By PATRICK MCNAMARA
Most high school guidance counselors are still encouraging students to take the SAT or ACT for the following reasons: State-level or general scholarships will likely need a score.
In light of changes in virtual/hybrid/in-center instruction and modifications of academic expectations among schools, many colleges are likely to look to the SAT/ACT scores as an important way to confirm college readiness is where it should be.
Although many schools are test optional and will likely remain so for 2021, virtually all schools will accept scores. Since few juniors are absolutely certain where they’ll be applying in the fall, taking the SAT/ACT ensures that they are not inadvertently limiting their future choices. Moreover, the reality is that colleges that are “test optional” are still accepting test results. If those results played no role in the admission process, colleges would just stop requiring them.
The Coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted many students’ grades, and a good SAT/ACT score can benefit those students, just as it has previously for students whose grades don’t entirely reflect those students’ academic capability.
COVID-19 has made junior year of high school, typically the most demanding of high school, even more challenging. Academics are still ramped up (but often with the stress of virtual instruction), students still want take on leadership roles in extracurriculars (to the extent those activities can still take place), and then there’s the college admissions process. It may be tempting to push off the SAT or ACT, but there are reasons why it makes sense for students to complete the test in their junior year of high school.
- Academic readiness. Spring of your junior year is the optimal time to take the SAT or ACT (most people take one or the other). By then, most everyone has encountered all of the subjects covered by the SAT/ACT.
- To prep or not to prep. Whether or how much a student should prep for the SAT or ACT is a personal decision. The SAT and ACT tests are very different than typical high school tests, and like any other test, if you prepare, the odds of achieving a higher score are improved. There are free online options, and there are also many SAT/ACT prep books for sale. These two options can work for students who are good self-learners and can stay on an independent study schedule. For many high school students with demanding schedules, however, independent study will very often result in a failure to prepare sufficiently, so there are many companies, including Sylvan Learning, that provide both online and in-person tutoring prep programs. These programs provide the structure that ensures that students prepare thoroughly and in a timely manner. The goal of any good prep program is to help the student improve their performance through diagnosis and on-going assessment, substantive review of subject matter, and extensive practice with the kinds of questions they will see on test day.
- Time for improvement. By taking the test during junior year, students can acquire their scores and confirm whether they meet the expectations of their top choice schools. Many students take the SAT or ACT more than once, but scores rarely improve without significant prep. During these this pandemic, it is even more important to have a back-up plan, should your test be cancelled due to COVID-19 considerations. Taking a test before senior year also gives students ample time — including another summer break if needed — for additional test preparation.
- College early decisions. Many colleges have significantly accelerated their decision timelines, pushing many students to submit applications earlier than ever before. If SAT or ACT is required, a student’s application is not complete until that score is submitted, and there is often a 3-4 week gap between test day and results being forwarded to colleges, making taking the SAT/ACT during your senior year an unworkable option for early admission applicants.
Waiting until fall of senior year to take the SAT/ACT may sound attractive to some teens, but it does not provide any flexibility should they become ill the day of the test, the test is cancelled (in 2020, some schools cancelled multiple test dates, sometimes at the last minute), or another event prevents them from taking the exam. By completing the test at least once by the end of junior year, your teen has something to work with for the admissions process regardless of any unforeseen circumstances. Taking at least a practice SAT or ACT before they sit for the exam will at least provide them with a sense of what their score will be without prep.
Sylvan Learning Centers of Albany and Clifton Park are providing readers of Capital District Family Now the opportunity to take a diagnostic SAT or ACT test in February at no cost or further obligation. Call either center to schedule the test, as well as the subsequent meeting to discuss your student’s score and the respective strengths and weaknesses identified by the test. Mention this article, and the test and meeting will be free. Sylvan Learning of Clifton Park (518) 348-3556 and Sylvan Learning of Albany (518) 362-0074.
Patrick McNamara is the owner and executive director at Sylvan Learning of Albany and Clifton Park. For more information, visit SylvanLearning.com.