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Testing and Test Preparation

Top Ten Things We Learned from our Speaker on Testing and Test Prep

  • Colleges want strong students and most schools are not overwhelmed by a huge volume of applications. They want you to apply and come to their school; this gives you power and choice in the application process.
  • Colleges use GPA, rigor high school coursework, and test scores to determine if you are a competent applicant. They need to know you can handle the academic demands of their program.
  • Standardized tests yield consistent results. After you have taken the test two or three times, you will stop seeing meaningful improvement in your score.
  • Colleges are happy to receive either SAT or ACT scores. Choose one and focus on it.
  • Be efficient in your preparation. Do not waste precious time grinding away at test prep when you could be investing yourself in things that interest and intrigue you.
  • Many colleges (>1000) offer test optional and test flexible paths. If your test scores are not representative of your capability as a student, investigate the test optional path.
  • Compare your PSAT score with your score on a practice ACT test taken around the same time and use a concordance table to determine if either test offers you an advantage. Ask your college counselor about opportunities to take a practice test.
  • Test prep and testing in sophomore year is not a good idea. Wait to test until junior year and fall of senior year.
  • Test preparation is like working out at a gym to prepare for a rigorous physical challenge; you are preparing to sit for several hours, focus attention on questions and answers, and manage your emotions throughout. Test prep elements include practice tests, strategies for managing the emotions that sometimes come up when working under stress, test taking strategies, and content review.
  • In the math portion of the test, questions escalate in difficulty throughout. For multiple-choice questions, a random guess would yield 20% accuracy, so students should focus their efforts on improving accuracy beyond mere guessing. Taking time to work carefully to answer the first 2/3 of the question is often the best way to manage the time for the math portion.
  • SAT subject tests are required by only the most elite engineering schools (Harvey Mudd, MIT, Cal Tech); they are recommended and considered by a large number of colleges and can be used in some test flexible application paths. Talk with your counselor about subject tests if you have concerns.


If you have questions about testing, please contact your student’s college counselor or Erica Wells, erica.wells@smapdx.org