SAT & ACT - The Skinny on Standardized Tests

Whether you're beginning your junior  year or just starting your senior year, you've probably got some variety of standardized test looming ominously on the horizon. Even though these tests are hardly the most enjoyable part of the application process, they are an important part, and you will need to be ready for them. Once you learn the nuts and bolts behind standardized testing, it will be easier for you to register for the tests, prepare for the tests,  and finally ace them without trepidation.

To begin with, there are two kinds of standardized tests offered to high school students - the SAT and the ACT. The SAT has traditionally been taken by students on the east and west coasts, while the ACT is more popular in the south and in the mid-west. While they both cover many of the same subjects, the two tests utilize different formats and are designed to assess high school achievement through different criteria.

The SAT is used to determine the ability of a student to handle college-level material. The test is divided into three different section – critical reading, mathematics, and writing. The critical reading section consists of questions about vocabulary and critical analysis. The mathematics section covers algebra, geometry, statistics, probability, and data analysis. The writing section includes multiple choice questions and an essay assignment. Each section is graded on a scale from 200 to 800 points. The test is offered seven times year by the College Board.

The ACT is used to measure the educational development of a student in order to judge their readiness for college. The test consists of multiple-choice questions in four categories – English, mathematics, reading, and science, along with an optional writing test. Only correct answers count towards the final score and students will not loose points for mistakes. Each section receives an individual score, with a composite score taken from the average of the scores all four sections. The test is offered six times a year by ACT Inc.
Before you register for a standardized test, think about which test would best suit your strengths. Speak with your guidance counselor about which test would be right for you and do some research ahead of time to learn about the subtle differences between the ACT and SAT. For example, although both tests set aside sufficient time for test-taking, the SAT has fewer questions. The ACT focuses on grammar and punctuation in its reading section, while the SAT emphasizes vocabulary.

Another factor in your decision will be the test requirements of your college picks. Some colleges require SAT subject tests in addition to the SAT. Subject tests are available in many different specialized topics, including English literature, history and social studies, science, and foreign languages. These tests are offered several times a year, although not necessarily on every test date. On the other hand, some colleges accept the ACT as a substitute for both the SAT and the SAT subject tests, so make certain that you find out exactly which tests your colleges need. Testing fees are often expensive, and taking a single test instead of multiple tests can save you money.

Standardized tests are typically taken in the spring of your junior year, or in the fall of your senior year. Once you have made your decision and selected a test, register as soon as possible because your schedule will fill up rapidly and you are going to need plenty of time to study. There are plenty of study guides and practice tests available, so be sure to take advantage of the resources in your school library and guidance department.

As you prepare to tackle standardized testing full-on, remember that your test scores represent just a small component of your college application. Although a lots of colleges ask for standardized test scores, they are rarely used as the deciding factor in their decision making process, and there are many colleges that don't consider them at all. At the end of the day, a standardized test is just another test, and your grades, skills, and hobbies add up an equally valid portrait of who you and who you will be as a college student.
Registration for the SAT is available at www.collegeboard.com.
Registration for the ACT is available at www.actstudent.org