At the end of every school year, graduating seniors are faced with the question of “what happens next?” Most students want to go to college either out of the desire to learn, or out of the desire to earn more money than what a high school diploma offers.
However, every year, colleges in the United States are also faced with decisions as well. Which students should be admitted to the limited number of college slots available? Who should receive the limited number of merit-based scholarships? Which students are ready for the demands of college course work?
In order to help answers these questions, most colleges require more than grade point averages to make their decisions: Most also require either ACT test scores, SAT test scores, or both. Even though schools list these tests as “optional,” they usually give more weight to the candidate with great test scores.
However, many people are confused about the differences between the tests and why these tests are considered so valuable in determining a student’s future. The fact is that the tests have many elements in common: both are used to predict how well a student will succeed in college and both are important factors in determining the kinds of schools to which a student can successfully apply.
But the tests have differences as well. The ACT acts more as an achievement test, reflecting what the student has already learned in his or her study of English, Science, and Math and how well the student is able to read and interpret college level texts. The ACT also has an optional writing test, which some colleges require for admission. The SAT, on the other hand, is more of an aptitude test focusing on math, vocabulary, and critical reasoning, and includes a required writing test. The SAT also offers optional Subject Tests (which were formerly called SAT IIs) in particular fields of study– tests which most competitive schools require.
Different schools have differing requirements as to which tests are preferred, so it is best to check with your student’s target schools to make sure that he or she is prepared for the correct test–because preparation is the key to success with these tests. If your student wants to compete against others for prime college slots or select scholarships, he or she will need to begin preparing for these tests early. Most students who do exceptionally well on these tests do so because they have adequate preparation beforehand in the form or practice tests, special classes, or individualized tutoring designed to maximize learning and improve overall tests scores.
This type of preparation does not take place overnight, it begins well in advance. Many students take advantage of the summer lull in academic activities to begin to prepare for the college prep tests in earnest. Though most students take these tests in their junior year, they may be able to improve their scores by taking the tests again in their senior year after additional preparation. Even younger students in high school are allowed to take the ACT in many cases. This allows them to see early on which areas need the most improvement over the course of their high school years.
With the increasing costs of college education, these tests scores play an even greater role. Not only do the tests scores influence some scholarships, but they impact college costs in another way as well. The tests often determine whether or not a student has to take remedial classes before beginning college courses for credit. Many students need these remedial classes, which add cost to the tuition burden and add time to the college program. However, high scores on the ACT or SAT can prevent students from having to take other supplementary tests or remedial classes. In some cases, high tests scores in early high school may allow a student to take college level classes either online or at community colleges while the student is still in high school. This can cut the time and cost of college even further.
Preparation for college begins in high school with preparation for college admissions tests. Remember, the future begins today.