Testing Q&A

  • When to Test? 

    General Recommendations 

    • Take the PSAT as a sophomore to establish familiarity.
    • Take the PSAT as a junior to get a second stab at the same test and prep for the SAT. 
      • Note that juniors will have to sign up for the test by paying (usually $16) at the Shorewood Business Office.
      • Taking it again, after familiarity is established, will help students be even more confident about these tests. A great strategy is thinking of at least two-three things that could be done differently the second time--better time management, review of certain math concepts, different approach to reading section--whatever makes sense for you. 
      • Some juniors may get into the National Merit program by taking the PSAT, which is the only way to qualify for the program. 
    • Take the SAT &/or ACT in winter or early spring of Junior Year. 
    • If desired, take the SAT &/or again in late Junior Year or early Senior Year


    Isn't Junior Year early to test? 

    No. We recommend this timing for several reasons: 

    • students can use the scores to refine college choices
    • students who get the scores they desire can be finished with testing
    • students who do not get the scores they desire have time to retake one or both tests
    • students are busy and testing can more easily be arranged around sports, special events, AP testing, or SAT Subject Tests with a greater span of time
    • any college application tasks that can be checked off earlier will reduce stress later


    Won't students know more Senior Year and so do better? 

    Only math courses pertain to this line of thinking, where students may be learning material that may be on the tests. However, we hear just as often that students had certain material (algebra, geometry) so long ago that they were rusty. 

    Reading and writing are generally skill-based rather than content-based, so more time in high school will not always make a difference in scores. 

    Seniors are so busy with applications and other obligations that it is a huge benefit to be finished with testing as early as possible. 


    How many times should students test? 

    Once, twice, or three times. It depends on the student's situation. Note that: 

    • Each college has its own average range of scores. For purposes of admission and merit scholarships (some schools offer), aim for the sweet spot of being in the top 25% of the average range. 
    • Scores generally go up the second time a student takes a test.
    • Scores generally level off the third, fourth, or fifth time. In order to raise scores, students need to have figured out particular things to do differently. One more casual try may not have improved results. 


    Why do you recommend taking both SAT & ACT? 

    Students can take both and then compare score percentiles and test experiences and figure out which one they would like to take again.

    This is a general recommendation; students and families are welcome to decide to take only one of the tests. Most students in this area take the SAT, and some take the ACT. Nationwide, more students take the ACT. 

    There are all sorts of articles and diagnostic tools for forecasting which test will be better for which students, but I think that the single most important factor is reading speed. It is a myth that students stronger in math & science will do better on the ACT. Reading speed and comprehension play an oversize role in the ACT. See the SAT vs. ACT page for more information. 


    Senior Year Testing Questions


    How do my test scores get to the colleges?

    You--the student--order score reports from the College Board for SAT or from ACT. Allow a few weeks. You can also order up to four free score reports when you register for or when you take the test. If time is short, use the automatic score reports, and realize that you will not be able to preview the scores before they are sent to colleges.


    Do colleges prefer ACT or SAT?  

    Colleges have no preference.


    I took both ACT and SAT. Which score should I submit?

    Compare your percentiles and submit whichever score is higher percentile-wise. There are pertinent links on the SAT and ACT pages, or simply do an online search for "SAT percentiles" or "ACT percentiles" to see where you are. 


    Will colleges take scores after the application deadline?

    It depends. Many will with some conditions, and some will not. Check the college website for details on the policy, and if you don't find it, contact the Admissions Representative. 

    If you will be close, then arrange for automatic score reports to be sent to the colleges either when you register for the test or when you fill out the informational sections on test day before you actually start the test. 

    Here are two examples of college score acceptance policies.

    For Fall 2018 applications, the University of Washington Seattle will take scores from the December 2018 SAT even though the application deadline is November 15. Send automatic score reports. Please note that it is unusual for college to take a score several weeks after the deadline.

    For Fall 2018 Early Action Applications, Lewis & Clark College will take scores up to two weeks after the student deadline of November 1. If scores are not received by November 14, then the student application will be rolled over into the Regular Decision pool. 


    Is my SAT/ ACT score good enough? Should I retake the test? 

    It depends. Average score ranges vary greatly by college. There are several ways to look up score averages for the schools on your list and to compare your scores to those averages.

    1. At the top of your Naviance Applying To list, select Compare Me. You will see a color-coded comparison of your test scores (loaded into Naviance by the district) and the accepted averages of Shorewood students to those schools on your list. For some schools, there will not be enough data.
    2. In Naviance, go to the Colleges tab and to College Lookup and then to the Admissions section. Scroll down to see the graph/ scattergram. Your scores/ GPA are plotted with the blue circle, and the other marks on the graph represent Shorewood students. Use the graph as a ballpark to see if you are in the general test score range of the school. Again, for some schools there will not be enough data.
    3. Go to CollegeData.com and search for your college. Once you have the correct school, select the Admissions tab. Scroll down to see the average ranges (nationwide data). While you are there in the Admissions tab, look at the Selection of Students section to see how the college views test scores and other factors. Some schools regard scores as very important, and some schools value other parts of an application more than scores. You can also ask admissions reps how important test scores are in their decisions.
    4. Do a Google search for “_____ college freshman profile” and see what you come up with. Most colleges have a page where they list data about the latest incoming class. See how you compare to admitted students.
    Beware of using any of these tools as exact forecasts. College admissions is not an exact science—you don’t simply input numbers and put it through one formula for all colleges. Each 4-year school has slightly different criteria and scores are sometimes important and sometimes not as important. Schools look at GPA and several other criteria as well. 
    As you are deciding whether to test again, think about whether you can think of things that you could do differently next time. Having a plan for improvement is a good way to go into taking an exam for a second time. If you aren't sure if you can do things differently, you could just go with the scores you already have and concentrate on other parts of your application. 
    Should I take SAT Subject Tests this fall to boost my applications? 
    Only a few schools require SAT Subject Tests. Here's a list of Schools that Require or Recommend SAT Subject Tests (author: Cigus Vanni, used by permission). If your schools are on this list as requiring subject tests, then yes. If you have some selective schools on your list that either recommend or will take the subject test scores AND you have time & motivation, go ahead. If your schools are all Pacific Northwest schools, you probably don't need to worry about them.