Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Best Testing Advice to Give

By:  Patrick O'Conner Ph.D

There seems to be little slowing of the changes in standardized testing, and that makes it hard for counselors to offer advice to students about which tests to take, and when. No one wants to steer students in the wrong direction, but not saying anything can be grounds for students to lose their faith in you as a trusted adviser.  As we approach spring testing season, it may be best to pull out some reliable advice that has stood the test of time—so if a student asks about testing, tell them to:

Take both tests once, and their favorite one twice.  I’ve offered this advice in the past, and some counselors think this is too much testing, but this counsel has stood the test of time.  Just like two Social Studies teachers take different approaches when discussing the American Revolution, SAT and ACT are trying to measure the same thing, but in different ways.  The only way to decide which version is best for you is to try them both—and once you know, sign up for that test a second time, to make sure you have a solid score.

Complete this testing by the end of junior year.  A growing number of students are holding off on taking their college tests until fall of senior year, especially when it comes to the new SAT.  No one has said why this is occurring, but there’s a sense students feel College Board may “tweak” the SAT this summer if the first few rounds of the new version don’t go well.

A veteran college counselor says we shouldn’t hold our breath.  Unless the highest score on the March edition turns out to be 250, College Board has never changed a test midstream, so it’s unlikely to happen this time. In addition, holding off on taking the test means you have little room for a second try until November—and given how many colleges want early applications, this can lead to narrowing college options artificially.

Send your scores NOW.  I have never understood the strategy to testing where students receive their SAT or ACT scores first, then send them to the colleges.  To begin with, the testing fee includes the right to send your scores to four colleges, and if you don’t do that, you have to pay for Every. Single. Score Result.  Since no college is known to penalize students for a low score if a higher score exists, this causes nothing but anxiety, and higher profits for College Board.

If this isn’t enough motivation, know that two colleges are strongly urging students to send test scores in the spring,  since both SAT and ACT have had trouble delivering test scores to colleges on time this year.  No test scores means an incomplete application, and that means your application gets read later—never good news at a college that practices rolling admission.

Test optional college choices exist.  Sometimes the best advice to give a student who doesn’t want to take the ACT or SAT is “OK.  Don’t.”  This not only gets their attention; it opens their eyes to the hundreds of great colleges that don’t require test scores from most of their students  as part of the admission process-  and that list is growing daily.  Take a look at , and double check a college’s Web site to make sure their policy is up to date. 

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree about taking both tests - but I suggest hitting the favorite 3-5 times (depending on their goals and score). My general approach is their first will likely not be their best, second time they get more comfortable and by test 3-4-5 they are hitting their stride. Any more and they fluctuate around their natural plateau score. Good advice!