Considering all the standardized tests that you take in high school, it’s easy to overlook the PSAT. After all, it’s a practice test. On the one hand, the pressure’s off. On the other hand, you may feel that you don’t need to try your best on test day.
But you should try your best. A great score can help you tremendously when it comes to getting into your dream college.
In this article, we’ll examine the test’s format, difficulty, and relationship to the National Merit Scholarship Program. Let’s jump in!
What’s the Format?
Let’s compare the PSAT and SAT’s format and time requirements.
|Evidence-Based Reading & Writing:|
Reading: 60 Min., 47 Questions
Writing: 35 Min., 44 Questions
|Evidence-Based Reading & Writing:|
Reading: 65 Min., 52 Questions
Writing: 35 Min., 44 Questions
No Calculator: 25 Min., 17 Questions
Calculator: 45 Min., 31 Questions
No Calculator: 25 Min, 17 Questions
Calculator: 55 Min., 45 Questions
|Total Time: 2 Hours, 45 Min||Total Time: 3 Hours|
- The SAT also includes a 50-minute optional essay. More on that in another article. 😉
- You do get short breaks between sections on the PSAT.
In the smallest of nutshells, the PSAT closely mirrors the SAT in format and time. Think about it: it would have to as the results are meant to predict how you’ll perform on the SAT. Now that we know a little bit about the test, let’s cover a few key facts about each section.
- Five passages
- Literature (1)
- Social science (1)
- Science (2)
- U.S. founding document or an international text inspired by U.S. founding documents (1)
Big Takeaway: The reading test is 80% non-fiction, meaning that to improve your reading comprehension skills (and score), it’s better to read the newspaper than your favorite novel.
Writing and Language
I have three words for you: grammar and usage. On this test, you’ll face passages with underlined portions and the dreaded NO CHANGE option. Believe it or not, NO CHANGE can trip up a lot of test takers by making them second-guess themselves.
Big Takeaway: As there are a TON of grammar and usage rules out there, I’ll keep it simple. Buy a used copy of Strunk & White and learn to love it.
The first thing you need to know about the mathematics section on the PSAT is that the first 17 questions (the no calculator ones) are grid-in questions, meaning that you provide the answer rather than selecting from a handful of options. That’s part of the reason why you have 25 minutes – you need to write in the grid and bubble in the answer so that a machine can score it.
Here’s what the mathematics portion covers:
- Everything you learned through middle school
- Algebra I
There’s a lot of math in those four bullet points, but I bet it’s the last one that has you the most worried.
Big Takeaway: Jump down to the next section to learn more about the most significant difference between the PSAT and SAT.
Is it Easier Than the SAT?
Short Answer: Yes, but only a little.
Long Answer: The good folks at the College Board designed the PSAT for a slightly younger crowd, meaning that on the PSAT, you won’t find more than two questions that deal with an introduction to trigonometry. Expect a lot of algebra and geometry questions, though. The Reading/Writing and Language questions are about as difficult as their SAT equivalents.
What’s the NMSQT?
Short Answer: PSAT = National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, and the test takers who earn the highest scores receive a scholarship and/or recognition for their accomplishment.
Long Answer: Test takers with excellent PSAT scores can receive one of four distinctions:
- Commended Student
- Test takers who score above the College Board’s super-secret selection index score
- The top 0.5% of test takers in each state
- The National Merit Scholarship Corporation selects finalists from semifinalists who submit a scholarship application
- Typically 1% of all finalists receive a scholarship
In other words, it’s more challenging to earn a National Merit Scholarship than it is to get into Harvard.
Even if You Don’t Receive a Scholarship
Were you a finalist, semi-finalist, or a commended student? If so, you may not have an extra $2,500 to spend on college, but you have something else just as valuable: bragging rights. Although I don’t recommend that you actually brag on your college applications, definitely bring up your finalist/semi-finalist/commended student status in your personal statement or application. As these distinctions are rare, they’re going to earn you a TON of points with college admission counselors.
Should I Prepare for the PSAT?
A lot of high school students take the PSAT ‘cold,’ meaning they’re using the test to determine their baseline score. Going in cold can be a valuable strategy, as having authentic PSAT results can act as the foundation for an SAT study plan. However, many students want to shoot for the stars and become National Merit Scholars. If this describes you, let’s talk prep work.
Creating a Study Plan
Here’s a valuable ‘plan of attack’ to use when preparing for the PSAT.
Note: For maximum impact, start this plan about five weeks before the real PSAT
- Take a practice test under timed conditions.
- Saturday morning would probably be the best time to do it.
- Score it.
- Analyze the results to determine your weakest areas.
- Start with the ‘easy fixes’: topics that take you the least amount of time to improve.
- Slowly work your way up to harder subjects.
- An excellent study plan means commitment. Try to spend 30 minutes to one hour a day preparing for the PSAT.
- A few days before the real PSAT, take a second practice test.
- Not only will this test better acclimate you to the test’s format, but you’ll also see how far your score has come.
- If you earn a higher score on the PSAT, that’s great! If you earn a lower score, you may need to research and practice test anxiety remedies.
- Not only will this test better acclimate you to the test’s format, but you’ll also see how far your score has come.
What Happens After I Take the PSAT?
Analyze (and Learn From) Your Scores
Whether or not you prepared for the PSAT, you can learn much from your score. If you went into the test cold, consider the experience as steps #1 and #2 in the previous section’s study plan. Also, think back to how you felt on test day. If you had any test anxiety symptoms, it might be time to consult some resources to make sure when you take the SAT, you don’t have to worry about high heart rate, sweating, and feelings of hopelessness.
Expect a Lot of Mail
Even if you did ‘just okay’ on the PSAT, expect a lot of physical and digital mail to show up soon after you receive your results. The College Board – along with the ACT – make a lot of money selling your info to colleges and universities across the country. The benefit for you is that when a college sees that you’re an okay to strong test taker, they’ll reach out to you with a letter or packet that describes their schools and what they can offer you as a potential college student.
Reading through the material will teach you much about colleges and how they operate. Like advertisements, they’re trying to catch your attention. Not all schools will interest you; that’s fine. For the ones that seem promising, contact them to learn more and start discussing college tours with your family.
The PSAT can be scary, especially if it’s your first standardized test. For that reason, even if you don’t create a study plan, I’d still recommend that you take one timed practice test. That way, at least you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into.
My other final thought is that no matter how much you study, please remember the PSAT is just the start of a standardized test journey that lasts until you take – and likely retake – the SAT. So, if your results aren’t what you expect, cut yourself some slack. As a 21st-century high school student trying to do his or her best, you deserve it.
How do you add test prep into an already full schedule of academic classes and extracurriculars? Hopefully during the summer your student established a test prep routine. Maybe using phone apps, or an online test prep program, or even a test prep class. My son has a twenty-minutes-a-day routine. But those twenty minutes can get used up pretty quickly now that school is here.
I think the best test prep is self-motivation. When my daughter was a junior in high school she really didn’t get the urgency of test prep. By the end of junior year, she understood and stepped up her game. Suddenly test scores mattered to her as she was beginning to narrow down the colleges she wanted to attend and saw their minimum SAT score requirements. So perhaps start talking to your child early in the year about which colleges they are interested in. Look at the requirements of those colleges with them and let the reality sink in. If it’s something they want (getting into a specific school) instead of something you want (them to practice SAT) then they will become self-motivated and the test prep will take on an importance. With my own experience, this shift was necessary.
According to The Washington Post, “In June 2015, SAT administrator College Board partnered with Khan Academy, a nonprofit education organization, to launch Official SAT Practice.” The Khan site is free to use and allows the student to connect to their College Board PSAT scores. Khan will prepare practice questions designed to support the students’ needs based on their scores. The student can practice with Khan at any time of the day and get instant feedback.
Research shows that test prep will increase the student scores by an average of thirty points. Some people argue that’s not enough increase to warrant expensive tutors or take time away from academic studies. Others argue thirty points may make or break your student getting into a top college.
I would sit down early with your child. Evaluate which schools they want to get into and compare their SAT or ACT scores with the average score for that school. Then come up with a game plan. Get your child involved in their future as soon as possible. Taking responsibility for their own actions will only benefit them later. And help them balance their prep time with everything else.
Two months ago my son agreed to do SAT test prep for twenty minutes a day. That plan went pretty well the first week, but we found that on weekends, his days were so packed he could barely find a minute to study. He’d been using an SAT test prep book at home and we were just about to go on a long road trip. I was worried his twenty-minutes-a-day plan would disappear. Then I discovered SAT and ACT practice apps I could download for free. I was elated. He was a bit bummed that he now had no excuse not to study on the road, but I convinced him the apps are game-like and might relieve some boredom on the long car ride.
These are a few that he has tried:
Math Brain Booster Games is a free download in the Apple Store. This game helps to build speed and mental math skills. It’s fun to pick up and “play” and has a timed element which gives it a competitive edge. Their description notes, “it will improve ATTENTION, REACTION and VELOCITY.”
The Daily Practice for the SAT®, free app from The College Board, has several parts. One that my son found helpful was the Scan and Score feature which allows you to take a photo of your SAT practice worksheet and obtain instant test scores. They offer an SAT Question of the Day, or the chance to binge on specific SAT practice questions. Not the funnest interface, but definitely closet to the real thing given that it was created by The College Board.
Magoosh offers the free ACT Practice Flashcards app. This harmless interface allows the student to move through a series of flashcards and set their own practice pace. By logging in, your child can keep track of their progress and easily pick up where they left off. Practice sessions for English include: Punctuation and Grammar, and Structure and Style. For Math: Integer Properties, Fractions and Ratios, Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry and Advanced Topics. For Science: Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry and Physics.
So no need to let the family summer road trip be an excuse for your child to stop SAT or ACT prep. And parents, you might want to try the app once in awhile. There’s nothing wrong with a little mental math practice in your adult years. And besides, children learn from example, right?
Are you a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior? If so, I bet you’re already looking forward to summer break. Do you have a summer job or internship lined up? Or maybe you’re going to be lounging by the pool or ocean. Either way, summer break is the perfect time for a few college tours with the family. And you know what, it never hurts to start planning for them in advance.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to plan your summer college tours depending on what grade you’re wrapping up this spring.
If You’re a Freshman
If you’re a freshman, you have a simple task: go on a single college tour.
Yep, that’s it. After all, as a freshman, college is still a long way off. At this point, it’s okay to have NO IDEA about where you want to go to college or what you want to study once you get there. So to simplify the process, choose a college within driving distance that you and your family can visit over summer break.
Researching which colleges to tour will also introduce you to many facets of the college experience. Here’s all the information you can learn from just a few minutes reading a college’s website:
- Majors offered
Learning about these (and more) topics for the first time will lead to more questions, but that’s okay. By familiarizing yourself now with the ins and outs of the college experience, you’ll be better prepared as the transition to college approaches.
On Your Tour
So it’s summer, and you and your family have arrived on campus. As an up-and-coming sophomore, all you should be doing is listening/taking mental notes. The other students on the tour will be older and might have very specific questions about the college. Pay attention to their questions and the answers they receive.
Since this is your first college tour, you may quickly realize that this particular college isn’t for you. That’s okay, too! The experience is still extremely valuable, however, as the tour will expose you to much about the college experience that is identical no matter where you eventually end up going.
If You’re a Sophomore
In the sophomore year, you take either the PLAN or PSAT to gauge your readiness for the ACT or SAT. The companies who make these tests sell your information to colleges across the nation. Depending on your scores, you may have received dozens of letters from colleges vying for your attention. With such a large stack of letters, it can be intimidating to sort through them all. Your job between now and summer break is to choose three colleges which you would like to tour.
Now that you’re halfway done with high school, you should have a firm grasp on which subjects you enjoy. While rifling through potential colleges, ask yourself some fundamental questions:
- Which colleges have strong programs that align with my interests?
- Do I want to be close to home or far away?
- What can my family afford?
These questions should help you turn a long list of potential colleges into a manageable few. You are now ready to go on some tours.
On the Tours
This summer, I want you asking questions (lots of them) on your college tours. If you’ve done your research, there is a good chance that one of the schools you visit this summer will be where you go to college. Here are some potential questions to get you started:
- Can I sit in on a summer class?
- What work opportunities exist on campus?
- How does Greek life play a part in campus culture?
Also, while on the tour, imagine yourself spending four years on campus. In many ways, touring a college is like looking for a new home. Choosing a school that matches your personality will go a long way to encouraging your academic success.
If your family cannot afford to visit colleges that are far away, don’t worry. That’s why college websites exist. Also, if you have questions, call the admissions department. They will be happy to answer all of your questions.
If You’re a Junior
If you’re a junior, this is your last high school summer break. Before classes are back in session, you need to finalize your college list. Doing this may require an additional college visit or two. Why not more? Well, the summer break before senior year is one of your final chances to set yourself apart as a future applicant. Here are some examples:
- Taking the ACT or SAT for the second time
- Performing an internship (Or working at a job where you learn a vital skill)
- Completing a volunteer project
There’s already a lot to do this summer, so I don’t want to overload you. One or two final college tours is more than enough.
On the Tours
As an up-and-coming senior, the purpose of your college tours should focus on answering vital questions you have about the school’s academic programs and how they can prepare you for your future. It’s alright if you don’t have a major picked out (remember that plenty of college students change their majors, too) but make sure the college has strong programs in two or more of your primary academic interests.
After a Tour
Before wrapping up, let’s discuss what to do at the end of a college tour. If you received permission to sit in on summer classes, that should be #1 on your list. After that, here are some ideas that will help you better get to know your potential home for the next four years:
- Eat in the cafeteria with your family
- Explore the library and lecture halls
- Read the student newspaper
- Take to some current students
In short, become an active observer.
Even with the internet and email, college tours are still an essential stepping stone between you and receiving a letter of acceptance from your dream school. Also, they are the rare occasion when colleges try to impress potential students (and not the other way around). So this summer, invest a little of your vacation time into planning for the future.
See you on campus!
The average SAT score for high school seniors admitted to college is approximately 1060/1600. The ACT score for the same group is around 20/36. However, averages can be misleading. For selective colleges that accept less than 25% of applicants, the test scores of their freshmen class are 30-35% higher than the national averages. However, we have found only four colleges with an average SAT score above 1500 and fewer than ten colleges with an average ACT score of 34 or higher. If your total SAT / ACT score is only 10-15% higher than the national average, you are likely a part of the top 25% of test takers. Yet this score may not be enough to make you a competitive applicant in the eyes of the top 25% of colleges and universities.
There is a definite correlation between standardized test scores and college admission success. You need to understand where your test scores place you against other applicants at a specific college. You should work on your SAT / ACT scores to maximize your chances of getting into the best possible college. That is why both the College Board and ACT offer tests designed for 8th-grade students: students can familiarize themselves with the testing process and improve their score over time.
Do high SAT / ACT scores guarantee that your dream college will accept you? Well, not really. College admissions officers are not robots focused solely on number, and this works to your advantage. They look for well-rounded candidates, not only great test takers.
High SAT / ACT scores equal a better chance of admission. If your scores are not quite where you would like them to be, you can still improve your admissions chances with the other parts of your application. Colleges begin by reviewing your high school transcript. Also, many colleges value AP courses and often prefer candidates with high AP scores. Your personal qualities play a role, too. For example, candidates who demonstrate a strong work ethic are more likely to graduate college; this is a trait that colleges want in every applicant they accept. Your extracurricular activities, passions, and interests can also make up for relatively lower test scores if you can tell a compelling story of who you are and how you can contribute to a college’s community.
At myKlovr, we compare your standardized test scores to your list of potential colleges, as well as help you identify specific areas, academic and non-academic, that you should focus on to become a more desirable college candidate. Finally, myKlovr helps you develop your personal story and gives you the tools to tell it distinctively and engagingly in your college application essays.
We believe that the earlier you begin thinking about your path to college, the more successful you will be when you apply. As a freshman or sophomore, you may think it is too soon to worry about college. But if you procrastinate, you may be surprised to learn that you are not ready to apply when you are a senior. Start with myKlovr today, and discover how to become the best college applicant you can be.
You sit in an auditorium packed to the gills with thousands of high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors from all around the nation. On the vast stage is a single podium, behind it a massive projector screen displaying the myKlovr logo and a single sentence in ten-foot high letters – the title of this article.
I walk on the stage wearing a myKlovr t-shirt and jeans, causing the audience to erupt in rapturous applause. I am, after all, myKlovr’s academic guru. I stand behind the podium and begin to speak:
“SAT and ACT scores are very important. That is all. Now please leave – Apple has reserved this space for their next product launch announcement.”
Without another word, I walk offstage, leaving the audience in stunned, frustrated silence.
I wake up from my dream and sigh. Becoming the Steve Jobs of the education world will have to wait for another day. However, my answer was pretty much on the money: SAT/ACT scores are a crucial component of college admissions success.
In this article, we’ll examine some reasons why your SAT/ACT scores are important no matter where you hope to attend college.
So How Important Are We Talking About?
You’re not just a number in the eyes of college admissions counselors. You’re a collection of numbers and letters. 😉
Yep, for a large percentage of applicants, ten seconds is all it takes for a college admissions counselor to make up her mind, even if she continues reading your application for a few additional minutes. This usually happens to applicants whose grades are in the C-F range, and their standardized tests are lower than the college’s Middle 50% scores for accepted students. This way, many applications go into the ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ pile as fast as if they were rolling off an assembly line.
In other words, good SAT/ACT scores prevent you from receiving an automatic rejection. This situation is stark a contrast to past decades when a good score was all that it took to gain acceptance to a top college or university. Not any more – at America’s top colleges, most applicants have respectable scores and top grades. Today, a high score keeps your foot in the door, making sure that the admissions counselor takes the time to read your essays and recommendation letters.
Not every college admissions counselor has the ‘automatic rejection’ mindset. If a college can afford a large admissions staff, for example, they may read everything in your application before making a decision. But admissions counselors are only human. When no one’s looking, and an admissions counselor has a large stack next to her (not to mention that it’s 6:00 PM and she promised her little girl she’d try to be home early once this week), what do you think might happen?
What if They’re Optional?
Submit them anyway. Everything helps. 🙂
What if My Dream College Doesn’t Require Them?
Yes, many colleges (and not just community colleges) no longer require standardized test scores to apply. Personally, I think that’s a step in the right direction. However, good scores are still important for two facets of the college experience:
- Course placement
Good scores may let you skip introductory-level courses (saving you money) and help you earn scholarships (saving you even more money). You don’t even have to apply for some of these scholarships; you gain some automatically if you live in a state with a lottery scholarship or attend a college with a guaranteed merit scholarship.
So if you like saving money, aim for a high SAT/ACT score.
There’s no way around it: good SAT/ACT scores may not earn you an automatic acceptance to your dream college, but they are still rank just under your grades in order of importance. And no matter what, make sure that every part of your application is as polished as it can be.
And since summer break is fast approaching, start researching college tours. The more the merrier!
Traditionally the PSAT is taken in the Fall of tenth grade. Some students begin studying for it the summer before. Methods of study can be in the form of a PSAT practice book, online course, private tutor or an in person course.
Merit scholarships are offered for students scoring in the top one percent of the PSAT. The PSAT is a good indicator of how your child will do on the SAT. Some statistics say that SAT scores will rise at average 139 points from PSAT scores.
More and more colleges are putting less weight on SAT scores. SAT’s are not always the best indicator of the student’s ability and more and more colleges are becoming test optional. On the other hand, larger universities might rule out students with lower SAT scores. Each college or university will tell you what the average SAT score is for the students they accept. Lewis and Clark College has a Test Optional component where you send in additional writing samples and letters of recommendation instead of test scores if you are not a good test taker
If your child is leaning towards SATs it’s probably best to have them take the SAT at least twice. The first time they might have been nervous and just getting used to the test taking environment. Do you press them to take the test a third time? There are different approaches to this. One parent I talked to told me their child needed ten more points on his SAT in order to qualify for his dream school in Scotland, so that student has a huge motivation to retake the SAT for a third time.
My son is not a great test taker but he is a great student. He’s planning to take mostly honors classes next year as a junior and we have just had the conversation about SAT prep. As a family we decided that he would be better off not spending lots of time on SAT prep, instead spend that time on getting his GPA as high as he can. He will then focus on applying to test optional colleges.
Studying for the SAT is almost like taking on an additional class that requires daily homework and most importantly self motivation. There is only so much time in the day for eleventh graders. I’d say, pick and choose what is going to show you off the best. Can you add the rigor of SAT prep and not give up the school musical or sports team? If you can, then great, if it’s too much, then something has to give.
Sophomore year is a great time to research colleges and see how much weight they put on SAT’s. And then guide your child in the direction that suits them the best. There are over 4,000 colleges and universities in this country and not all require high SAT scores.
As a teenager, people are always telling you what to do. Clean your room. Mow the lawn. Don’t drive too fast. Don’t get into trouble. Take a standardized test to get into college.
But at least you get a choice of which test to take. Yay…?
All right: I know that having a choice of which test to take doesn’t come as much comfort. Both the SAT and ACT are difficult tests that require dozens of hours of study time to achieve a respectable score goal.
One thing that shouldn’t take up a lot of your time is deciding which test to take.
In this article, we’ll explore some fundamental questions: what are the differences between these two tests, which one should you take, and do you need to take both? By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll have a plan to determine which test works best for you.
So what’s the difference?
You ever hear the phrase “like apples and oranges?” Well, the differences between the SAT and ACT boil down to “like apples and apples.” Just like the Galas and Honeycrisps in the produce section of your local grocery store, very little separates these two tests other than a few small cosmetic differences:
- The ACT has a Science Test, which is just a camouflaged, more difficult version of the ACT Reading Test.
- The SAT and ACT Math Tests have slightly different background knowledge requirements.
- The SAT has some grid-in questions on its Math Test.
There are a few more differences, but again, it’s not worth your time to know all of them.
Let’s get to the more important question:
Which one should I take?
In short, it all depends on your preference.
That’s right: just like your apple choices at the grocery store, your personal preference plays an important role. Just about every high school student naturally performs better on one test over the other. That means before you do a single second of test prep, you need to discover which test best matches your natural abilities.
Here’s how you select your test: take a practice SAT and ACT. Choose two Saturdays a week apart and take a different practice test on each one. Simulate test-day conditions by using a quiet place in your home or a local library.
End of story.
Do I Need to Take Both?
Should you take a practice test of both to determine which one better matches your natural skills? Yes. Do you need to study for both tests and report scores from both to your dream college when you apply? No. That would be a tremendous waste of the time and energy, both of which you need to polish other parts of your application and continue to perform well in your classes.
Before you protest, let me say that I get it: leaving the SAT or ACT score section blank on your application may make you feel like your application is incomplete. However, remember that when a college says they’ll take the SAT or ACT, that’s exactly what they mean. Having that one small blank space will not upset them one bit.
What if my school makes me take the SAT or ACT?
Some public schools require students to take the ACT or SAT in their junior year, usually during the school day. This is what it was like in the district where I taught for four years. If this should describe your situation, let’s look at some of the pros and cons.
- It’s (likely) free.
- It’s good practice.
- Your school may offer a (again, likely free) test prep program leading up to test day.
- You may not have enough time to prepare.
- The test may not be the one at which you’re naturally more capable.
- A low score may discourage you.
Consider a school-sponsored standardized test as a gift rather than a burden. In my experience working with students like you, the three pros significantly outweigh the three cons (and any others you may think up after finishing this article).
The standardized test-industrial complex wants you to believe that colleges view the SAT and ACT differently, or that there are significant differences between the tests. Insidious untruths, I say! Invest some time and energy in selecting a test. Then, and only then, create and follow through on a study plan.
In the dictionary, Senioritis is described as, “a supposed affliction of students in their final year of high school or college, characterized by a decline in motivation or performance.” It’s the word “supposed” that makes me laugh. Because when I asked my senior daughter to describe Senioritis, she said, “Teachers should acknowledge that second semester of senior year is exhausting and they should give us a break. Teachers think Senioritis is a joke and they get angry at it.”
After doing four performances of her high school musical this weekend, two months of after school and Saturday rehearsals, debates on alternative weekends, college applications, SAT’s, college essays, and keeping up a full load of honors classes there is not much left of her. And the thought of not knowing where she will be attending school next year, where she will be living, knowing she will be away from family and friends is only adding to the stress.
These seniors are mentally and physically exhausted. As juniors they were told by college counselors to keep up the rigor in senior year. That colleges don’t want to see you taking easy classes. So in my daughter’s case, this year has been one of her toughest academically. “I thought senior year was supposed to be fun,” she often says. From my point of view, this year as been anything but. There are fun things ahead; a senior class trip, Prom, yearbook day, graduation, but even those events have deadlines and inherent pressures.
And what about the parents? Aren’t we entitled to a bit of Senioritis too, or how about Parentitis? I don’t know about other parents with seniors, but I am exhausted. The journey to college has been constant, stressful, emotional and unnerving at times. I cannot wait to have this all behind us and hope my daughter winds up in the perfect college for her in the perfect dorm with the perfect roommate. But I know perfection is not possible and only imagine there will be lots of hands on counseling from afar next year.
So maybe Senioritis is a “supposed affliction” and not acknowledged by teachers. But it’s real in my house. And how best to support my daughter when I don’t have many reserves left? As my fiend, Gwen said in last week’s blog, “I tried to keep things calm and light and make sure she was never late, had everything she needed and was fed and watered.” Thanks, Gwen, I will be applying those ideas to help get us through the rest of this year. At least fed and watered I can handle.
After going through the college application process with my daughter, I don’t know how students can navigate through this world without some kind of guidance. The college application process is so much more complicated now than it was when I went to school. There are too many articles written and books published about the subject, it’s hard to know where to start.
The one thing that comes up a lot with high school college counselors is that colleges want to make sure the students are taking advantage of what the high school offers academically. For example, if your high school offers honors classes, then the colleges want to see that the student is taking them. And they don’t want to see that your child has free periods. If your student only needs three years of a language to graduate, encourage them to take that fourth year of a language. Same with math, don’t stop at the three year minimum. Senior year isn’t the year to take it easy. On the contrary, colleges especially look at what the student has taken on in their final year.
I’ve also learned that consistency is better than variety. It’s better to be on the Student Council for four years than to try a different club each year. Colleges look at follow through and how the student can grow within that experience. What the student does in the summer before junior and senior year is important too. Colleges want to see the student spending part of the summer either taking academic classes, doing an internship or working a summer job.
Some kids are driven by test scores, others want to enjoy high school and come out with a well rounded transcript. It’s important to get to know which kind of student yours is. My daughter realized she wanted to study journalism, so she picked her high school electives and internships around that. My son wants to go into the performing arts so he is gearing his extra circulars in that direction. Both kids already understand from their school that a high GPA and a rigorous course load is important, so that’s a given.
After watching my daughter study and retake the SAT three times and still end up with not the grades she wanted, I am convinced that she might not be the best standardized test taker. I don’t think my son is either, so instead of getting him a tutor and stressing him out about studying for the SAT’s I think he should focus his energies on his GPA and maybe apply to schools that are test optional. It’s not fair to force your student to do something they are not good at when they could spend that time working on what they excel in.
If you have the means, I think a virtual college counselor is a great idea. The virtual counselor will focus on your child and be able to access all the information out there. Sometimes working with an adult who is not the parent is important. An objective point of view can be refreshing to the student. And with crowded high schools, college counselors can’t always devote time to every student. So don’t take on the entire burden yourself. There is help out there and you’ll need it!
Despite having the illustrious title of ‘academic advisor’ at myKlovr, I don’t know everything. For example, five minutes ago I had no idea that public school students in New York City had a midwinter recess, or what a midwinter recess even was. I grew up in Tennessee, and we only got spring break!
As this article is slated for publication on midwinter recess eve, please take a moment to enjoy the fact that you have a week off of school.
*Momentary Pause for Enjoyment*
Now that you’ve had enough time to enjoy your break, let’s get down to business. Juniors, if you haven’t already taken the SAT/ACT, the time is fast approaching! The next ACT is on April 14th, and the SAT follows right behind it on May 5th. Simply put, you have between eight and ten weeks to prepare for your first date with a standardized test.
Let’s use part of this week to create an SAT/ACT prep plan!
Selecting Your Test: 2 Days
A quick Googling informs me that in New York City, the SAT is a much more popular test than the ACT. But popularity doesn’t mean everything. If you know the colleges you want to apply to, research their admissions data to determine which test the majority of applicants take before applying. If your dream colleges have no preference, or you don’t yet know where you want to apply, it’s time to take a full-length, timed practice SAT and ACT.
Yes, you will need two days, one for each test. Don’t try to take them both on the same day; your results will be as useful as pulling a random score out of a bag. Take the tests in the morning, just like you will on test day. Once you have your scores, compare them against the SAT and ACT percentile rankings. On whichever practice test you earned a higher percentile, that’s the one for which you will prepare.
Note: To give your brain a break, skip a day between each practice test. That way test fatigue won’t affect the results of your second practice test.
Figuring Out Your Weaknesses: 1 Day
It’s time to dive into the test results to discover your weaknesses. You can do this in one of two ways:
- By Question Topic: For each section of the test, arrange all missed questions into categories based on their question topic. For example, if you missed a comma question on the ACT English test, that question would go under ‘commas.’ When you are finished, you will understand which topics are giving you the most trouble.
- By The Reason You Missed the Question: Did you miss the question because of a simple mistake, because you misunderstood part of the question, or because you had no clue how to solve the question? By categorizing your missed questions this way, you can identify the ‘low hanging fruit,’ question types you can master with the least amount of effort.
Either way, you organize your missed questions, you will discover your weaknesses on the SAT or ACT. The next step is to create a study schedule.
Scheduling Time Between Now and Test Day: 1 Day
Sit down with a calendar and mark everything coming up between now and test day that has nothing to do with the test itself. Examples include family activities, working at a part-time job, extracurricular activities, etc. All of these commitments come before studying for the ACT/SAT, so you need to know just how much time you can dedicate to studying.
Remember, you don’t need to study every day. When planning and executing a successful study schedule, the key word is ‘consistency.’ If you make a plan to study four times a week, see it through. If you resolve to commit one hour to each study session, see it through. Just like exercising, studying will become more natural if you make it part of your routine.
Start Your Study Plan: 1 Day
There’s no time like the present to get into the studying habit. Near the end of your midwinter recess, take an hour to hit the ground running. As it’s your first study session, start with something easy, one of the ‘low hanging fruit’ topics we discussed earlier. Mastering a simple topic will give you a sense of accomplishment and encourage you later on. Also, another reason I’d recommend starting with an easy topic is that you probably won’t need outside help. Save the harder topics for when you’re back in school and can call on the help of teachers and peers.
Hey, would you look at that: midwinter recess lasts a total of nine days, and you’ll only need five of them to help you create an ACT/SAT prep plan. That means there’s still plenty of time to relax, and maybe even play tourist in your hometown.
For Americans 60 and younger, standardized testing is part of our shared experience. The ACT and SAT are as much a rite of passage as they are tools for colleges to determine whom to admit. Some states even require high school students to take the ACT or SAT to graduate. These two tests are an ingrained part of the fabric of American life.
On the other hand, many colleges and universities no longer require applicants to submit standardized test scores. Their reasoning: standardized test scores are just a number, and cannot reflect an applicant’s true to potential to succeed in college. Also, education groups have pointed to the SAT / ACT as the cause of teenagers’ unhealthy stress levels.
So what are you, a 21st-century high school student, to think? In this article, we’ll explore both sides of the issue. Finally, I’ll leave you with a little advice on how to excel both academically and mentally during standardized test season.
If there is a case to be made in favor of the SAT / ACT, it’s that preparing for these tests teaches you many life skills that you will need later in life. What do I mean? Let me break it down for you:
- Planning: Preparing for a standardized test requires a lot of planning. Do I need a tutor? Which test-prep book should I buy? How long each day should I study? These are only a few of the questions that you must consider when building a successful study plan.
- Routine / Discipline: Preparing for a standardized test requires you to create a study plan, along with the discipline to see it through. This is a life skill that people need no matter what life throws at them.
- Coping: Your first attempt at the SAT / ACT may not go the way you expect. If this happens, it’s okay to feel disappointed, especially if you created and followed through on a study plan. After sadness should come the resolve to improve on your weaknesses. Your test results will tell you where you need to improve, giving you a valuable study tool.
There are two sides to every coin, and the SAT / ACT has just as many cons as pros. Let’s look at the big ones:
- Stress on You: Do you get knots in your stomach when you think about the SAT / ACT? That’s not uncommon; I felt it, too. Also, as a teacher, I knew a few students who broke down in tears during these tests…even the practice tests.
- Stress on Your Teachers: Believe it or not, testing season has the same effect on teachers as it does on students. Think about it: they have to rearrange their schedules, teach test-prep strategies (boring!), and try to explain the importance of doing well on the SAT / ACT. Also, principals put pressure immense on teachers during standardized test season; many schools’ reputation rests on raising or maintaining their standardized test scores. In summary, nobody is having a lot of fun this time of year.
- You Aren’t a Number: As a former high school student and teacher, I have plenty of experience to prove that a test score is small potatoes compared to the everything else that makes up your college application portfolio. So even if your scores aren’t where you want them to be, feel confident in the other parts of your application that make you a shining star.
So it’s standardized test season. Besides creating and following through on a study plan, there are many things you can do to minimize the ‘cons’ this season brings with it. Here are two simple strategies:
- Cut everyone (and yourself) some slack: Students and teachers are testy this time of year, and it’s not uncommon for everyone to feel stressed out. Realizing that others feel the same way as you will help you work with your teachers and peers.
- Take some time for you: Study plans are great but combined with your school work, extracurricular activities, and family life, you can feel that you don’t have a moment for yourself. Yes, there will be many busy days, but don’t forget to build in personal time. If you have to put aside your work for an hour, the benefits will outweigh the negatives.
Standardized testing isn’t going away anytime soon. That being the case, I’m glad you took the time to learn about both sides of the issue. A little perspective goes a long way. Now that you have some essential knowledge, use it to help start your study plan. I wish you the best of luck on test day!
My son Jasper has PSAT’s on Wednesday and my daughter is suffering from SAT-PTSD. At dinner last night I asked Jasper how he was feeling about the upcoming test. Before he could answer, his sister Sydney, a senior, cried out, “Do we have to talk about SAT’s?!”
Over the past three years, Sydney has taken the PSAT twice, the SAT three times and the ACT once. Each time she does better. Incrementally better. But with all her prepping, her score is still not where she wants it to be. She can technically take it two more times before turning in her scores to college admissions this winter.
Jasper has watched his sister’s stress elevate. He has sympathized, endured her outbursts and even made her a special breakfast early one Saturday test-taking morning.
Jasper’s strategy is to go in unprepared. He thinks the results of the first PSAT will alert him to his weaknesses. He’ll deal with those then.
Sydney was not letting him get away with the nonchalant attitude. She wrestled him to the couch after dinner and went over each section of his College Board practice guide, giving expert guidance. She looked at me, worried. “I won’t be here when he applies to college.” She tried to give him a hug. He pushed her away. “It’s fine, since I won’t be panicking during the tests.”
An increasing number of colleges are now test optional. They realize some kids are not good test takers. Graduation rates at colleges are growing as a measure of excellence, and high SAT scores are not the best predictor of a student’s ability to follow through for four long years.
“You gotta stress out a bit,” said Sydney.
I’m curious if keeping his cool will be beneficial to Jasper. Is it worth it to study for the PSAT? Experts differ on the value of test prep, especially if takes away from school work. Grades are still the most important thing.
I have to think his will be healthier than Sydney’s approach, worrying and being nervous on the way to the test. It’s hard to know what to do as a parent. It always is. I can only look to my kids for guidance. And I think on Wednesday, we’ll just treat it as another day. No special breakfast, not talk about it. We’ll just hope he gets a good night’s sleep and does the best he can.