Test Taking and Preparation


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What is the PSAT?  It is a Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test
The PSAT/NMSQT or National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test is a preliminary version of the SAT. Not only does the PSAT help prepare students to take the SAT or ACT, a great score on the PSAT can also open the door to National Merit Scholarships and other awards. With $180 million in scholarships awarded to students that achieve high scores on the PSAT, how you perform on this exam can help you earn scholarship dollars that change the direction of your college planning. The PSAT is much more than a practice test.—- KAPLAN

What is the SAT?  It is a Scholastic Aptitude Test.

The SAT is a standardized test that colleges use to evaluate applicants. Over two million students take the SAT every year and it is used by nearly every college in America for evaluating a student’s college preparedness. It is designed to measure a student’s ability to understand and process elements in three subjects: reading, writing, and math. SAT scores are calculated based on a student’s performance relative to other test-takers, and have proven to be an indicator of collegiate success.—TestMasters


What is the ACT?  It is a Scholastic Aptitude Test.
The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in:  English, Math, Reading, and Science.  The ACT with writing includes the four subject area tests plus a 40-minute writing test.  ACT results are accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the US.  The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately four hours if you are taking the ACT with writing with a short break. Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 40 minutes if you are taking the ACT with writing).—ACT

The SAT college entrance examinations are designed and developed by The Educational Testing Service (ETS) in Princeton, New Jersey, and administered by the College Board and are taken by more than 2 million people annually.  There are two categories of this examination program—the SAT Reasoning Test and the SAT Subject Tests.



SAT Reasoning Test
This exam assesses critical thinking abilities necessary for successful college level study.  It is a 3-hour 45 minute test that utilizes verbal and mathematical questions to measure skills in essay writing, critical reading/sentence completion, and grammar/use of conventions, as well as mathematical reasoning.

The test begins with a writing section during which you are asked to demonstrate your ability to express yourself effectively by writing a brief, well-organized essay.  This essay should reflect skill in stating and supporting a main idea and in utilizing proper sentence structure and diction.  After completing your essay, you will be tested on the remaining skills—critical reading/comprehension/sentence completion:  grammar/writing conventions; and Mathematics—through 20 and 25-minute sections presented in random order.

Each section—writing, reading, and mathematics—can result in scores ranging from 200 to 800 for a total score ranging from 600 to 2400.  (One of the 25-minute sections called “equating” or “variable” will not be scored or reflected in your total score.)  The questions in this section are used to analyze questions for use on future exams and do not count in scoring the exam.  SAT tests, requirements and updated information can be found on www.collegeboard.org
Per US News Article dated 08/21/2013, only a quarter of the 1.8 million graduates who took the ACT college entrance exam in 2013 met readiness benchmarks in all four core subjects—English, math, science and reading.  That figure dropped from 31 percent in 2012, according to annual reports by ACT Inc.  Students who hit the mark on the test have a 75 percent chance of passing a first-year college course in that subject.  Those who fall short are more likely to struggle in college and many will waste time and tuition dollars on remedial courses.

To put teens on a trajectory for success, college prep needs to start early, says Ruth Lohmeyer, a counselor at Lincoln Northeast High School in Nebraska.  “We start already in eighth grade, noting that students start building their college plan when they select classes for ninth grade.  Students should push themselves to take hard classes early on, instead of waiting until their junior or senior years, it will be too late by that time,” she says.  

Sophomores, with the first year of high school behind them, should start thinking about colleges and careers that might be a good and start exploring those areas.  Career and college fairs are a good place to start, but it’s never too soon to set foot on a college campus.

“All of a sudden they can picture themselves there, it helps them want to make sure the transcript looks the way they want it to look when they graduate,” she says.  

Juniors old enough to both legally drive and work in most states should seek out internships, job shadows, and summer jobs that align with the careers they’re interested in, Lohmeyer says.  “Maybe someone’s interested, for example, in the legal field—well, just apply to be a janitor at a law office,” she says.  “The more people you talk to who are doing what you think you want to do, the more confident you’re going to be.”

College entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT should also be on the agenda for junior year, Lohmeyer says.
Most students spend the start of senior year visiting campuses, narrowing their list and then applying to college.

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) Early Assessment Program (EAP) in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics results may be used to determine your readiness to take college level courses before you enroll in a California State University (CSU) or a California Community College (CCC).  Students who demonstrate readiness for college level courses (a class in which a student earns credit towards a baccalaureate degree) have the English and math skills necessary to succeed academically without the need for remedial coursework.  Although the CAASPP EAP results are for placement purposes ONLY, a CAASPP  EAP status of “Standard Exceeded” means a student is READY to enroll directly in college level English and/or math courses upon enrolling at a CSU.

You can also earn a “READY” status if you receive one of these qualifying test scores:
English:  ACT of 22 and above, SAT of 500 and above, or Advanced Placement (AP) Language/Literature Composition of 3 and above.

Math:  ACT of 22 and above, SAT of 550 and above, or AP Calculus or AP Statistics Exam of 3 and above. 
Note: Current ACT tests, requirements are updated at www.collegeboard.org.  
The scores above exempt a student from taking the CSU’s English Placement Test (EPT) and/or Entry Level Math (ELM), and from the Early Start Program.