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, many are “test optional,” and some are “test blind.”
Even colleges that don’t require them sometimes still refer to them when making scholarship offers. Some schools are starting to de-emphasize their use of standardized tests in admissions decisions or do away with them altogether, but you should still be aware of the landscape and take an intentional approach to testing or not testing, as it suits your needs and goals.
Why do colleges use 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, in theory, a 720 on the Math section of the SAT is the same no matter where you are.
Here are the most common tests you’ll encounter:
● PSAT: This is basically a scaled-down version of the SAT. Most schools give this test in 11th grade, but you might see it in 10th grade as well. This test has no actual bearing on college applications, but your junior year PSAT can qualify you for a National Merit Scholarship.
● PreACT: The “pre” version of the ACT, like the PSAT. Take this exam seriously, though. It will help you get a sense of how you’d do on the actual test.
● SAT: The SAT consists of sections covering basic reading, writing, and math skills. You will either take this test or the ACT. The SAT is scored out of 1600.
● ACT: Similar to the SAT. 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, talk to us. We can help you figure out which test is a better fit for you personally.
A few additional subject-specific tests you might decide to take:
● 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 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!