Creating a Plan to Increase Test Scores: by Jill Haley

As seniors anxiously wait to hear from colleges, high school juniors are gearing up for college applications. Making a list of priorities to be completed before the school year ends will lessen the frantic beginning of the senior year. At the top of this list should be a plan to complete the necessary college admissions tests. Students must decide on whether they should take the SAT (www.collegeboard.org/ ) or the ACT test (www.actstudent.org). Many students try to take both tests to maximize their chances of getting the best scores possible. Almost all colleges will accept either test.

An ideal test plan would include taking the PSAT in October of the sophomore and junior years. This test is only given once a year at high schools and is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. If you were not able to take the PSAT, don’t worry, as this test is not mandatory for college admissions. In spring of the junior year students should take the SAT and/or the ACT. This year (2012) the SAT is offered in March, May and June and the ACT is offered in April and June. Registering early will secure you a spot as some test sites fill up early.

College Board’s SAT Subject (SAT II) tests are taken in addition to the regular SAT/ACT tests and should be taken in late spring to allow students to complete as much classroom material as possible before testing, as these tests are based on course content. While some colleges are dropping the SAT II requirements, there are many colleges that still require the tests. Also some college majors, most notably engineering and nursing, require specific subject tests.

In the fall of their senior year students should re-take the tests. The fall test dates will be posted soon. Taking a test more than once should raise student’s scores as they become familiar with the test-taking format and have more classroom preparation. Most colleges will accept test scores through the December test date for 2013 admissions. Check with each college to determine their deadline for test submission.

There are ways for students to prepare for the SAT/ACT. Most importantly students should take challenging high school courses and do well in them. Many high schools offers essay writing workshops and being an avid reader will help on the verbal sections of the tests. SAT prep classes, like those offered on MindLaunch, can be of great help to students who will feel more prepared to take the tests, raise their scores and increase admissions chances.

High school juniors should also consider participating in a program offered on college campuses during the summer before their senior year. This is a great way to check out a college campus, explore possible majors and make new friends. Many colleges offer classes in writing and math, which could be helpful when retaking the ACT/SAT in the fall. Also look for programs that give college credit to get a head start on college requirements. Successfully completing a college course will indicate to college admissions officials that you will be a successful college student and could increase your acceptance chances at some colleges. But if you’re planning on attending a summer program, you need to act now.

Students should also look closely at SAT/ACT test dates and try to rule out dates that happen after late night events like Homecoming or the Prom. New brain research indicates that students should get a good night’s sleep (8-10 hours) a full week before important tests. Cramming for college admissions tests in the days before the exams can do more harm then good. While college admissions tests are just one piece of the puzzle in college acceptance, they are still looked at closely at most colleges. Making a test plan now will optimize your chances of increased test scores. Good Luck.

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