SummaryThe SAT and ACT may be optional but they can tip the scale for acceptance, scholarships, and financial aid says Seton Guidance Counselor Nick Marmalejo.
Applying to college is typically one of the most stressful activities a student undergoes in high school. The stakes are serious in every respect, since many vocational, financial, academic, and personal doors are opened or closed during this process.
Make or Break?
One of the most frequent questions we receive from students and parents is how to prepare for the SAT or ACT. Why? Because often a student’s ability to enter a four-year college is dependent upon these tests.
Or so it was. In the days of pre-COVID-19, SAT and ACT scores were usually make or break for college acceptance and scholarship/financial aid opportunities.
Today, in the wake of COVID-19, many colleges have altered their college acceptance process so that students do not have to take either of these exams in order to gain college acceptance. This is largely because tests have frequently been canceled en masse making it harder for many students to find a seat for the exam.
Based upon the communications I have received from numerous colleges and universities over the past six months, the “test-optional” trend for applications will likely continue into the Spring of 2022. Some scholarships and financial aid packages, however, have not followed suit—they still require an SAT or ACT score for a college applicant to obtain monetary resources for higher education.
The rub is that some students are occasionally left wondering if they should bother taking these exams if they have access to them. In my general opinion, the answer is yes, students should still take one or the other if possible.
In addition to being able to qualify for scholarship and financial aid opportunities, the main reason for this advice is that SAT/ACT scores can give students a competitive edge if they do well. A college application with an SAT or ACT score is stronger than an identical application without it. Not only does it show the admissions counselor that the student made the effort to find and take the test, the counselor will have more assurance of the student’s academic ability.
How to Prepare
There are many ways to prepare for the exam. Both the SAT and ACT hinge upon academic skill but also an ability to answer questions and think a way that is peculiar to the exam’s authors. For this reason these tests are rightly criticized for not being authentic representations of a student’s talent or academic ability, let alone their overall personal potential.
It is important for parents, students, and educators to recognize that an average or below-average score does not necessarily translate into an inability to succeed in college or life. A poor score does indicate that additional training is needed for the exam, since tips, tricks, and shortcuts are needed in order for a student to maximize their potential scores.
When to Test?
The best times to begin preparing for the SAT or ACT are the second semester of 10th grade or first semester of 11th grade. If you are following the traditional academic year, then the summer can also be a good time to prepare, notwithstanding all of the pleasant distractions that beckon to students and parents alike during this season.
I recommend students give the same amount of time preparing for the exam that they would give to half-credit high school course using, at a minimum, a current book on either test (such as Cracking the SAT) and visitation of the test author’s website to review practice questions from old tests. Books are updated each year to correspond to the latest innovations and versions of the test. Note that even less current books can be helpful study aids. The more practice tests and questions for a student, the better.
If a student is committed to maximizing their grade and they have the resources to take an in-person class on the SAT or ACT, doing so is usually extremely effective. Classes, free and otherwise, are also available online by a variety of publishers.
Your Seton Advantage
Seton’s curriculum fosters academics and thinking skills that will be useful to a student in and out of the classroom. While Seton’s courses are not oriented to teaching a student how to game a specific secular standardized test, they remain advantageous to the student.
The reason is that the college entrance exams are developed with an expectation that the highest scores will only be achieved by students who have the greatest academic depth in addition to the ability to understand the unique test environment.
Specific Seton courses that will help a student prepare academically for both the SAT/ACT are as follows: English 9, English 10, Vocabulary (1/2 credit), Algebra 1, Geometry, and Algebra 2.
Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a science section. It covers broadly topics from a variety of sciences. The ability to engage with, analyze, and utilize the scientific process, rather than recall numerous particular facts of specific science, is central to the ACT’s approach in assessing students in science. Doing any of Seton’s science courses will provide adequate academic preparation for this test.
Finishing With Style
Careful attention to detail in both Seton courses and exam preparation materials will yield a high level of confidence. Steady preparation rather than trying to cram a bunch of facts or tricks in a short period is the way to maximize one’s best potential on these tests.
Ideally, a student should feel that test questions are routine and time limits adequate. Remember, too, that there is bound to be a hiccup in life somewhere on test day. Consider it part of the process and don’t let it rattle you.
If a student has done their test preparation well, everything will fall into place as it should.