What You Need to Know about College Testing
- Friday, August 01, 2008
The SAT II Subject tests are now commonly required at many colleges. Schools that do not expect these tests of all applicants often do want to see them from non-traditionally educated students (read: homeschoolers). The SAT II Subject tests are quite different from the SAT I Reasoning test. Each subject test lasts just one hour and includes 60 to 90 multiple-choice questions. (Only the Writing test has an essay component.) Questions on the SAT II tests are straightforward and directly related to content knowledge. Most colleges that require these tests want applicants to submit scores for three different subjects—usually a math test and two other subjects of the student’s choice.
Colleges use these SAT II Subject exams for several purposes. Admissions committees are aware that every high school (and certainly every homeschool) teaches subjects in various ways and to various depths. They believe the SAT II tests make a fair comparison more likely. Colleges also use these scores to determine whether or not a student has adequately met an admissions requirement, such as two or three years of laboratory science. Finally, SAT II scores are sometimes used to grant advanced placement at the college in a field such as foreign language.
The SAT II Subject tests have a basic registration fee of $20, with an additional $8 fee per subject test. (Some language tests have extra fees.) A student can take one to three tests on a single Saturday. Obviously, they cannot be taken on the same day the SAT I Reasoning exam is taken.
It is best for teens to take these exams shortly after finishing their study of the subject in question. If your daughter finishes her third year of Italian study in the spring of her junior year, that is the best time to take the SAT II Italian exam. If your son completes a thorough study of Biology as a freshman, then that is the best time to take the Biology exam. There are no specific age requirements for these tests, but students must be in the 9th to 12th grade.
Many students want to know if they have the option of canceling their SAT I or II test scores if they are not pleased with their performance. Scores can be canceled, but requests must be received within three days of the test, and the scores can never be recovered. Students and parents should realize that doing this cancels all scores from that test day. A better option is for students to retake tests if they believe they can significantly improve their scores.
The ACT test is an acceptable, even preferable, alternative to the SAT I exam for some high school students. The determining factor is where the student is applying to college. Many schools insist on the SAT I, others give a choice between the two exams, and some, especially in the South, actually prefer the ACT. The ACT is offered at least six times yearly, including a September test date in nineteen states.
My oldest child took both the SAT I and the ACT, and she scored very well on both. However, while most of the colleges where she applied said they didn’t value the ACT at all, the Southern school was so impressed with her ACT score that it offered her a full scholarship on the spot. One advantage the ACT has over the SAT I is the option students have to control which colleges see which scores when. It costs a bit more, but the choice is available.
The ACT runs 3 to 3 ½ hours. It costs $30 without the optional writing section and $44.50 with it. It is highly recommended that students take the writing portion along with the main test. The exam is described as a test that measures achievement, and it is not content-based. Most educational experts consider it much more predictable and fair than the SAT I exam. The questions require students to solve problems, interpret charts and graphs, and use their critical reasoning skills. The ACT has four main parts: English, Math, Reading, and Science.
When my daughter first saw the Science portion of the test, she doubted her ability to do well on it, as she felt she was much stronger in the areas of reading, writing, and history than in the areas of science and math. However, she discovered that her excellent reading and reasoning skills were the foundation necessary to understanding the scientific material presented. Much to her surprise, she ended up earning a perfect score on the Science section.
Two other sets of tests are the AP exams (Advanced Placement) and the CLEP exams (College Level Exam Program). AP exams are only offered once a year in May, while the CLEP exams are given much more frequently. Both sets of exams, covering dozens of specific subject areas, are much more advanced in content than the SAT II Subject tests, and they expect a much higher level of analysis (and often writing) from the students. Each test costs over $80. Colleges value strong scores on these exams because they show that the student has studied a topic seriously and has the ability to understand and work well with college-level material.
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