Sunday, March 11, 2012

Testing, Testing, Testing

We're in prime test season now -- by which I mean, of course, SATs, ACTs, APs and subject tests. Here's a recap of some of the issues related to testing, particularly Score Choice vs. super scores, which many colleges do themselves.

With Score Choice, you tell either the SAT or ACT folks which test results you want sent to the colleges where you are applying. Super scores are created by the college: someone in admissions looks at all of your scores and takes the highest in math, reading and writing.

I asked the Mom's College Cram Course panel (parents and experts) what they believed was the best approach. Here are the responses.

Laura Wilson, founder of Wilson Daily Prep, likes Score Choice because it enables students to take the test as often they wish. "Superscoring is great, but all scores have to be sent. I've found that some parents fear that schools will penalize and not really take the highest. I trust the schools, and I do think they just look at the highest." But there is a hitch.

"Top tier schools ask to see ALL scores," she adds. "So, if you bomb a test they will see. However, colleges do not check with the College Board. That means students can still send only the scores they want the college to see. This is a family decision. Many families decide not to send all scores even though a college requests them, but an equal number of families do not feel comfortable with this decision and they send all scores as requested." A quandary.

Nancy Pullen, a Rutgers admissions officer, said Rutgers definitely super scores. "We take the highest score achieved on each of the 3 sections of the SAT to then make the highest combined best set of scores."

As Sue Boer, a guidance counselor at Columbia High School(Maplewood/South Orange) points out, "Score choice is when the students pick their two best test dates to send. They cannot choose the best scores. Students should use Score Choice, especially if they had a particularly troublesome test day."

Tina Squyres, mom of a senior and a college student, said, "We prefer Score Choice, which is essentially super scoring that you control - assuming none of your scores went down...which I think is unusual. Why send underwhelming scores when the student can and has done better?"

As for how many times, there's pretty much complete consensus. Tina says, "Three times is the maximum for SATs. We’ve heard in multiple info sessions that anything over 3 makes the student seem too intense." Sue agrees, saying, "No more than 3 times for either test; scores don't tend to improve after three times." Also, she adds that students should pick either the ACT or the SAT and stick with it. "There is no reason to take both tests. Students tend to score in the same percentile on both tests. They should do SAT or ACT practice tests and see which format they find more comfortable." And Laura concurs that 3 times is the limit for the SATs. But for the ACT, "most of my students take it 3 or 4 times and only send one or two scores to colleges."

Thinking about subject tests? Remember, as Sue says, "There is no need to take subject tests unless the schools you are interested require them. Some schools will take the ACT plus writing or the SAT and 2 SAT II’s. If that is the case, I suggest the students take the ACT instead of any SATs because it means less testing. These kids are hammered by standardized testing at this point in high school. You don't want to send poor subject SAT II scores to any school if they are not required.

Tina also makes a good point. "Subject tests are good if you have any idea about what you want to study in college. It gives the colleges a sense of what you bring to the table for that academic area. BUT if you are uncertain about what you want to study it would be best if you choose your tests carefully so that you are selecting tests that you feel fairly certain will give you a successful outcome. If the scores aren’t that good you really don’t have any options. They have to be sent."

And what's a good score? Laura says students should get a 670 or above on an SAT subject test to be competitive.

OK. Start figuring out your strategy now; there's lots to consider.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Getting Nervous Yet? Here Are Some Reminders for Juniors

If you have a high school junior in your house, college is in the air. And if the student has an obsessive parent, college (or thoughts thereof) permeates EVERYTHING.

Whether or not there's a manic mom or dad on the scene, here's the truth. At this moment, chances are that whatever stage the search is, it's probably where it should be. That said, there are a number of issues to consider right now.

1. Senior year courses -- some rigorous ones, but not taking AP for the sake of having those two letters sprinkled throughout the transcript. Read this piece for some more thoughts on AP, IB, etc.
2. Testing -- there's an SAT test this Saturday. Our teen is signed up to take it later this spring and she will likely take it again in early fall.
3. Subject tests -- some schools want them, most don't. But if there's no firm list yet and you want to play it safe, spring is the time to take a subject test (up to three can be taken the same day). For example, if a student is taking an AP test this year, go ahead and take the subject test too. One test down while the information is fresh.
4. College tours -- start planning spring break to include some campus visits. Of course you can visit schools in the summer, but an empty campus doesn't give the full picture of a school.

Here's a summary of the things juniors should be doing to get ready for the college app process.

Happy college hunting!