Jill Haley: What you need to know about college admissions tests | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: What you need to know about college admissions tests

Jill Haley
Columnist

It is surprising to me that many students still do not know that most colleges require college admissions tests.

All the four year public colleges in California, and most privates, mandate that students take either the SAT or the ACT.

In general, the larger a college is, the more they rely on test scores to make their admission's decisions. Smaller colleges have the luxury of reviewing applicants in greater depth and look at a variety of factors such as letters of recommendation.

Colleges do not care if you take the ACT or SAT, nor do they give a greater weight to one test over the other. If you have time, it could be to your benefit to take both tests. Colleges will calculate your acceptance on the best scores from either test.

College Board, the organization behind the SAT, offers a preliminary test called the PSAT in October. All juniors in high school should take this test as it is not only a practice for the SAT, it is also the qualifying test for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship.

How many times should you take the tests? At least twice. Students usually improve the second time, as they are more familiar with the test content and the timing of the test. A good schedule is to take the PSAT in October of junior year, followed by either the SAT or ACT in the spring and then again in the fall of the senior year.

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A "superscore" is a combination of your best individual test scores from multiple test dates. For the SAT, this would be the best score on reading and math.

For this reason, taking the test more than one time has obvious advantages. "Superscoring" is now the norm for most private colleges and some public universities.

The College Board partners with Khan academy to provide a free SAT study plan based on a student's results on the PSAT. Also on Khan's site are four full length tests that students can take to practice.

The ACT has a free study guide and is partnering with Kaplan to provide test prep to students.

Spending time studying to improve your score on the SAT/ACT could result in money. College admissions tests are not only used to make admissions decisions, but also factor into scholarship money. Merit aid is often granted to students based on their GPA and test scores.

Once admitted to a college, test scores can make a difference in your class schedule. Many colleges use math and reading test scores on the SAT/ACT to determine placement in core courses.

There is some good news for students who do not test well. At least 775 American colleges and universities are now test optional. Some allow you to substitute essays or letters of recommendation in place of test scores.

If you are a student who does poorly on tests, you might consider putting some test optional colleges on your list.

To learn more about college admissions tests contact your high school's counseling department or check out these websites: Collegeboard.com (SAT) or ACTstudent.org (ACT).

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.