Tips for Parents
A standardized testing endgame
By Scott Sager
June was an upbeat month for my daughter as she finished junior year in high school and, hopefully, all the testing needed for her college applications.
She’d taken the SAT and SAT Subject Tests and, though the last scores weren’t back yet, assumed she was done.
Then summer came and things changed, including her favorite colleges and programs. Suddenly, the tests she needed weren’t the ones she’d taken, and one score in particular didn’t feel strong enough for a preferred school. The study guides came back out, cluttering the dining room table, and she signed up for another early Saturday morning date with a calculator and #2 pencils.
The start of summer vacation is a good time to sit down with your rising senior and look closely at the requirements of the colleges on her preliminary list. Depending on her goals, your student may decide to retake the SAT or ACT in the fall.
Keep in mind that senior fall is a challenging time for test-taking. Students face many demands in addition to their regular schoolwork. Essay writing, college visits and interviews, meetings with teachers and counselors about recommendations, and application submissions are all added to the mix.
Increasing the pressure, test dates are limited with the SAT and SAT Subject Tests offered in October, November and December while the ACT is offered in September, October and December. Not every SAT Subject Test is offered on every test date, which is something else to consider. If your student will apply Early Action or Early Decision, only tests taken by October will allow schools to receive scores in time, if there are no glitches with the test scoring or reporting systems. (Advanced Placement tests — AP’s — are only given in the spring of each school year so do not factor into fall scheduling.)
There are important reasons to plan for or add testing at this time:
1. Increasing scores: Studies show most students see an increase in their scores between junior and senior years, especially if they practice and do some form of test prep. If a student’s ACT or SAT scores are low or close to an important threshold for a desired college, taking the test again for a bump up in numbers may serve the student well.
2. Managing poor scores: If your student simply messed up a test junior year by not preparing, staying out too late the night before or forgetting their calculator (it happens!), taking the test again may be essential to the strength of their applications.
3. Meeting an admissions requirement: Some schools require a specific SAT Subject Test or a test from a category. For example, engineering programs may ask for science (Chemistry, Physics or Biology usually) and Math Level 2 scores, although these requirements may be waived if the student takes the ACT (which includes science). In addition, a student may have taken the SAT or ACT and then realize that he will apply to schools that require the SAT with optional essay or ACT with Writing.
4. Strengthening an application: Taking a specific SAT Subject Test may be a way for a student to show expertise or interest in an academic area, supporting their application to a focused program. Subject tests can fill in gaps in the eyes of an admissions panel when reviewing a student’s academic record or considering the student’s narrative. If these tests weren’t taken junior year, then fall of senior year is the crucial time.
Whatever the reason, thinking through the best way to use the test dates in the fall should be taken care of before school starts. This will allow your student time to prepare for the test and manage their schedule and other work. Keep in mind the Early Action/Early Decision deadlines, because a missing score can derail an otherwise strong application.
My daughter wasn’t happy with the added work fall tests required. To her credit, she didn’t complain (too much), understanding that her goals drove the decision. When I picked her up after her last test, I half expected her to break her pencils in half, symbolically declaring her liberation. Instead, she asked to stop at her favorite coffee shop for lunch before heading home to do her homework, keeping focused on the big picture: college next year.
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