As juniors get ready to take the SAT or ACT, and sophomores wonder what’s in store for next year, it’s worth taking a moment to dispel the most common rumors we hear about standardized tests. Don’t get caught doing what everybody else does – it could spell trouble for you!
MYTH: You should take your tests more than once. No! Do you plan to take your driving test multiple times? Do you plan to get braces on your teeth two or three times? Take your testing seriously. Study, practice, and try to get a great score your first time out. Then, if you are unhappy with your score, take advantage of the opportunity to retake the exam again. Plan for multiple tests, but don’t ever treat an actual test as a trial run. Some colleges will see ALL your scores!
MYTH: When admissions officers “superscore,” they will consider the best combination of scores from the different exams you have taken. Technically, this is true, but you still have to report all of the scores on all of the tests you wish to use for the superscore. Because admissions officers do their own compiling, they will see the lower scores, too. Think about the TV dramas where a judge instructs members of the jury to ignore a piece of evidence they’ve just heard. It’s easier said than done, which is why you should plan to do as well as you can every time out.
MYTH: The ACT and SAT are interchangeable. This partially true, insofar as every U.S. university accepts scores for either exam. However, depending on the way you think, you will probably do better on one test the other. Try some sample questions from each exam, but focus on the types of questions more than your score; the test companies are notorious for distributing easier questions to coax you into purchasing their test. Both tests can be coached, but you will do better on the test you find more interesting or natural.
MYTH: You won’t need SAT Subject Tests for the colleges you’re seeking. Are you sure? Goals can change rapidly, especially in post-secondary and life plans, which is a world you have not yet seen. Today, you might plan to attend a large public university that doesn’t require subject tests, but as you move into senior year, you might discover a school that’s a great fit for you but expects subject tests. The best time to take a subject test is immediately after you complete the course, while the content is still fresh. We recommend taking two subject tests at the end of junior year related to the areas you expect to study in college (definitely take Math-2 if you plan to pursue engineering) so that you have them in the bank. Note, however, that some colleges “require” three subject tests. Check the admissions websites of the colleges you are considering.
MYTH: Your test score fits the middle range for a favorite school, so you don’t need to retake the exam. We never want you to wonder “what if?” If your test score is in the middle 50% of scores for the school you want to go to, that means you’re in the conversation for admission. It does not mean admission is guaranteed. Unless you’re sure you’re well above average everywhere else on your application, you shouldn’t be satisfied with an average test score.
Don’t be greedy; if you received a 1590 on your SAT, you don’t need to retake to see if you can get a 1600. At that level, you could as easily go down as up, and there is something to be said for the “one and done” strategy. But if you’re sitting on a 1300 and that’s average for the schools you want, you should definitely take another pass to see if you can raise your score 50 to 100 points. Besides, even if you think you’re “safe” for admission, the most desirable applicants receive the best scholarship offers!
Don’t forget, help is out there. If you’re worried about your standardized tests, good tutors can give you test-taking strategies that really do make a difference. You can find the names and contact information for tutors we have evaluated and approved at http://studentsupportalliance.org. And if you’re REALLY worried about standardized tests, you can find a list of schools at www.FairTest.org where test scores are not required.
Standardized tests are a trial that college-bound students usually have to endure in order to provide universities with an added dimension when considering your academic potential. Take testing seriously, but be prepared to move on. Your future will be about much more than multiple choice questions on a Saturday morning.