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SAT/ACT Strategy for Juniors

By Robert A.G. LeVine

This is an unusual year for high school juniors. The SAT is changing formats with its March test. As a result, many people are unsure whether to take the “old” SAT, or the new SAT, or both, or perhaps just the ACT.

As a starting point, recognize that colleges don’t care which test a student takes. Unlike decades ago, they do not require one test or the other. As a result, students are able to develop test-taking strategies that can lead to optimal results.

How do you decide what test to take, and when?

Test tutors – professionals who devote their lives to test preparation – are quite concerned about the new SAT. Their concern is not really about the test itself, but rather about the tutor’s ability to prepare students for a brand-new test. The tutors use past tests to learn more about test format and specifics, but there simply are no past tests to study for the new SAT. So, tutors worry that they can’t do their job as well as they would like when teaching the new test.

The concerns of the tutor, however, should not be shared by students. The only thing that a student should ask is: how can I get my best score?

In seeking the highest-possible score, the primary factor should be how much time a student has to prepare for a test. More practice leads to better results. In high school, however, “time” is not the same for everyone. Schedules and mid-term and final exam dates vary from school to school. In addition, each student has his or her own set of outside activities that absorb time differently depending upon the season. One test date may be great for some students, but for others may fall in the middle of a busy season. Pick test dates that allow ample time for preparation.

Also consider the student’s comfort with standardized testing. Some students won’t like having to prepare for a changing “moving target” SAT. For them, the additional anxiety of studying for the new test may be counter-productive. Perhaps consider focusing on the ACT if consistency is comforting.

Why would any student wish to take the very first “new” SAT in March? There may be a hidden advantage.

Although there is no true “curve” for the SAT, there is a statistical process called “equating” to produce scaled scores that can be compared from test to test. With the new test, this process will likely be at least slightly different than the norm. It is expected that the March 2016 SAT, because it is brand new, will have a different population than for previous tests. If fewer students take that test, then perhaps the equating process will benefit those who do well. In other words, many experts believe that the March 2016 SAT presents a great opportunity: do well on that test, and the scaling process might benefit you significantly.

What about the “old” SAT? Is there value in taking that test? Will colleges still accept those scores?

Yes, there is strategic value in taking the old test because that SAT has a long experience from which tutors can teach students. In other words, taking the old SAT has the same advantage as taking the ACT: there is plenty of information from which to draw. Although colleges will accept the old SAT, it is questionable whether colleges will “superscore” old and new SAT results together.

In the final analysis, prudent SAT/ACT strategy should first be based upon a student’s ability to prepare adequately. Pick the test you like and get to work practicing!

Robert A.G. Levine, president of Selective College Consulting Inc., can be reached at (813) 391-3760, email BobLeVine@SelectiveCC.com or visit www.SelectiveCollegeConsulting.com

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