Pondering SATs, ACTs and Test Optional Colleges

Are you troubled with high-pressure, expensive standardized testing for college admissions? You are not alone.


 There has been a ground swell of support for the nonprofit organization, FairTest – The National Center for Fair and Open Testing whose mission includes ending the misuses of testing practices. Fairtest.org  maintains a list of approximately 850 Colleges and Universities that are either deemphasizing the use of SAT & ACT or have gone completely test optional.

If a college or university has moved away from requiring SAT or ACT test scores it means that they will be evaluating the applicant’s GPA, class rank, course load and extracurricular activities more intensely. Many of the colleges believe that this increases the diversity of the student body. Furthermore,  admission departments see that test optional colleges have become more appealing to a greater audience of students. If you are interested in one of the colleges on the FairTest list, be sure to verify the school’s specific admissions guidelines.

Although it is not recommended that students eliminate all standardized tests (test scores maybe be required at a later date for scholarships, job internships, etc.) it is a liberating to know that they can be taken out of the equation for some college applications.

Surprisingly, if one is going to put effort into achieving high scores, before they even go the route of hiring private tutors, standardized tests are expensive.

Typical Standardized Testing Expense incurred by middle-income students:

Standardized Tests Potential Fees*  
SAT exam $55- most students take at least twice $110+
Sending 3 additional scores** (either ACT or SAT) $50+
SAT Study Guide $32
1 ACT exam, with writing sample*** $56.50
ACT Prep Book $30
SAT Subject Tests may be required for highly selective Universities $26
Total (without test rep classes) $305.50****

* Both ACT and SAT offers fee waivers for low-income students.

** If  applying to more than 4 schools, you pay an additional $11 fee per school. This example demonstrates applying to 7  schools (4 + 3 paid ) .

*** Many students will take both the SAT and the ACT exam since a student may score higher on one verses the other.

**** More expenses are incurred if the student takes a test preparation course. A Google search found that in a New Jersey zip code a 30-hour, in class Princeton Review SAT class is $999 and an 18-hour Kaplan prep class is $599.

Another consideration is the amount of time each exam involves, which is 4 hours long, plus factor in another hour for traveling to and from the test center. A student will spend more than half of a Saturday for one test. Many students will take at least 3 tests since they may take both ACT and SATs, take the SAT subject tests or retest to improve their scores. This is time that could be spent at a part time job, doing homework, playing on a team or looking at colleges. The  SATs and ACTs are big business and they are both a financial and emotional drain.

Although it is unlikely that your complete list of targeted schools will include all test optional schools, knowing that many of your top choices are Test Optional, may eliminate some of the stress and help you decide how much you want to invest into the standardized testing ordeal. Unfortunately, most large state flagship universities rely heavily on the standardized test, which may be used for both admissions consideration and merit scholarships.

Check out Fairtest.org to see if any of your favorite colleges or universities are test optional.  However, for good measure sign up for the free SAT and/or ACT Test question of the day. A daily dose of these questions is truly a painless way to tackle your test preparedness. :)




Junior Year and the SATs or ACTs

Juniors, when are you taking the SAT/ACT?

In the not so distant past, it was recommended to hold off  on taking the SATs or ACTs until  Spring of junior year. The strategy was to wait, learn more and give the brain & all its intellectual power more time to mature!

After lots of first hand experience, we suggest that you tackle the beast early and juniors should register for a Fall 2012 test date:

SAT – Oct 6, Nov 3, Dec 1  In 2013 – Jan 26, Mar 9, May 4, Jun 1

ACT – Sept 8, Oct 27, Dec 8   In 2013 – Feb 9, Apr 13, Jun 8

Why take it this fall vs. waiting to the spring? Although your high school will probably administer the PSATs in the fall, which are important to being considered for a National Merit Scholarship, it is good to learn what is your authentic score benchmark. Once you have your scores you now know how much more work and practice you might need. If you wait until spring of junior year to take the test, the time crunch and pressure to take and re-take (during prom season, no less) is enormous, especially if the scores are lower than what you had hoped. Furthermore, are you committed to SAT vs. ACT?  If you are unsure, then you need to register for both tests. Since adding another test to your schedule, means another Friday night of staying home (to rest), plus the actual Saturday morning exam, it is another reason why starting early in junior year of high school is a good idea.

Today’s high school student’s time is precious and if they are playing sports, finding a Saturday that is “free” to take or to re-take an exam is challenging. Thus lining up several dates for junior year will give a realistic picture of what schools are within reach. This might also motivate the student to work harder, or take a prep course before it’s too late.

The SAT’s questions are tricky but they can be learned with lots of practice!  Just for the fun of it, sign up for  the “Official SAT Question of the Day”, which you can register to receive by email at CollegeBoard.org. :)

Senior year does not have to be too late. We know of one senior student who was determined to increase his SAT scores after the October results were in. His dream university’s SAT average percentile was about 100 points higher than his scores were. He studied and practiced everyday for four weeks before the December exam and indeed his scores went up 100+ points and he did get into his dream school!