The Alphabet Soup of High School Tests

SATs, ACTs, PSATs, AP exams
… it’s enough to make any teenager’s head spin. So, what do all
of these tests mean, and why take them?
By Jina Park Teen Panelist

APs, SATs, PSATs, ACTs. There are enough tests and enough letters to boggle your mind. Although a perfect score on any of the tests does not guarantee admission to your dream school, many high school students still stress over this issue.

So, why are these tests so important? How did it become so that a set of numbers can determine your future? What are these tests for, really?

Every college differs in its test requirements for admission. The most universal test is the SAT Reasoning Test, formerly known as the SAT I. The SAT Reasoning Test includes a writing section.

Although the name of this test sounds elaborate, and students might place great importance on it, the test does not actually measure how smart one is. Nor does it determine how successful one will be later in life.

Although most college-admission counselors primarily look at the scores of the verbal and math portions of the test, they look at all SAT scores. To do well on these tests, it’s important to study for them ahead of time.

“You can’t cram days before a test and expect positive results. Preparation takes time,” advises John Barton, guidance director at Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville. “Students should take college-prep courses throughout their high school careers. Math, English and science are a must.”

Also, it’s important to remember that taking the SATs for the first time during your senior year may be too late. It’s a good idea to start taking the test during your junior year.

Though the SAT is important, there are other tests to consider. Many Midwestern colleges prefer the ACT, and many others will convert the ACT score into an SAT score. The ACT and SAT are similar, but the ACT also tests science.

Besides ACTs and SATs, SAT Subject Tests also are required at many colleges. Some colleges ask for two, others for three. Some don’t ask for them at all. It’s important to look into what the college requirements are for the college you’re applying to. SAT Subject Tests cover foreign language, history, math and science. Most colleges require the Math I or Math II SAT Subject Test.

Another test that gets a lot of attention is the AP, or Advanced Placement, exam. Most high schools offer AP courses that present college-level material.

Students who take AP classes are required to take the AP exams in early May. It costs about $82 to take an AP test. Graded on a scale of one to five – one being the worst and five being the best – a score of a three is considered passing.

Around October, juniors take the PSATs, or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. The PSATs are mini-SATs, and like the SATs, they are timed, taking 2 hours and 15 minutes. However, the PSAT does not have an essay section. Although the PSAT is not required for colleges, it is still a good idea to take it, as it’s good practice.

Keep in mind that to do well on any test, you should prepare ahead of time. This does not mean cramming the night before the test. Try to manage your time and spread out study sessions.

“Read as often as you can. Even reading the newspaper can improve your comprehension skills,” Barton said. “Take the SAT and ACT early in your high school career, so you can identify areas where you may need to improve. Remember: Success is an attitude, not a destination.”

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