No part of the college admission process is freighted with more misinformation or provokes more anxiety than standardized testing. At most institutions, standardized testing does not drive decisions; instead, scores play a supporting role in concert with the academic record and teacher recommendations. Your performance in the classroom over the last three years reveals much more about your likelihood for success in college than what you are able to at 8:00 on a Saturday morning, armed with a calculator and a number 2 pencil.
The SAT does not measure intellect. It does not reveal creativity, study skills, critical thinking, motivation or insight. It does not predict success. In fact, the only thing the SAT accurately measures is how well a student does on standardized testing.
Having said that, testing is important, and some schools will weight scores more heavily than others. Here is some general information about tests and how to prepare for them.
PRELIMINARY SCHOLASTIC ASSESSMENT TEST/NATIONAL MERIT SCHOLARSHIP QUALIFYING TEST
The PSAT/NMSQT is a multiple-choice exam designed to give students practice for taking the SAT I: Reasoning Test. It is offered to juniors in October. Although PSAT scores are not reported to colleges, students should do some preparation before the test so that they are comfortable with structure and kinds of questions posed. Students who take the PSAT in 11th grade enter competition for awards provided by the National Merit Scholarship Program.
The SAT Reasoning Test is a multiple-choice and free-response exam designed to measure critical reading, math and writing skills. The SAT is administered at designated testing centers on selected Saturdays throughout the school year. Because the SAT does not test specific content areas, but rather a broad range of skills and abilities, the best preparation for the exam is a consistent habit of reading, an earnest approach to good writing, and a diligent application of solid mathematical thinking. In other words, the best preparation for the SAT is working hard in school. Most students receive additional benefit from tutoring or a preparation course. Families receive guidance about this in the student’s sophomore year.
The ACT is an alternative to the SAT, accepted by all colleges as equally valuable. In fact, the ACT is now more popular nationwide than the SAT. Most colleges will accept the ACT in lieu of both the SAT and Subject Tests, which explains part of its popularity. The ACT covers English, math, reading and science; a writing test is technically optional but is required by most colleges. Students and families receive information about the different tests in the student’s sophomore year.
SAT SUBJECT TESTS
SAT Subject Tests are one-hour multiple-choice tests that measure knowledge in specific academic disciplines. Many selective colleges and universities require applicants to submit results of two SAT Subject Tests, and a handful of the most selective universities require three, so students considering highly selective colleges are often encouraged to take at least two exams by June of 11th grade.
Students should take SAT Subject Tests as close as possible to the completion of the relevant Berkeley Carroll course. Students who have completed Precalculus, for example, should take the Math II exam. Science exams, such as Chemistry and Biology, should be taken at the completion of the course in those disciplines. Subject tests in areas in which students engage in ongoing study, such as foreign language, should be taken in June of 11th grade at the earliest, and may be taken in the fall of 12th grade.
Students who have a diagnosed learning disability and receive accommodations at Berkeley Carroll may be eligible for extended time testing. Conversation with the Upper School Learning Specialist should start as early as 9th grade.
LONG AND SHORT-TERM TEST PREPARATION
Reading, reading and reading is the best long-term preparation strategy. Taking challenging courses that will exercise, develop and strengthen critical thinking, higher order reasoning and problem-solving abilities will be advantageous when taking standardized testing.
Short-term test preparation is about demonstrating the skills in a testing situation. Test prep courses, private tutors or time spent with practice test software or a College Board book will lower the anxiety level and, hopefully, improve the test results. This type of test preparation helps a student become familiar with the types of questions and the directions they will encounter on the SAT or ACT. Students can learn test-taking skills that will help them pace themselves, make educated guesses and eliminate silly mistakes. Most students need some form of test prep, since these tests ask students to use their mental muscles in a different kind of way. The college office can recommend tutors, companies and strategies based on a diagnostic taken in the spring of sophomore year.