Tests for College Applicants
1. ACT – A standardized test offered nationwide, it can be used in place of the SAT Reasoning Test at all highly selective colleges. Unlike the three sections of the SAT, the ACT has four sections plus an essay/writing score. If you want to substitute your ACT for an SAT, you have to take the ACT with the writing option, even though the writing part is “optional”. The ACT has a science section which throws off a lot of students. In addition, the ACT does not have a guessing penalty, so those students who have trouble figuring out when to leave questions blank will often do better on the ACT, where they have to answer every question. The biggest selling point of the ACT is that it offers students total score choice, meaning that you can take the test seven times and you report one score if you like, or two, or all of them–it’s up to you. Finally, the ACT, although it does report sub-scores on each section, provides a composite score on a 1-36 scale. Colleges take that composite score and convert it to an SAT equivalent. If you score a 36, for example, colleges would count that for their SAT averages as 800CR, 800M, 800WR. Figure out early on, in tenth grade if you can, which test you tend to do better on. Then take that test two to four times and submit only your best scores.
2. SAT – Impressive combined scores on the SAT are over 2250. The breakdown of the scores is important. It is more impressive to see high verbal (critical reading) scores than high math scores, since most students in college will be doing much more writing and reading than math. The ability to read well will have a bigger impact on most college students than the ability to do SAT math very well, especially since the level of SAT math is not particularly high. There are many students who do terribly on the SAT math section and yet who manage to get the highest score of 5 on the AP calculus exam. If any math is useful at the college level, it is calculus, not the basic math covered on the SAT. Therefore, SAT scores of 750CR, 630 M would be much more impressive for most highly selective colleges than a 640CR, 780M, even though the latter score has a higher combined total by forty points.
Scores will generally go up a few points each time the student takes the SAT, as the student’s familiarity with the test increases. The problem is that, once a student has taken the test two or three times, scores usually plateau, so there is no need to keep on taking it. Taking the test more than two or three times also makes the student look “score obsessed.”