Students need to develop test-taking strategy
Last week I wrote about the practice tests (PSAT and The PLAN) many students take before taking the SAT or the ACT and how to interpret the scores. If you are one of the lucky ones whose school district administers either or both the SAT or the ACT, you need to compare the scores.
Follow the link http://bit.ly/z5XdB4 to help you quickly determine which test is best for you. If the scores are almost identical, choose the test you prefer. There are big differences in the content and the strategy.
If your school only provides the PSAT, then take a practice ACT on your own at www.number2.com or purchase a test prep book. It is very important that you simulate testing conditions when you take the tests at home. That means timing each section and taking the test in one sitting, not spread out over the weekend.
If you were not pleased with your practice tests and those scores don't match up with the colleges where you'd like to apply, then it is probably a good idea to buckle down and do some test prep.
But here's my caveat: "Don't make test prep an extracurricular activity." Many parents falsely conclude that if their child's standardized test scores aren't strong enough, they will be shut out of every college they apply to. As long as students have a balanced list, it is rare that a single test score would be the culprit for receiving a rejection letter.
Test prep tips
Don't plan on dedicating your entire summer to increasing your test scores.
Don't hire private test prep tutors. If you're motivated, there really isn't a need, and many are now charging more than $200 an hour. There are mountains of free resources on the Internet and inexpensive test prep books that, as long you're focused, can help you improve your test scores.
No admissions representative wants to read an essay about test prep or see, on your application, that that is where you've been spending the bulk of your time outside of school.
Consider waiting to see your score results before sending them to colleges. Each time you register for both tests, you will be given the option of identifying colleges to receive your scores. If it is early in the process, you are better off seeing the scores first and then deciding whether you want to send them.
Understand the "superscore." For the SAT, most colleges will take your best test scores on each of the sections, even if they are on different test dates. ACT has a composite score and schools will generally not "superscore" from different dates.
Find out now if any of the colleges you are considering require or recommend SAT Subject Tests. It is better to take your SAT Subject Tests this spring than to have to take them next fall.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.