are deciding to become “test optional” (see a current list here), making a decision to do this means your academic record needs to speak for itself. You also risk not having a score should you later change your college choices to ones that do require a test. For this reason it is important to consider taking at least one ACT or SAT.

For students with documented disabilities, there are options for taking both the ACT and SAT with accommodations. This process takes a lot of advance planning as lead times for getting approved for accommodations is lengthy, and has become more difficult to attain in recent years. Read more about what students should consider as they explore this option. Taking the test in a good location is important. While test centers can change from year to year, it is best to talk to your friends and find out what their experiences were in certain locations. Just because a test center is closer to your home does not make it better; desks can be cramped, the space can be loud and over-crowded, and support staff can be limited. On the lighter side, you may want to read this article to learn about one more unique predictor of SAT success.

To help in planning for testing starting in the fall, review these dates for the SAT and ACT:

UW Admissions Update

In May, we attended the UW Counselor meeting and learned about this year’s and next year’s admission process. Admission to the UW continues to be difficult, with applications up by 1200, the admitted combined average SAT increasing to 1251 (math and critical reading only) and the average GPA increasing to 3.74. UW admissions officers continue to stress the importance of senior year in the evaluation of coursework and performance, the value of the holistic review process in understanding the student both academically and personally, and the importance of the application essays. Key points included the increased number of programs and percent of students that are being offered “freshman admits” to these programs, such as business and computer science. We heard from a panel of business students (photo) that highlighted the benefits of this direct admit program: the opportunity to spread courses over four years; build local networks early for internships; take freshman seminars that give students a broad overview of courses on which to focus; begin coursework early to allow more flexibility to study abroad; gain admission to programs that admit only 50% of students in their Junior year; receive guaranteed scholarships; and attain a strong sense of community.

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