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Standardized Tests

Taking standardized tests is often one of the most stressful and dreaded tasks for students preparing for college. Standardized tests are designed to assess a students’ academic readiness for college and many colleges often require students to submit standardized test scores as part of their college applications. Read on to learn about resources and how to best support your mentee.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is a 3-hour multiple choice test on reading, writing and language, and mathematics. The SAT also has an optional 50-minute Essay section. Students should confirm whether their colleges require the SAT with Essay before registering. The SAT sections are:

  1. Evidence Based Reading and Writing: this section is composed of two tests that assess different but related skills and knowledge. The Reading Test gives you a chance to show how well you understand what you read. The Writing and Language Test asks you to revise and edit text.
  2. Mathematics: this section covers math practices, emphasizing problem solving, modeling, using tools strategically, and using algebraic structure. The questions test your ability to solve problems and use appropriate approaches and tools strategically.
  3. Essay (optional): The SAT Essay asks students to use their reading, analysis, and writing skills. Students will be asked to:
    • Read a passage.
    • Explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience.
    • Support their explanation with evidence from the passage.
Here are some useful links to help students get familiar with and prepare for the SAT:
SAT question breakdown
How the SAT is scored
SAT test day checklist
SAT test day tips & policies

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a 3-hour 30-minute multiple choice test on English, mathematics, reading, and science. The ACT also has an optional 40-minute writing test. Students should confirm whether their colleges require the ACT writing test before registering.

Here are some useful links to help students get familiar with and prepare for the ACT:
ACT test descriptions
Understanding your ACT score
ACT Test day checklist
ACT Test day tips

What's considered a "good" score?

So your mentee just received their SAT / ACT scores and you're not sure whether to celebrate or immediately register for the next test date. 

Well, it all depends on the colleges your mentee is considering. A 1200 on the SAT or a 23 on the ACT may be above average at one university but below average at another. Whether they took a practice test or the real thing, here's what you need to know to put the test scores into perspective.

National average scores

The ACT is scored on a scale of 1–36, and the national average is a 21. The SAT is scored from 400-1600 (the essay is scored separately). The 2018 college-ready scores are currently 1010 (480 for EBRW and 530 for Math).

If your mentee is close to to these average scores, they will likely be accepted into a variety colleges and universities (good grades will help!), but may not be considered at more selective schools. Above average ACT or SAT scores (plus a strong overall application) improve your mentee's chances of getting into more selective schools.

Good scores for your mentee's goals

Test scores mean different things for different students. So what's a good score for your mentee? Check out the SAT and ACT score ranges for the schools on their College List, and see how their scores compare. You can use their college search to find the online profiles of schools they want to research. 

Difference between the SAT and ACT

One of the differences between the SAT and ACT is that the SAT primarily assess critical reasoning abilities, while the ACT measures overall knowledge from academic subjects. Most colleges and universities place equal weight on the SAT and ACT so students should research and understand the format and content tested on each to determine which test is right for them: SAT question breakdown | ACT test descriptions. While some students do take both tests, it might be more effective to spend time preparing for the test that caters to a student’s strengths. 

When to take the SAT or ACT

Both the SAT and ACT are offered several times a year. Most students take the SAT and ACT for the first time during the spring semester of their junior year and a second time during the fall semester of their senior year. Help students plan ahead and register for the SAT or ACT by viewing the SAT test schedule and ACT test schedule.

Registering for the SAT or ACT and fee waivers

Students can register for the SAT or ACT online: SAT registration | ACT registration. Be sure to note registration deadlines for each test date.


Both the SAT and ACT require registration fees (SAT fees | ACT fees). However, students should check-in with their high school college counselor to see if they qualify for a fee waiver. 

Sending your SAT or ACT scores

Students must send their SAT or ACT scores to colleges as part of the college application process.

  • SAT Scores: Students receive up to four score reports with registration. These score reports must be used at the time of registration or up to nine days after the test date. Additional score reports are subject to a fee per report. If students registered for the SAT with a fee waiver, they can send score reports for free. 
  • ACT Scores: Students receive up to four score reports with registration. These score reports must be used at the time of registration. Additional score reports are subject to a fee per report.


How important are standardized tests?

Students should keep in mind that standardized tests are only just one factor among many used by colleges in the admissions process. Colleges will also consider other factors, such as GPA, class rank, strength of high school curriculum, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and personal statements. Advise students to research and contact each school’s admissions office to learn about specific admissions criteria.


Standardized test-optional colleges

There are a number of 4-year colleges or universities and community colleges that are “test-optional,” which means that standardized test scores are not used when making admission decisions. Instead, the school may consider a student’s GPA, class rank, and other criteria. Some schools may also use SAT/ACT scores for placement purposes only or require school-specific placement tests or exams in place of SAT/ACT scores. Additionally, some schools might use SAT/ACT scores as a consideration when awarding additional merit-based financial aid. 


Advise students to consider test-optional schools while creating their college lists. Students can view a list of test-optional schools here. However, it is important that students still research or confirm with each school’s admissions office to learn more about specific admissions requirements.


What is the PSAT/NMSQT?

The PSAT/NMSQT (preliminary-SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is a 2-hour 45-minute test on reading, writing, and math. It is closely aligned with the knowledge and skills tested on the SAT, which makes it an excellent opportunity to practice for the SAT.


Students typically take the PSAT/NMSQT in the fall semester of their junior year. Schools administer the PSAT/NMSQT in October each year and students must sign up for the test with their school college counselor.


Here are some useful links to help students get familiar with and prepare for the PSAT/NMSQT:
PSAT/NMSQTpractice questions
PSAT/NMSQTtest dates
PSAT/NMSQT test day tips


Taking the PSAT/NMSQT also automatically screens students for the National Merit Scholarship Program and offers students the opportunity to opt-in to Student Search Service, which shares students’ information with scholarship programs and colleges.



Test Preparation Resources

The best way to prepare for standardized tests is to study and practice! Here are some online resources to help students study and prepare for the SAT, ACT, and PSAT/NMSQT:



In addition to sharing these online resources with students, advise students to ask their school college counselor if there are free test preparation courses in their communities.


The role of iMentor in college admissions standardized testing

Schools often provide various levels of support for students when it comes to college admissions standardized tests. Supports typically include registering students for tests and providing test preparation or connecting students to test preparation resources in the community. It’s important that the PC connect with the school college counselor prior to the start of the school year to learn more about the school’s specific standardized testing process.


In addition to reading this Learning Center article and connecting with the school college counselor, here are other ways that iMentor can support students to prepare for college standardized tests:


Program Manager

  • Remind students about upcoming standardized test dates and registration deadlines
  • Direct students and mentors to resources, such as the ones listed in this article or to other resources in the community (free test preparation courses)


Mentor

  • Remind students about upcoming standardized test dates and registration deadlines
  • Review the SAT Student Guide with your mentee
  • Check out Khan Academy's SAT prep
  • Share study tips and help students to create and follow-through on a study plan
  • Encourage and motivate students!
  • Share test preparation resources listed in this article or connect students to other resources in their community (free test preparation courses)
  • Help students to understand that standardized tests are one factor among many in the college admissions process