The majority of the country’s colleges and universities require applicants submit scores for either the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) or ACT (American College Testing Program). Of “The Big Five” items that factor into college acceptance, standardized test scores rank at or near the top. On average, a high school student only spends 10 hours preparing for the SATs, which can potentially weigh more in their admissions fate than their transcript that they spend thousands of hours on. College applicants must not only understand how admissions tests factor into their process, but also know how to prepare for them.
Take the PSAT
The PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test) is a great way to prepare for the SATs and get an idea of how you will score, and what you need to work on. Don’t wait until Junior or Senior year in high school to start thinking about the SATs or ACTs. Preparation for these tests should begin early in highschool, whether it be using flashcards to strengthen your vocabulary early, or taking practice tests on your own, or taking the PSAT.
It is highly recommended for high school athletes to take the PSAT early in their high school career, and preferably before they begin their recruiting process. Typically high school students don’t take the PSAT until October of their junior year, but students can also take it freshman and sophomore year as well. Not only will taking the test early give you an opportunity to receive feeedback on the the academic skills you need to work on for college, it will also help you create a target list of schools based on what your projected SAT scores might be, and also help give you a jump start in the recruiting process by being able to tell college coaches your scores and give them a clear picture of your academic profile.
Taking the PSAT also makes you eligible for a National Merit Scholarship as everyone who takes the PSAT automatically will have their scores sent to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Take the SAT Early
Just like you should take the PSAT early, you should also take the SAT early. Remember, as an athlete, your admissions process begins much earlier than your peers. The earlier you can get these scores to college coaches the better.
While taking the SAT twice is the norm, there is no limit to the number of times you can take the SAT or ACT. Taking each test early will let you know which test you perform better at and give you time to do diligent test prep work for you weak areas should you need to get your scores up. You only have to report the scores you chose. With that being said, don’t treat your first crack at the test as a practice test. Go in prepared and ready to succeed; if you perform well enough for your target schools the first time, then there is no need to take the tests again. Taking the test multiple times can become costly and also cause burnout.
SAT vs ACT
The SAT has historically been the primary test for college admissions, with the first SAT exam being administered in 1901. The SAT I, administered by the College Board , is a reasoning test comprised of three sections: critical reading, mathematics, and writing. A test-taker can receive a top score of 800 on each section, and a cumulative total score of 2400. There are also SAT II tests, which are subject tests; many schools require that two subject test scores be submitted in addition to SAT I scores.
In 1959 the ACT (American College Testing Program) was started to compete with the ACT. The test was designed to be used as a barometer to determine how prepared students are for college. The ACT is more of an achievement test, testing what students have learned in high school, where as the SAT is more of an aptitude test. The ACT is comprised of four sections, English, mathematics, reading and science. There is also an optional writing section. Test-takers receive a composite score from the total of the scores on each section; the best composite score a student can receive is 36.
Some students perform significantly better on one test than the other. Many students who have strong grades and struggle with the SAT take the ACT and are pleasantly surprised with their results. Remember, the SAT tests your aptitude and the ACT tests what you’ve learned. It’s important to study the formats of each test to determine which one best fits you.
A growing number of schools are opting to go “test optional”, which is an admissions policy that means some applicants can choose not to submit their SAT I or ACT scores. The rules making up these policies vary at each college. Some colleges will not accept any scores, while others may require AP and SAT II scores in place of SAT I scores. It is important to know what the test optional policy is for each school on your list. For a full list of all of the test optional schools visit fairtest.org.
Even if all the schools on your list are test optional, it is still highly recommended that as an athlete you take admissions tests and strive to achieve the best scores you can. Even at test optional schools admissions test scores are often used in the recruiting process, whether it be for academic indexing or for financial aid purposes.
Just like the recruiting process, admissions test preparation should begin as soon as you start your high school career. Little things like spending an extra few minutes each week or month to build up your vocab skills will go a long way down the road. You don’t need to sign up for an expensive personal tutor (which is a great way to prepare if you can afford it) to get a leg up on your competition; simply purchasing a test prep book at your local bookstore and taking practice tests periodically will really help.
at the very least buy a test prep book and take the practice tests
There are also many free resources available on the internet, such as www.tesprepreview.com, that provide free practice tests. Do a google search for practice SAT or ACT exams. Make sure you take your practice tests in an environment that’s as close to test day conditions as you can. Taking multiple practice tests has also been proven as a solution for mitigating test anxiety.
At the very least, a student athlete should purchase and work through a test prep book. If your scores are where they need to be for your top choice schools then you might feel confident doing more work. If you hope to improve on your PSAT or first time test scores you should look into taking a test prep course or using the services of a test prep tutor.