By: Dina Karlon, M.A.
Transition Specialist, NESCA
Starting to think about the college admissions/testing process? It can be costly and confusing, so we’ve compiled some tips to help you navigate the testing landscape.
Tip 1 – SAT or ACT – Which test should a student take? Most colleges will take either, but there are differences to the tests. SATs, which were revamped a few years ago, has Reading, Math and Writing, while the ACT adds a Science section. SAT questions assess problem-solving abilities, while ACT questions are more fact-based, similar to school testing. Typically, SATs use much higher-level vocabulary than the ACT. The ACT tests math concepts through trigonometry, while SATs stop at geometry. SAT divides its scores into two areas – Reading/Writing and Math, with a perfect score of 1600 (800 for each). ACT scoring is based on 4 sections that are averaged into a composite, with a perfect score of 36. While SAT is more well-known by many New Englanders, the ACT is taken slightly more often, having gained popularity in the past 5 to 10 years. A student may prefer one test over the other if the individual:
Still not sure which one to take? Visit the tests’ websites to take/score a practice test. See which one may be better through this conversion chart: https://www.studypoint.com/ed/sat-act-concordance/.
Tip 2 – SAT Subject Tests – In addition to the general SAT, students can register for tests in specific subject areas. There are 20 specialized tests, and an individual would usually only take 2, if any. Most colleges do not require them, although a student may take them to demonstrate a strong interest or aptitude in a subject or area of passion. For example, a bilingual student could demonstrate proficiency in a language. Subject tests could be a way for students to strengthen their application among similar candidates. If a student wants to major in a science, a strong score on a science subject test could set that person apart from others.
Tip 3 – Apply Early – Standardized testing is pricey, and hidden costs can creep up. Register early to avoid late or waiting list fees. Doing so also allows students to reserve a slot at their own school (if offered there). Whether students are neuro-typical or not, there is comfort in taking tests in one’s own school. For students with anxiety, it is very important, as familiarity with their environment can reduce anxiety.
Tip 4 – Vouchers – Visit SAT and/or ACT sites to determine eligibility for test fees being waived through a voucher. Work with high school counselors to obtain a waiver.
Tip 5 – Costs – There are registration fees for standardized tests. The current fees for the exams are:
There’s good news for New Hampshire residents. A few years ago, the SAT replaced the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) as the state test for high school juniors. Therefore, all juniors have the opportunity to take one free SAT. Factor this in for next year, as the deadline to take the test is in March.
Tip 6 – Free Test Scores Sent to Colleges – To lower costs, take advantage of having 4 free test scores sent to colleges. When you register to take both the SAT and ACT, students have the option to send up to 4 tests to 4 colleges at no charge, saving $52 ($13 per test) for the ACT and $48 ($12 per test) for the SAT. Individuals have up to nine days after taking the SAT test to register for score reports. It’s best to sign up for them when you register as it’s easy to forget to do so after. Some students may not opt to do this because they want to see their scores before they are sent to colleges. The benefit of sending them with the SAT is – regardless of your scores – if taken again, a person’s entire history will be sent to colleges where they take the highest score from each section. For example, if a student scores a 400 on English and a 500 on Math in April, then chooses to retake the test in October and scores a 500 on English and a 400 on Math, the school will take the two 500 scores for a total of 1000. If a student is very unhappy with a score on a particular day and they don’t want a college to see that score, students can research whether the schools they are applying to will accept score choice. While this may be an option, it will incur an additional fee. In general, I recommend sending all of the scores and letting the admissions team select the highest. With ACT, score histories are not sent to colleges. Instead students pick a specific test date’s scores to send. Unlike the SAT, if a student gets a higher score in separate sections on various test dates and wants the colleges to see the scores from each test date, they will have to pay for each test date’s score to be sent.
Tip 7 – Accommodations – The process for requesting accommodations and when to apply for them is different for each test. Check the SAT and ACT websites for exact processes for each. Here are some tips:
– Apply early as it can take up to 7 weeks to hear which accommodations are approved. Accommodation request applications may be due at the time one registers for the test – or even before.
– Students should talk with their SAT/ACT school representative about accommodations. While ACT only accepts requests through students’ schools, SAT allows students to apply for accommodations independently. I recommend working with the Accommodations Coordinator at the high school (school counselors will know who this is).
– It is up to SAT and/or ACT if they will allow students accommodations, not the high school.
– Once accommodations are determined for a school year, students can take the test several times (though it’s not recommended to take it several times each year) and not have to reapply for accommodations. SAT accommodations last for one year after high school graduation.
– Lists of accommodations and procedures for requesting them are at: https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/partnering-with-childs-school/tests-standards/how-to-apply-for-sat-and-act-accommodations.
Tip 8 – Test-optional Schools – Some of us just don’t test well and are terrified of taking such tests. If a student doesn’t feel standardized tests reflect their academic ability and don’t want them considered in their admissions application, consider applying to test-optional schools. These schools review admission materials (transcript, recommendations, etc.) to determine if a student is a good fit for their institution. Here is a list of test-optional schools: https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional.
SAT website: Collegeboard.org
ACT website: ACT.org
About the Author:
Dina DiGregorio Karlon, M.A., is a seasoned counselor who has worked as both a school counselor and vocational rehabilitation counselor, guiding and coaching students and adults through transitions toward independence in both college and the working world. With NESCA, she offers transition assessment services in Londonderry, New Hampshire as well as transition planning consultation and coaching to students and families throughout New England.
To book an evaluation with one of our expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form. To book Transition Services in N.H., ask for Dina Karlon.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.