Unfortunately, there is no right answer for every student; however, there is a lot of information and resources available to help make the right decision for your student.
To get insights into navigating the standardized test landscape, we interviewed Gardner Humphreys (thank you!), GCM College & Career Services, did a little web research and spoke to parents who have been through the process. Thanks also to Faith Boettger for her invaluable help getting this information organized for all parents of the Junior class at GCM!
As always, we hope this will help engage our Class of 2014 community and generate comments/questions/feedback from GCM parents who have been through this process before. Please take a minute to post your thoughts either as comments to this article, or in the Forum Juniors Section!
The PSAT is practice for the SAT and can be used to identify your student’s strengths and weaknesses to determine how best to prepare for the SAT.
- The PSAT will be held at GCM on October 17th.
- Taking the PSAT as a junior is the only way to be considered for the National Merit Scholarship Competition, although very few qualify for the final stages.
- According to Student Services, all Juniors take the PSAT; however, they are required to register and pay to take the test.
- Registration forms are handed out at Back to School night, made available in the cafeteria the week before the test, or can be downloaded from the GCM website or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/mstatesmen
SAT vs. ACT Comparison
A Google search of “SAT vs. ACT” uncovers thousands of opinions and advertisements for services. Hopefully, this synopsis will help provide some clarity.
While most colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT, there are several differences between the two tests which will help your student decide which is best for their personal skill set or testing style.
- When to take the test: Most Juniors should consider taking the ACT at the end of their Junior Year and/or early in their Senior year.
- Total possible score: 36 (a composite score is given)
- Time to complete:
- 45 minutes for a 75-question English section
- 60 minutes for a 60-question Mathematics section
- 35 minutes for a 40-question Reading Comprehension section
- 35 minutes for a 40-question Science section
- plus time for the optional writing section
- Grading: Points are given for correct answers; no points are deducted for wrong answers
- ACT is geared more for knowledge of facts, less on reasoning
- Less time per question
- Straight forward questions
- No experimental section
- Trigonometry questions
- Science section
- Sign up for the ACT at http://www.actstudent.org/regist/
- Test is not offered during the summer
- You must choose to add the Writing section to your registration, which many colleges require
- When to take the test: Most Juniors take their first SAT in the spring; Seniors usually take the SAT 1-2 times early in their Senior year in order to try and get the best score for their college applications.
- Total possible score: 2400 (800 possible points for each section)
- Time to complete: 3 hours, 45 minutes
- Sections: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. The Essay portion of the SAT is actually a small part of overall score; some colleges won’t look at writing.
- SAT Subject Tests/SAT II:
- 20 multiple choice standardized tests usually taken to improve a student's credentials for admission to colleges in the United States.
- Students typically choose which tests to take depending upon college entrance requirements for the schools to which they are planning to apply.
- SAT II is usually taken in the late spring/early summer after you've completed your Junior courses or Senior year – depending on your course schedule and application deadlines.
- Grading: For each correct answer, one raw point is added. For each incorrect answer one-fourth of a point is deducted.
- Considerations (for SAT only, not Subject Tests):
- More time per question
- Nine short sections, plus essay
- Experimental section
- No trigonometry
- No science section
- Sign-up: The SAT is offered every month during the school year. Sign up for the SAT at http://sat.collegeboard.org/register
- GCM will not be a test site due to the construction.
The Value of Preparation
There are differing opinions on the benefits of taking an SAT/ACT prep class, using online resources, purchasing SAT/ACT books or hiring SAT tutors. That said, most experts agree that familiarity with the test format is extremely helpful.
To determine the best way to prepare your student, consider how they learn and prepare for tests, evaluate their study habits, consider your family budget and talk to parents/students who have successfully or unsuccessfully engaged these resources.
GCM/Fairfax County Resources
As a starting point, GCM provides access to several sites designed to provide students with free access to sample tests. Practice tests, guides and online prep programs and other resources are available and have been paid for by GCM. They can be found on Blackboard/Family Connection and on the GCM Library sites. Every Monday in the College & Career Center during Learn and after school, students can do test prep with Mr. Humphreys. Contact him at 703-714-5506 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more information.
Another resource, albeit for a fee, is the Catalyst Boot Camp held at GCM. Many, but not all, students find taking this type of SAT prep class to be valuable. These classes do not review content, but teach test-taking strategy (not just for the SAT/ACT but for all standardized testing).
Is Retaking the Test The Answer?
Many students can improve their SAT or ACT scores by taking the test multiple times; however, this may not apply to everyone. Some considerations include: how much is the student studying, are they studying effectively, are they good standardized test takers, etc.
Most students submit all their SAT and ACT scores to colleges and colleges which put together the best composites. Most colleges do not want you to withhold scores. Given that the tests are taken over a period during which your student is determining where to apply for college, be aware of where you send your scores and SAT Subject Tests.
Take a look at the concordance tables created by ACT and the College Board. These tables were created to assist admission officers who wanted to understand how students of comparable ability would score on the two examinations and might help you to determine if your student should take another test. http://research.collegeboard.org/pro...ta/concordance
Help! My student is not a good standardized test taker!
According to college admissions counselors, test scores rank 3rd in importance behind grades and strength of curriculum. In addition, some colleges and universities are test-optional. To find a list of these schools visit http://www.fairtest.org/university/optional
Where can I learn more?
- The Junior Page Comment Board! We are hoping that parents will share their comments and opinions with each other on what they are learning.
- GCM resources!
- SAT/ACT/PSAT/ACT Info Night is January 9th in the GCM cafeteria
- Family Connection! If you have not taken a look at Family Connection in Blackboard, there are several college preparation resources that may be helpful.
- GCM College and Career Center