Freshman Year Knowledge: Standardized Tests
We know what you’re thinking. Wait, wait. Hold on a second. I’m just a freshman. It’s too early for me to worry about standardized tests.
True, you won’t take the big-time tests for a few years yet, but we want to give you an idea of what’s coming. Speculation makes test-related anxiety worse. If you know what’s coming, you can form a plan to account for any possible bumps in the road and reduce your stress.
Most colleges require standardized tests.
That’s just the truth of the matter. And even colleges that don’t require them sometimes still refer to them when making admissions decisions. Some schools are trying to de-emphasize their use of standardized tests in admissions decisions, but any big changes to the process are still years away. You’ve got to be prepared.
Why do colleges require standardized tests?
It’s in the name. They offer a standard to compare students’ abilities to. Schools may use a different grading scale for semester grades (an A does not mean the same thing at every school) but a 720 on the Writing SAT is the same no matter where you are.
Here are the most common tests you’ll encounter:
● rPSAT: This is basically a scaled-down version of the rSAT, the “redesigned SAT.” Most schools give this test in grades 9-12. This test has very little bearing on college applications, but your junior year rPSAT can qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship.
● PLAN or ASPIRE: The “pre” version of the ACT, like the rPSAT. Take this exam seriously, though. It will help you get a sense of how you’d do on the actual test.
● rSAT: The redesigned version of the SAT was released in March 2016. The rSAT consists of sections covering basic reading, writing, and math skills. You will either take this test or the ACT. The rSAT is scored out of 1600.
● ACT: Similar to the rSAT. It also covers reading, writing, and math. While some schools may emphasize one test over another, students can choose whichever test they prefer. The ACT is scored out of 36. If you’re not sure which one you should take, speak to your college planner or guidance counselor.
A few additional subject-specific tests you might decide to take:
● SAT Subject Tests: these are relatively short exams that cover specific subjects such as chemistry, history, literature, Spanish, etc. Take these tests after you’ve taken the class on that subject. Not all colleges require these tests, but some of the more selective colleges require 2-3. You can start taking these as early as 10th grade.
● Advanced Placement (AP) Exams: you’ll generally take an AP exam at the end of a year’s AP class, though if you’re really ambitious you might take the test even if you haven’t taken the course. AP exam scores can sometimes be used for college credit.
● High School Examinations. Some statewide or citywide exams are required by certain school districts (such as the Regents in New York, the MCAS in Massachusetts, etc.) These tests don’t have much of an impact on admissions, but can indicate how you’ll perform in college. These exams are usually less difficult than standardized tests.
Now you have all the information you need to get prepared. Start making your test prep schedule!