SAT ACT

Note: There are a lot of college admission testing experts out there. Some of them are good. Many of them are not. Our friends at Compass Education Group, notably Adam Ingersoll, Matt Steiner, and Bruce Reed, are among the very best. They give great advice and they never prey upon the anxieties that so many people have about testing and college admissions. Much of our approach to admissions testing comes from their good thinking. This resource is adapted for Northwood students and families from their “SAT and ACT Planning Strategy.” We refer to it often and recommend it to everyone.  

Junior year is when it is time for you to get serious about college admission testing. Your actions and attitudes — two variables you can control — will have the greatest impact on your testing outcomes. Every year, our most successful students are those who are organized and informed. They have mapped out a thoughtful, strategic, manageable, and appropriate course of action. They remain focused, resilient, and sensible. And they invariably conclude this process with highly satisfying results.

Sophomores don’t need to take college admissions tests nor do they need to develop a testing plan, but some sophomores will find it useful to draft a preliminary schedule and update it as circumstances change.

Contents of this Resource:

  1. SAT or ACT?
  2. How to know which test to focus on: Take a Full-Length Practice Test
  3. Create Your Testing Calendar
  4. Will Colleges See All of My Scores?
  5. Should You Take the Optional Essay?
  6. Should You Take the SAT Subject Tests?
  7. Test Prep
  8. Registering for the Test
  9. But What About “Test-Optional” Schools?

 

1. SAT or ACT?

The ACT and SAT are basically interchangeable and universally accepted. No college prefers either or the SAT or ACT, and none requires students to take both. Many students choose to take both tests, but our best advice is for students to focus on one test. A careful analysis of your PSAT and a Pre-ACT (or a practice ACT) will often yield a clear recommendation or the decision to focus on one test or the other could be more of a judgment call.

The tests are different in structure, timing and content tested, but recent changes to both the SAT and ACT have made the tests more similar than ever before. Click here to use your PSAT scores and a practice ACT (or the Pre-ACT) to compare your scores and determine which test is best for you.

What score do you need? Click here for a searchable list of typical score ranges of enrolled students at 360 popular colleges and universities.

 

2. How to know which test to focus on: Take a Full-Length Practice Test

In the spring, Northwood offers six practice tests, 3 ACTs and 3 SATs:

Practice ACTs:

  • Saturday, March 2
  • Sunday, March 10
  • Sunday, March 31

Practice SATs:

  • Sunday, March 3
  • Saturday, March 30
  • Saturday, April 27

Northwood also offers practice ACTs and SATs in the fall.

 

3. Create Your Testing Calendar

We generally advise our students to complete at least one SAT or ACT during junior year and to budget time for three sittings, if necessary, by early in the senior year. The temptation to “get testing out of the way early” is understandable but often unwise. We often see peak results occur in late summer or fall of senior year as the combined forces of maturity, experience, and summer refresher prep give a difference-making lift. Nationally, roughly two-thirds of college applicants take their final admission test in the fall of senior year.

SAT 2019-20

Sample Testing Calendars

We advise students to take the SAT or ACT at least once before the end of junior year and have the opportunity to take the test three times (if necessary) by October of senior year. Plans will vary depending on family, athletic and vacation schedules. Here are three sample SAT plans and three sample ACT plans. It’s important that you have a plan. It doesn’t need to be one of these.

SAT Plan 1 SAT Plan 2 SAT Plan 3
November March May
May August August
August* October* October*
ACT Plan 1 ACT Plan 2 ACT Plan 3
October February June
April June September
September* September* October*

* if necessary

 

4. Will Colleges See All of My Scores?

College Board and ACT have “Score Choice” policies that give students some control over how scores are reported, but colleges have the final word on what should be submitted and how those submitted scores get used. Score choice allows you to send only your best scores for each date. If your best EBRW and Math scores were on the March test, then you’d send just that test. If your best EBRW was in March and your best Math was in June, then you’d send both the March and the June score reports. Colleges routinely see 2 to 3 sets of test scores from an individual applicant, so it’s perfectly reasonable (and in most cases smart) to sit for the ACT or SAT two or three times. More on score choice here.

It’s also important to note that students are responsible for reporting schools to colleges. Northwood does not include test scores on student transcripts. Some colleges allow applicants to self-report test scores (more on that here), but most require applicants to have scores sent directly from the testing agency. Click here for instructions.

 

5. Should You Take the Optional Essay?

Very few colleges still require the so-called “optional” essay that comes at the end of both the SAT and ACT. However, the popular University of California schools still require the essay, and that drives many students’ decisions to take the essay. Another group of big and small colleges — like Occidental, Chapman, Rutgers, and Stanford — “recommend” that applicants opt-in to the essay. While not required, it’s expected at those schools.

Unless the student is absolutely certain that every college they will apply to does not require or recommend the essay, we recommend students opt to take the optional essay one time, usually the first time they take the test. Click here for a list of colleges that require or recommend the optional essay.

 

6. Should You Take the SAT Subject Tests?

Though only a handful of colleges still require Subject Tests in addition to the SAT or ACT, dozens more recommend or consider Subject Tests. A few will accept the ACT in lieu of the SAT/Subject Test combination, and some others will even accept Subject Tests in lieu of the SAT or ACT. If Subject Test colleges are in play for you, you should allocate a spring test date to complete those. May 4th and June 1st are sensible options because year-long coursework will be nearly completed, and preparation for AP and/or final exams will begin. Subject Tests are offered only on dates that conflict with the SAT, so calendaring is an important exercise to begin now.

Should you take Subject Tests? Probably yes, if you are taking advanced classes like Honors and AP, and you would take the corresponding Subject Test(s) in May or June.

Click here to see which colleges require or recommend subject tests. If you aren’t likely to apply to any of these schools, then it’s okay to skip the Subject Tests.

 

7. Test Prep

Most students benefit from an organized test-prep program that includes actual ACT or SAT questions and full-length practice tests. Northwood offers two 7-week-long SAT prep courses each year. One in the fall (September-November) that prepares students for the November SAT and another in the spring (March-May), that prepares students for the May SAT. Students aren’t required to take Northwood’s SAT prep course, but they should have a test-prep plan. Some students plan to take the ACT or SAT in the spring of junior year with minimal test prep and then enroll in test prep near home during the summer.

The College Board has partnered with Khan Academy to offer very good and totally free SAT prep. More on that here. Kaplan Test Prep has partnered with the ACT to offer low-cost test prep that is also good. More on that here.

 

8. Registering for the Test

Students are responsible for registering for the SAT or ACT. Millions of students register for the SAT or ACT on their own each year, but Northwood students are welcome to come to the college counseling office at the beginning of a flex or free period with a laptop and credit card to register with a college counselor.

Fee waivers. The ACT and SAT offer registration fee waivers for low-income test-takers. See your college counselor if you think you may qualify.

Accommodations. If you qualify for academic accommodations like extended time, you may also be eligible for similar accommodations on the SAT and ACT. See your college counselor for more information.

Register for the SAT | Register for the ACT

 

9. But What About “Test-Optional” Schools?

It’s true that many colleges do not require an ACT or SAT, and that list seems to be growing every year. It is possible to apply to only test-optional schools. Going test-optional, however, is a decision best made at the application stage rather than during the testing process. Your SAT, ACT and Subject Test scores may or may not put you in a favorable light, but you won’t know that until after you have completed your testing. Despite the significant number of colleges that have gone test-optional, we recommend that students not limit their choices before the application process even begins.

Click here for more about test-optional schools.

Note: There are a lot of college admission testing experts out there. Some of them are good. Many of them are not. Our friends at Compass Education Group, notably Adam Ingersoll, Matt Steiner, and Bruce Reed, are among the very best. They give great advice and they never prey upon the anxieties that so many people have about testing and college admissions. Much of our approach to admissions testing comes from their good thinking. This resource is adapted for Northwood students and families from their “SAT and ACT Planning Strategy.” We refer to it often and recommend it to everyone.  

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