Navigating College Exams
The following information is an attempt to answer some of the basic questions that parents and students might have about entrance exams. You can scroll through the information provided below, or click directly on a listed question to jump directly to that item:
Should I take the PSAT? If so, when?
In order to begin preparation early and get diagnostic feedback on students' skills, all juniors at SCHS take the PSAT/NMSQT (only offered once each year, generally the 3rd Wednesday in October). The PSAT is a practice test that is shorter than, but similar to the SAT. When taken as a junior, the PSAT is the initial qualifying exam for the National Merit Scholarship Program. We recommend that freshmen and, especially, sophomores take the PSAT 8/9 or PSAT 10 for practice. Registration is with the SCHS Finance Office Clerk during the month of January. The price is usually about $25. Students receive their scores via email and hard copies of individual results are mailed to the high school and typically available for pick up in the Assistant Principals’ Office the 2nd or 3rd week of December.
What is the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)?
Register for the SAT at http://www.collegeboard.org/
The SAT (sometimes referred to as the SAT Reasoning Test) is a national college admission examination, provided through the College Board and accepted by most colleges. The SAT is taken to measure the critical thinking skills you'll need for academic success in college. The SAT assesses how well you analyze and solve problems—skills you learned in school that you'll need in college. The SAT is made up of three sections: reading, writing and language, and math (includes Algebra 1, Geometry & Algebra 2). Therefore, it is recommended that students complete Algebra 2 at least by the Spring Semester of their junior year so they are prepared for the May or June SAT. The SAT also has an optional Essay.
The University of California is now test-blind, meaning that it will not consider SAT or ACT scores if they are submitted. For the class of 2022 and 2023, the California State University is test-optional, meaning that these tests are not required, but will be considered if submitted. Most private colleges are also test-optional for the class of 2022 and 2023, but students are encouraged to contact the school directly to determine if the test is required or not.
It is important to note that if a student is applying to colleges that require SAT Subject Tests, they must be taken through the College Board in addition to the SAT. See section below that refers to SAT Subject Tests for more information.
What is the American College Test (ACT)?
The ACT is a national college admission examination, accepted by most colleges and universities. The ACT has sections for English, Math, Reading and Science with an optional writing section. Be sure to sign up to take the writing section as it is required by the UC system and most private colleges.
ACT registration packets are available in the SCHS Counseling/Career Center. The October through June ACT tests are given locally at Soquel High School. Soquel’s Test Center Code is 208-210. All colleges will require that official results be sent to them directly from the testing company.
It is important to note that if a student is applying to colleges that require SAT Subject Tests, they must be taken through the College Board in addition to the ACT.
What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?
The ACT and SAT are both national college admission examinations. Most colleges accept either exam or both. We recommend students check the Admission Guidelines for the specific college(s) they would like to attend. If taken more than once, the University of California and California State Universities use the best combined score of a single test date. However, some private schools will take the best individual scores from different test dates.
In general, the SAT is an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities, while the ACT is more of an achievement test, designed to measure what has been learned in school. The SAT has three sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The ACT has four required sections (English, Math, Reading and Science) with an optional Writing Section, which is required by the University of California and many private colleges. The best test for you is a matter of personal preference, assuming both are accepted by the college of interest. If you are unsure of which test to take, discuss this with an SCHS Counselor.
It is important to note that if a student is applying to colleges that require SAT Subject Tests, which are available from the College Board, they must be taken in addition to the ACT and SAT.
When should the ACT or SAT be taken?
All college entrance tests should be completed by the end of the junior year of high school. Most colleges will accept an SAT or ACT in the fall of the senior year, but it might suggest poor planning if that is the first time either test is being taken. Check with college websites to be sure which test date (October or December) is the last date accepted for their college application process.
In general, take the SAT as soon after finishing Algebra 2* and American Literature as possible. On our block schedule, the January test date is recommended if, for instance, Algebra 2 and American Literature were taken in the fall semester. If one or both classes are taken in the spring semester, sign up for the June test. Some students have found taking the ACT or SAT two months in a row, such as May and June helpful—the May test is virtually practice for the June test.
Test scores will improve by taking challenging college prep classes. Retesting is best after completing additional courses or after taking specific steps intended to improve test-taking skills. See section on Test Prep Courses below.
*Some students will take Algebra 2 in their sophomore year. Because the ACT and SAT also measure student performance in reading, writing, etc., a sophomore, who has not yet taken the more advanced junior year English, history and science classes, will likely score less well on the overall test. Therefore, it is recommended that sophomores completing Algebra 2 take the SAT or ACT, at the end of semester they finish the class, to experience the test, considering it as practice. Then, take it again in the junior year. As juniors, even if they taking more advanced math, it is recommended they fully review the concepts of Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2 as preparation for the test.
What are the SAT Subject Tests?
Two SAT Subject Tests in different academic areas* might be required by the UC system and some private colleges and should be taken by the spring semester of the junior year.** Up to three SAT Subject Tests can be taken on any given test date. Check the College Board testing schedule to confirm when specific SAT Subject Tests are offered. The only Subject Test for math that counts is the Math Level 2. Math Level 1, which covers math through Algebra 2, is now included in the regular SAT.
*The SAT Subject Tests are in the following academic areas: Literature, Science (Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics), Mathematics (only Level 2 counts), History (U. S., World History), and Languages (French, Spanish, German, Modern Hebrew, Latin, Italian). Students must take two Subject Tests in different academic areas, such as Literature and Math. Therefore, taking two different language Subject Tests or two science Subject Tests would not meet the criteria unless they also took a third test in another academic area.
**Beginning with the college freshman class entering in fall 2012, UC will not require SAT Subject Tests for admission. (Check individual private college entrance requirements). However, as counselors, we have been cautioned that some UC departments/majors, such as, math, science, and engineering might still expect SAT Subject Tests in Math Level 2, Chemistry and/or Physics. Therefore, if entering UC in the fall of 2012 and thereafter, we suggest students carefully follow the testing recommendations stipulated by individual UC departments/majors to which the student is applying for acceptance.
When should I take the SAT Subject Tests?
Since the SAT Subject Tests are testing acquired knowledge, the rule of thumb is that these tests should be taken in January or June, at the completion of the most advanced course the student intends to take in that subject area. For instance, regardless of grade level, if a student completes Honor Physics in the fall semester, and does not intend to take AP Physics, s/he should take the SAT Subject Test for physics in January of that year, while acquired knowledge is still fresh. The Math Level 2 Subject Test should be taken after finishing Trigonometry/Analytic Geometry or Intro to Calculus or Math Academy 2.
Which SAT Subject Tests should I take?
In general, use the SAT Subject Tests to demonstrate areas of your academic strength. A student’s intended major might dictate what at least one of the tests should be. For instance, if students are pursuing a major in engineering, the colleges to which they are applying might stipulate that subject tests in Chemistry and/or Physics and Math Level 2 are required. If a student has taken advanced classes in a world language, it might be a good idea to illustrate through the SAT Subject Test proficiency in their second language. English literature or U.S. History might be good choices if these subjects are areas of academic strength. Multiple SAT Subject Tests can be taken. The universities will use the two highest scores in different academic areas.
If a student’s primary language is not English, they can use the SAT Subject Test to demonstrate proficiency in their primary language. Therefore, the subject test meets the college prep World Language requirement. Check with a SCHS counselor regarding the minimum subject test score required.
How do I register for the tests?
The testing companies require on-line registration at the College Board or ACT Websites. SCHS is a Test Center for SAT administration. Our Test Center Code is 05-774. The October through June ACT tests are given locally at Soquel High School. Soquel’s Test Center Code is 208-210.
All colleges will require that official results be sent to them directly from the testing company when completing college applications the senior year. Unofficial SAT/ACT scores are no longer included on the SCHS transcript.
How do I obtain a practice booklet or find sample questions?
The College Board provides booklets called “Taking the SAT” and “Taking the SAT Subject Tests,” to help students prepare for the SAT tests. Both booklets give examples of test questions and test-taking tips, and are available in the SCHS Counseling/Career Center and online at the College Board website.
The College Board Website also posts an SAT Question of the Day. If you create an account on their website, you can have the question of the day emailed to you. In addition, we recommend that you use the College Board's Testing Page to find their most up-to-date resources. Become familiar with this website as it is an excellent resource for sample tests and questions.
Should I take a Test Prep Course?
The best way to prepare for all college entrance and placement exams is to take the most challenging college prep courses offered at SCHS. Many students also benefit from test preparation courses, study guides, and taking practice tests. Check the SCHS Daily Bulletin and eNewsletter to learn about test prep opportunities at or near SCHS. The College Board and ACT also offer on-line courses.
What if I require special accommodations?
Students requiring testing accommodations because of a physical or learning disability must make special application to the ACT and SAT programs. Because extensive documentation and local administrative sign-off is required, the application process needs to be initiated several months before test registration deadlines. In fact, if classroom accommodations are not in place and being used in high school classes since the student began high school, it is possible that testing accommodations will not be allowed. Check in with the Assistant Principal in charge of testing accommodations.
When must I finish taking tests (or retests)?
If you think you need to re-take tests to improve scores, the last chance is in the fall of your senior year. Seniors applying to the UC or CSU systems should have all testing completed by the December test dates to meet application deadlines. Some colleges, such as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, San Diego State, and Long Beach State indicate that the last test they will accept is the October test date. Check college web sites to confirm individual testing deadlines.
What are Community College Assessment Tests?
If you plan to go to a community college, you must take assessment tests in writing, reading comprehension, and math to enroll. These exams are used to determine which courses you are eligible to take. It is important to review and take practice tests to do your best on the assessment tests so you don’t have to you already know. SCHS seniors will have a specific date set aside to test at the Cabrillo Assessment Center. Watch the Daily Bulletin and eNewsletter at the beginning of 3rd Quarter for details. Call the Assessment Center at 479-6165 for an appointment if you miss the SCHS test date.
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