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What High School Juniors Need to Know About College Entrance Exams

Dec 19

Juniors in high school should be thinking about the prom and what it’s going to be like to be like when the seniors are finally out of their way, right?  While students may think those important, it’s also time to be looking at college entrance exams.  Knowing all the right terms and when to take each test can be confusing.  This brief guide will help you or your student know what to take and when to take it.

PSAT (Preliminary SAT) or the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT)

  • Consider the PSAT as a chance to have a practice run at the entire standardized testing process which can be a bit daunting.  In addition, students who excel on the PSAT may receive recognition as a National Merit Scholar.  This looks great on a transcript in addition to the monetary award.
  • Subject matter on the PSAT includes reading, vocabulary, grammar and usage, writing and math.  The math portion covers Arithmetic, Geometry and Algebra 1.  There is no essay portion in the PSAT.
  • Students take the PSAT in October of their junior year.  Only juniors are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, however, some students are choosing to take the test earlier just for the practice.
  • For the PSAT, students register through the school and not directly with the testing organization (as is done with the SAT and ACT).  Students should work with their guidance counselor in September to be registered for the PSAT.
  • Each of the three sections (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing) on the PSAT is scored on a basis of 80 points with a total possible score of 240.  One point is given for each correct answer. For each incorrect answer ¼ point is deducted.  Scores are provided to the guidance counselors at the student’s school and are generally provided to the students in December or January.

SAT (Scholarship Assessment Test)

  • College admissions offices use the SAT to determine whether a student is ready to continue their post high school education.
  • Areas of testing on the SAT are: reading, vocabulary, grammar and usage, writing and math.  The writing portion includes an essay.  The math portion covers Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra 1 and Algebra 2.
  • The student has the opportunity to take the SAT seven times each year in October, November, December, January, March, May and June.  Check with the College Board website for test dates. Most students take the test in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year.
  • To avoid a late fee, students must register at least five weeks prior to the test.  Students may register late if done three weeks prior, but a late fee will be assessed.
  • The maximum score for the SAT is 2400 with each of the three sections (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing) having a possible score of 800 points.  Each correct answer is given one point.  Each incorrect answer has ¼ point deducted from the total score.  For the Writing section, the essay counts as one third of the total score.  The essay is read by two graders.  A third reader may be brought in if necessary.

ACT (American College Test)

  • College admissions offices use the ACT to determine whether a student is ready to continue their post high school education.
  • Students taking the ACT are tested in reading, grammar and usage, science reasoning, and math.  The math portion includes Arithmetic, Geometry, Algebra 1 and 2, and limited Trigonometry).  There is an optional writing section.
  • The student has the opportunity to take the ACT six times each year.  The test is administered in September, October, December, February, April and June (the test is not available in New York in February).  Students usually take the ACT in the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year.  Visit the ACT website for test dates.
  • Students must register no later than five weeks before the test is administered.  Late registration is allowed if the student registers three weeks before the test.  A late fee will be assessed.
  • The total score available on the ACT is 36.  Each of the four sections (Math, Reading, English and Science) carries 36 possible points.  The composite score is then based on the average of those sections.   Each correct answer gets one point.  No points are deducted for incorrect answers, so it may be to the student’s advantage to provide their best answer or even guess on questions rather than leave them blank.  Like the SAT, the essay is read by two graders.  A third reader may be brought in if necessary.

SAT Subject Tests (previously SAT IIs)

  • Students take the SAT Subject Tests when they want to show a particular strength in a subject area.  These are used as additional tools by admissions offices for schools with a more stringent selection process or for those students seeking to major in an area that requires a specific set of skills or background.
  • The SAT Subject Tests are offered in 20 different levels.  Those include literature, math, foreign languages, history and science.  The full list of subject tests is available on the SAT website.
  • The SAT Subject Tests are offered on the same testing dates as the SAT. However, no SAT Subject Tests are offered in March.  Also, the foreign language listening exam is offered only in November and the World History test is offered only twice each year.  Students make take up to three tests in one day.
  • Registration dates and deadlines for the SAT Subject Tests are the same as the SAT.
  • The maximum score for each SAT Subject Test is 800.  Each correct answer is given one point.  Each incorrect answer has ¼ point deducted from the total score.

Advanced Placement (AP) Exams

  • Students take AP exams when they wish to get college credit or advanced placement for courses they successfully completed in high school.
  • AP tests cover 30 subjects which include: sciences, foreign languages, math and English.  View the list of tests offered here.  Test include multiple choice questions and a free response section.
  • The AP exams are generally taken in mid-May.  Students may take multiple AP courses and exams each year.  Students may also take the AP exam even when not enrolled in the AP course at their school.
  • Registration information is available here.  Students need to contact AP services by March 1 to be registered by March 15.
  • Scoring on the AP exams are done on a point basis from 1 to 5.  This assesses how a student would have performed on a similar college level course.  It depends on the individual college, but some offer course credit for AP scores of 3 or higher.

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