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How to use your SAT or ACT scores to help you get into college

August 7, 2013

For most students, thoughts and plans for higher education only begin as high school graduation nears in 12th grade. But as the competition to get into grows more fierce with every year, it’s important for students to make plans sooner rather than later. Wait too long and your spot at the college of your choice just may go to your neighbor in Chemistry class. If students want a competitive edge in today’s market, it’s critical to consider college placement exams such as the SAT and ACT well before your Senior year of high school.

Start by researching your school of choice to see which test is preferred, and to find out about minimum scores on either test that will be accepted for incoming freshmen. Most schools will offer a sliding scale measuring college placement exam scores against your grade point average (GPA) acquired in high school. In other words, if your GPA is high, your test scores may not need to be as great. Conversely, if your GPA isn’t as strong, your test scores will need to be higher in order to pick up the slack. Knowing where you fall on the scale should allow you to set goals for a minimum score needed on the placement exam.

If your school of choice accepts both the SAT and the ACT as acceptable placement exams, consider taking both tests as part of your college preparation plans. You may find that you score higher on one test versus the other, depending on your aptitude for the various subject knowledge they measure. For example, if you excel in Science, you may fare better with the ACT which offers a Science Reasoning Exam as part of their test. If you’re stronger with reading, writing and math, you may get a better comprehensive score on the SAT which focuses on those three areas alone.

It’s also important to know the differences between the two exams if you plan to take either of them multiple times in an effort to increase your score. For the SAT test, all available scores from each of your test dates are reported to the school of your choice. You cannot select only your highest or latest scores, or individual scores from the specific subject tests on the exam. For the ACT test, a separate record for each test date is maintained. Only the report from the test date you choose will be forwarded to the school; or you may request that multiple reports from separate test dates be sent, but you cannot mix and match your scores from the various subject tests to create a new score report.

To give yourself a better chance of increasing your scores on either exam, consider working with a private tutor. Taking sample practice tests, memorizing important concepts and mathematical formulas, and practicing your writing are all great ways to prepare for the test. A tutor can also assist with test taking strategies such as pacing, whether or not you should leave questions blank, and how to reduce test taking anxiety to ensure a successful attempt.

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