“Does my child need to take the SAT/ACT?”

FAQs for Test-Optional College Admission

Walking your child through the college admissions process can be overwhelming. From SAT/ACT test prep and admissions essays to college tours and financial aid applications, the to-do list is long and complex. When your child’s school of choice turns out to be test-optional, you may wonder if you can strike the SAT/ACT from your list altogether.

We understand the desire to simplify the process, but skipping out on these tests may not be the best option for your child. In today’s blog, we’re tackling your common questions about test-optional schools. Read on to learn what you can do to increase the chances of your child receiving that coveted acceptance letter! 

What does test-optional mean?

Before we get into the application process for test-optional schools, let’s get on the same page about what that term means. Each school your child applies to will fall into one of three categories:

  • Test-Required – These colleges require that you send in an SAT or ACT score in order to be considered for admission.
  • Test-Blind – These colleges do not look at SAT or ACT scores for their applicants. 
  • Test-Optional – These colleges leave it up to each applicant to decide whether or not to submit scores. 

While test-optional schools have been around for a while, we’re seeing more and more schools move in that direction, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Going test-optional is a way for colleges to offer flexibility after a year in which a global pandemic made it much more difficult to prep for and take the SAT/ACT.

Plus, going test-optional has greatly increased the number of applications those colleges and universities have received. Kids are throwing their hat into the ring at selective schools where they would not have otherwise applied because they didn’t have the test scores. With more applicants, colleges can be more selective and improve their admissions statistics, so we suspect many schools will stay test-optional for a while longer.

What do test-optional colleges consider when admitting applicants?

All colleges, test-optional or not, try to look at the big picture when reviewing applicants. Your child’s grades, strength of curriculum, extracurricular involvement, and performance in college-prep courses will all be taken into account along with other factors, especially essays. 

At a test-optional college, you get to decide whether or not the SAT/ACT tests will be part of that big picture review. If you opt not to submit the scores, they’ll simply consider the rest of your application in full without them. When you do submit them, however, they will weigh those into the decision. We don’t know how heavily test-optional schools weigh submitted scores, but we do know that they take them into consideration.

Whether or not your child should submit scores will depend on the overall strength of an application with or without the scores.

Should my child study for and take the SAT/ACT? 

We highly recommend that most students study for and take the SAT/ACT, even if every school on their list is test-optional. If they take the test and don’t like their score, they can simply not submit it. There’s no harm done.  However, if they take it and score well, they can strengthen their application and perhaps be admitted to a school where they would have otherwise been waitlisted or rejected.

(You may be asking, “No harm done?! What about all the lost time and effort?” If you’re worried a strong score is too out of reach to be worth the time and effort, we recommend starting with an inexpensive mock test. Then, you can review the results with our specialists and determine what a realistic goal is for your child.)

Right now, grades, especially in college-prep courses, are the most important factor on applications for college admissions. While extracurriculars have always played a role in applications, the challenges of the last year have eliminated or greatly reduced students’ abilities to participate in sports, clubs, jobs, and volunteer opportunities. With this in mind, there could be extra weight put on grades. A strong performance on the SAT/ACT can bring some balance back to the application and, to some extent, make up for less-than-stellar grades.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to put a test prep plan into place for your child. If your child is a junior, it’s not too late to start studying for a test in the late spring, summer, or even fall. If your child is applying early decision or early action with a November 1st deadline, they can take the test as late as September or October of their senior year and still have the test make it on to their application.

Since grades are the most important application factor right now, your child may need space to finish their junior year strong first. They may need to use the summer for test prep and take the ACT in mid-July or the SAT at the end of August. Then, they can focus on current schoolwork without added interruption or stress. 

Note: The ideal timeline for test prep and test-taking will depend on your child’s particular courseload, needs, and plans. Click here to schedule a free consultation with our team, and we can help you chart a course that works best for your student.

Should my child submit his or her SAT/ACT scores to a test-optional school?

Once your child studies for the SAT/ACT and achieves his or her best-possible score, you’ll be able to decide whether or not to submit those scores to test-optional schools. Again, this will depend on how strong your child’s application is without vs. without those scores. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend submitting scores if they fall within the upper portion of the mid 50th percentile of the range that a school typically accepts. 

For example, James Madison University accepted applicants with an average SAT score of 1120-1290 and an average ACT score of 23-28 last year. If you apply to James Madison and your score falls within the upper 50th percentile of those ranges, we recommend submitting your score. Your score can be an additional data point for the school to identify you as a good match for them. It can also set you apart from similar applicants who didn’t submit a score.

If your child takes part in our college application coaching or test prep tutoring, we’re happy to help you consider the options and make the best decision for your child. 

Just click below to set up a free consultation and learn more about these services.

At the end of the day, performing their very best on the SAT/ACT can never hurt and just might help your child get into their test-optional school of choice. And performing their best starts now with a clearly-charted plan for test prep and test-taking!

We hope we’ve helped answer some of your questions about test-optional schools, but we also know that the college application process is overwhelming. Remember—you don’t have to do it alone! Our college application coaches and test prep tutors can help your family navigate this important process with more confidence and less stress. Just click here to get started with a free consultation. We’re here for you!

What’s a Good SAT Score for College Admissions?

Over the past 20+ years, we’ve helped thousands of high schoolers improve their SAT scores. Most of their parents have asked us some version of the question: What’s a good test score for college admissions? It’s an important question. After all, the main goal of taking the SAT is to help students get into their top schools.

Just recently, a reporter with U.S. News asked Ann Dolin to shed some light on this important topic. You can click here to hear her thoughts and read the full article or simply read on for a recap and overview.

You can get even more standardized testing and college prep tips and tricks sent directly to you here!

SAT Scores for Top Schools

The SAT features two main sections: evidence-based reading and writing, and math. Although there is also an essay portion, the score for that is still considered optional. Each section is worth a maximum score of 800, and the combined final score can range from 400 to 1600.

Identifying an ideal SAT score within that range depends, in part, on where a student plans to apply.

“It depends on where the student wants to attend,” Ann Dolin shared with U.S. News. “What we’ve been sharing with our students is to dive into each school’s website and determine the mid-50th percentile of last year’s incoming freshman class, and what that range is.”

U.S. News shared those ranges for some of the top schools in the country, and the mid-50th percentile was generally in the 1470 – 1570 range. Other schools can have an average range closer to 1200 for accepted students.

If your child has a list of schools to which they hope to apply, check out the stats for those schools to get an idea of a good goal for your child’s SAT scores.

How to Improve Your SAT Score

If your child will be taking the SAT in the next couple of years, a good place to start is with a mock test. This gives students a valuable practice run with the format and timing of the SAT and provides a baseline score for test prep.

With a baseline score in hand and a goal score in mind, students can begin working towards a higher score. There are three ways to improve SAT scores:

  • Review Test-Taking Strategies – Students can learn strategic methods for selecting an answer even when they aren’t sure.
  • Work on Targeted Content Review – Students can review mock test scores to identify weak spots and focus their practice on challenging content.
  • Take Full-length Practice Tests – Students can take additional mock tests to track their progress, get extra practice, improve their pacing, and boost their mental stamina for test day.

While some students can get sufficient practice via independent study or group classes, students typically see the most improvement when they invest in private SAT tutoring that’s catered to their goals, strengths, and weaknesses.

Submitting SAT Scores to Test-optional Schools

As you research your child’s top choices for college, you may find that one or more of them is a test-optional school. This means students can choose whether or not to submit a test score.

In these cases, students can decide not to submit a test score without hurting their chances of admission. However, even if your child is applying to test-optional schools, it’s still a good idea to go ahead and take the SAT or ACT and strive for their best possible score.

While test-optional schools don’t penalize applicants who don’t submit a score, submitting a good test score can still strengthen an application. Once your child has a test score, you can consider the strength of the application with versus without that score to decide the best path forward.

A Guaranteed Score Improvement

At Educational Connections, we’re confident that our proven approach to SAT and ACT test prep can improve students’ scores. In fact, if a student completes a full program, including all homework and practice tests, we guarantee a score increase or three sessions (four and a half hours) of free tutoring are on us.

We want to help your child get into his or her top choice of school, and that starts with a strong test score! Click here to learn more about our unique SAT test prep program, or click here to schedule a consultation today.

6 Study Strategies for Better Grades in 2021

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“Focus on completion, not quality.” That was one of our primary pieces of advice for parents in the difficult transition to virtual learning last year. Just getting your child in front of a Zoom class on time and through an independent assignment was a big enough ask. It wasn’t the time to stress over whether or not every practice problem was accurate.

As we (finally) move into 2021, we know your child’s grades may not be what they once were—and that’s okay. The start of a new year is the perfect time to reassess and implement new study strategies. Now’s the time to end this academic year and start this calendar year strong.

Read on to discover six study strategies that can help your child improve their grades this semester. Each research-backed method is from The Learning Scientists and proven to help students study more effectively, retain more, and perform their best.

Strategy #1: Spacing

Last-minute cramming for a big test isn’t just stressful—it’s also ineffective. Research shows that students who practice spacing by spreading out their studying over time ultimately perform better. As you figure out your family’s routine in this new year, encourage your child to set aside a set window of time each day for studying. They can then use that time to regularly prepare for upcoming exams. This strategy will make big tests feel less intimidating and improve their recall on test day.

Strategy #2: Retrieval Practice

When left on their own to study, many students read over their class notes a few times and call it a day. According to researchers, this common study method isn’t a very effective way to retain information. Instead, students need to practice recalling information without looking at their notes. Flashcards and practice tests are tried-and-true methods of retrieval practice. Another idea? Encourage your child to write or sketch everything they remember on a particular subject, then review their class notes for accuracy and missed points.

Strategy #3: Elaboration

It can be hard for young students to wrap their minds around big ideas. Elaboration can help. This study strategy encourages students to elaborate on big ideas with smaller details and even make connections to other big ideas. This may sound abstract, but it’s quite simple to practice. Next time your child studies a new topic, engage them in a conversation about how things work and why. Encourage them to ask questions and seek out answers or to create a list comparing and contrasting two different ideas. As they explain these big ideas to you (and themselves), they’ll get a much firmer grasp on complex material.

Strategy #4: Interleaving

Imagine going to the gym for a workout and only doing one exercise—like push-ups—for the entire hour of your workout. You would quickly grow fatigued yet leave many muscles unworked. That’s why personal trainers pick a variety of exercises and lead you through a rotation. Interleaving works the same way. Instead of choosing one subject, idea, or topic to study for an entire session, allow your child to pick a few and rotate. Switching between ideas while studying will help your child strengthen their mental muscles, stay focused for longer, make connections between topics, and increase their mastery of all the materials.

Strategy #5: Concrete Examples

No academic subject is free of abstract ideas. From complex statistical concepts in math class to complicated reading passages in English, students are continually asked to grapple with and master abstract ideas. The best strategy for doing so? Concrete examples. Compiling a list of concrete examples (by using class notes and their textbook or brainstorming with peers) helps students understand and remember big ideas. Even better—have your child explain why each example works as they make their list to help them grasp patterns and connections.

Strategy #6: Dual Coding

No, we’re not asking your child to learn computer coding for this last strategy. Dual coding is a study strategy that combines words with visuals. When your child comes across a visual (like a map or diagram) in their study materials, they should stop and use words to describe them. And when they come across a chunk of text, they should stop and create their own visual. Infographics, diagrams, or cartoon strips can help a child illustrate ideas. Combining words and images when studying will help your child better understand the material now and remember more of it on test day—win, win!

Get Help When You Need It!

After the whirlwind of 2020, your child may need extra support to catch up and get ahead before the end of this school year. Our expert tutors are trained in helping students with subject-specific struggles, executive function skills, and general review and preview.

No matter what last year looked like for your family, we’re here to ensure this year is as successful and stress-free as possible. You deserve a little extra support! Click below to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll connect you with a handpicked tutor to provide the exact help your child needs.

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Our Most Popular Blogs of 2020

No matter how prepared you may have felt at the start of 2020, armed with New Year’s resolutions and a fresh planner, there’s no doubt this year was nothing like you expected. The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new parenting and educational challenges for all of us.

As you’ve come to us with your questions about virtual and at-home learning, we’ve done our best to answer them and provide the support you needed in this trying year. In this special end-of-the-year blog post, we’re looking back at our most-read blog posts of 2020.

Read on to see what advice resonated with parents like you and maybe even find some helpful tidbits to prepare you for whatever 2021 may hold (hopefully, some peace, calm, and in-person learning, right?!).

Post #1: Why Kids Struggle with Virtual Math (And What Parents Can Do About It!)

Even in a typical year, we get a lot of requests for our math tutoring services. Math is abstract and challenging. Plus, it’s cumulative. Each new skill builds on the last, so failure to master one unit can make future units even harder.

In a traditional classroom, teachers can at least monitor the room for signs of confusion or overwhelm, but as learning moved online, it was easy for students to fall through the cracks and fall behind. Many concerned parents reached out to us for advice, especially when their children pushed back at their efforts to help along the way. 

In this blog, Ann Dolin addresses those frustrations and outlines practical tips for helping your child succeed with virtual math (without ruining your relationship along the way).

Read It

Post #2: How to Ask a Teacher for Help When You’re Virtual

Teachers want their students to succeed. That means they want and expect students to ask for help. In the physical classroom, they encourage students to seek out that help by looking for physical signs of confusion and making themselves available after class and during lunch. 

In a virtual classroom, however, teachers’ ability to monitor the class is limited. It’s up to kids to speak up when they’re struggling or need clarification. For students who are reserved, nervous, or shy, this is a big ask. Many choose to stay silent instead and quickly fall behind.

In this popular post, Ann Dolin shares quick tips for families who need to ask for extra help within the virtual learning environment. Check it out to discover the best time to ask for help, specific questions to pose to the teacher, and more.

Read Now

Post #3: What does it take to be a tutor at Educational Connections?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a tutor at Educational Connections? Do we hire high school students? College students? Teachers? Who exactly will be supporting your child in their academic journey?

It’s a good question, and this blog post from Ann Dolin will clear things up. At Educational Connections, we’re proud of our high standards and unique process because we’ve seen how well it works. In the past 21 years, the families of over 10,000 DC students have trusted us to support their child’s academic journey!

Check this popular post out to discover what exactly we expect from our tutors and how we sift through our extremely skilled team to match each student with the best possible tutor for them.

Read Now

Post #4: 3 Tricks to Keep Kids from Interrupting While You Work from Home

Supporting your kids through the transition to online learning is tough. Balancing it with your own full-time job? Well, that can feel impossible.

Ann Dolin wrote this post to encourage parents that working from home with kids isn’t easy, but it is possible—as long as you have a few strategies to keep you sane!

In this popular post, you’ll find three hacks to help you set and keep boundaries so that you and your children can focus and get things done (without all the tension or yelling). Hang in there, working parents! This one’s for you.

Read Now

Thank you for trusting us to provide you with advice and support in this challenging year. It’s an honor we don’t take lightly, and we’re glad to hear these posts have helped parents like you.

Did you know we post and email out one or two new blogs just like these each and every month? They always feature tips, tricks, and strategies for guiding your child throughout their K-12 journey. Click below to subscribe, and you can receive every update straight to your inbox! You’ll never miss a post and can unsubscribe at any time.

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Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

In a year where not much is within our control, it’s good to know what you can control in the test prep and college admissions process.

In this final post, we’re going to talk about a few of things your child can control when working to strengthen their college applications.

3 Ways to Improve Scores

One thing your child can do to strengthen an application is to work to achieve their best possible score on the SAT or ACT. Once your child has mock test or actual scores in hand, there are three ways a tutor can help improve those scores.

1. Review Test-Taking Strategies – Test-taking strategies are things like using the process of elimination or working backward to get to an answer when you aren’t sure right away. These are “best practices” and can vary based on the test and section. 

2. Work on Targeted Content Review – Maybe your child needs to brush up on geometry because it’s been a while. Or perhaps grammar rules weren’t their strength, and they need a refresh of that content. Focusing on those weak spots can help improve scores.

3. Take Full-length Practice Tests – We’re currently offering mock tests virtually so kids can take them safely at home. They mimic the real test so students can practice and improve their pacing and boost their mental stamina before test day. 

In each of these areas, students need to know and work on their weaknesses. It seems counterintuitive since students often hear, “Work on the things you love to do and focus on your strengths!” But when it comes to test prep, focusing on weaker areas helps to improve scores more than a generic approach or focusing on areas where the student is already strong.

Our tutors combine these three methods to tackle students’ weaknesses and improve scores. We’re so confident in our approach that we even offer a test prep guarantee! If a student completes a test prep package program and their scores fail to increase, we will provide three complimentary sessions.

Additional Areas of Focus

Working on weaknesses to improve test scores is one of the key things students can do to improve college admissions applications. Another? Getting help with college application essays—and starting early.

No matter how a school considers test scores, essays have become vitally important. Juniors can take control by working on application essays and test prep during their junior year and over the summer. Then, when senior year arrives, they can focus on their grades. (Fall semester grades are still important for applications!)

Plus, working ahead on these things can enable seniors to get in their applications by the early action deadline of November 1st. This reduces stress in their senior year so they can focus on their grades and enjoy every moment of a very special year—and so can you!

To make this entire process easier for you and your family, we offer The Road to College, a special college admissions program for high school students. The Road to College is our way of making the college admissions process as stress-free as possible. Click here to learn more and schedule a consultation. We’re here for you! 

Thank you for joining us for this special 4-part series on college admissions during COVID! Do you have additional questions about testing or college admissions during COVID? Do you need help identifying the best test or test dates for your child? Are you looking for a virtual test prep tutoring program guaranteed to raise your child’s scores? If so, click here to schedule a free consultation with one of our test prep experts today!

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Once you’ve decided whether or not your child should test and taken the first steps of practice tests and test selection, it’s time to pick your child’s test dates and begin test prep.

Pick Test Dates Strategically

Once a child selects the SAT or ACT, it’s time to pick test dates, and we encourage students to do so strategically. Research shows that most students achieve their best score in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. We suspect it’s because they’re older, they’re more mature, and they have more curriculum under their belt. 

With that in mind, it really is okay to take a fall test, but you want to consider if your child will have the capacity to test again in the late winter or spring. We recommend “pairing test dates,” which means planning for two test dates.  After the first test, the student can identify areas of weakness. Then, they can practice, practice, practice to improve their score in those areas on the second attempt.  

For the ACT, for example, you could pick a December and a February date, or maybe a February and an April date. For the SAT, maybe it’s a December and March date, or perhaps a March and May date.

If you’re not sure which dates are best for your child, we can help! We do this all the time and offer free consultations for exactly this purpose. Click here to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll use your child’s PSAT score or SAT/ACT practice score to determine the best test timing for your child.

Decide How to Prepare

There are essentially three ways a child can prepare for the SAT/ACT.

1. Independent Prep – If you have a very independent, motivated student with strong practice test results, they might be fine buying a book or using an online resource to practice independently. 

2. Group Classes – Your child can take a group class with lots of other kids. Right now, those are all happening virtually. If a student is relatively strong in all areas and just wants to review test-taking strategies and get general practice, this might be a fit. But it doesn’t provide time or space for customization based on a child’s particular needs for improvement.

3. Private Tutoring – The advantage of private tutoring—and the reason it’s the only option we offer—is that it can be customized to each child. Our tutors can work with your child to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. By focusing personalized instruction on the skills a child finds most challenging, the tutor is more likely to help boost their score.

Whichever path you choose, don’t wait until close to test day to begin! The brain works best when you space things out rather than cramming at the last minute. Most students test two or three times, and they generally start test prep about two to five months before their first test, depending on how much they need to work on. We recommend weekly sessions with practice homework in between to best prepare students and build their confidence.

To learn more about our test prep tutoring during COVID-19, click here. You can also click here to schedule a free consultation. Our test prep experts are happy to answer your questions and handpick a tutor for your child’s testing needs!

You can also click through to read our last post in this special series on college admissions: Control What You Can: Test Prep Factors to Consider in COVID-19.

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

For 2020-21 seniors, test scores are, for the first time ever, completely off of the table. Since COVID cancellations made it so difficult for students to test in the spring, schools are not requiring an SAT or ACT result for admissions. 

If your child is a senior this year (2020-21), important admissions factors will include their grades in college prep classes, strength of curriculum, admissions essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and AP/IB test scores. Testing isn’t much of a concern.

But what if your child is a junior, sophomore, or freshman? Read on to learn more about what you need to know. 

Test-Required, Test-Optional, and Test-Blind

After this year, we expect schools to once again fall into three different categories:

  1. Test-Required – These schools will require students to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.
  2. Test-Optional – Students can choose whether or not to submit a test score. While not submitting a test doesn’t hurt, submitting a good test score can help. Most students choose to test. Then, they decide whether to submit the results based on the strength of their application with or without them.
  3. Test-Blind – These schools won’t consider test scores at all, even if they’re terrific. They’ll just focus on other factors. Although no scores are required for this year’s seniors, we don’t expect many schools to be test-blind for future applicants.

The specifics of these policies can vary from school to school, even within one state, so it’s important to look into the guidelines for the schools on your child’s list.

For example, UVA is test-required for any students not in this year’s senior class. As of right now, their website indicates that current juniors will be required to submit a test score with their applications next year. William and Mary, on the other hand, is launching a test-optional pilot. For the next three years, they’re going to test out a test-optional policy, then decide whether or not to revert to their test-required policy. 

James Madison, George Mason, and Christopher Newport are test-optional—so is VCU, although test scores are recommended there. Typically, when you’re applying to a college, you should follow their recommendations!

Reporting Test Scores to Colleges

Unless every school on your child’s list is test-blind (which is unlikely), they’ll want to at least take the test—but they don’t need to automatically report their scores!

Even test-required schools allow for “score choice.” This means the student can pick their best score from all of their attempts to share with schools. You can wait until your child is done with all of their test attempts and report only their best score to colleges.

There’s also something called “super scoring,” where the college will cherry-pick your best sub-scores from each attempt. For example, let’s say your child takes the SAT and gets a 500 on math and a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing. They retake it, and the scores reverse. They get a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing but only a 500 in math. With super scoring, the school will take their 600 in reading and writing from the first attempt and their 600 in math for the second attempt for a final score of 1200, which is better than the 1100 they actually got each time. 

A new change to the ACT is that the ACT will automatically super score. So if you take the ACT twice, colleges will only see your super score. With super scoring, testing multiple times can’t hurt and can only help! This is good to know because a small score increase can make a big difference and open up more options for a student.

With all of this in mind, it’s good to get the ball rolling on practice tests and test prep—just know you don’t need to automatically report scores right away. 

For now, visit our next post in this college admissions series: The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep.

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

Unless your child is a senior in the Class of 2021, it’s fairly safe to assume you should move forward with preparing your child to take the SAT or ACT. So where do you begin? That’s what this blog is all about.

Start with a Practice Test

Our first recommendation to juniors is to figure out which test (SAT or ACT) they’re going to take. They can use practice tests to identify which test they’ll naturally score better on. Since every college in America accepts both tests with no preference for one over the other, we recommend each student start by taking two practice tests, one for the SAT and one for the ACT. 

After a student takes both, we can analyze the results to identify their best direction moving forward. For about ⅓ of students, there’s a clear best choice. The other ⅔ score about the same on both and base their decision on their comfort level with each test. 

If your child hasn’t yet taken practice tests, that’s the first step. To make that first step safe and easy, we offer virtual practice tests most Saturday mornings. You can click here to view our upcoming practice test dates and register for one. We’ve made it very easy to register and test in your home so you can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Compare the SAT and ACT

If your child is one of those who score similarly on both practice tests, it’s helpful to understand the differences so you can make an informed decision about which one to take. Let’s go over how they’re alike and different.

The SAT is considered a power test. There are fewer questions, but they’re wordier. They require critical thinking and lots of analysis. The challenge with this test is in trying to understand what exactly they’re asking you to do. 

The ACT, on the other hand, is considered a speed test. There are more questions, but they’re shorter and a bit more straightforward. Kids often say things like, “The ACT feels more like what I’ve learned in school, but the difficulty with the ACT is actually the pacing and the speed.”

The SAT has two math sections. One allows students to use a calculator and one does not. These sections add up to 800 points. There’s also evidence-based reading and writing for another 800 points, giving students a potential total of 1600 points.

The ACT has four sections: math, reading, writing (which is more like grammar), and science. The science section makes some students anxious, especially if they don’t love science, but the questions are more like reading comprehension questions. Students are presented with graphs and charts, and they’re asked to extrapolate information. It’s very coachable if you have a tutor to help. The total for all four ACT sections is 36 points. 

Both tests are long. The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The ACT is only 15 minutes shorter, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes.

If you’re not sure which test is best for your child, we can help you make an informed decision based on mock test results. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a test prep specialist, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider.

Once your child has completed mock tests and selected a test, it’s time to dive into test prep. Check out the next blog in our college admissions series to learn more: SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19.

What Parents Should Know About College Admissions During COVID

For years, there have been three significant admissions factors for students applying to selective or competitive colleges. Number one: grades in college prep courses. Number two: the strength of curriculum and level of challenge in a student’s course selection. (In other words, did they take AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses?) And number three: admissions test scores on the SAT or ACT.

That’s not to say that the college admissions process was ever stress-free, but the admissions factors were fairly straightforward. This year, of course, COVID has thrown all of that—much like everything else in our lives—for a loop. 

To offer some clarity on what to expect in an unexpected year, we’re doing a special 4-part series on everything parents should know about college admissions during COVID. Read them in order, or click a topic below to jump straight to any post that interests you:

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

We know there’s a lot to consider this year, but remember: You’re not in this alone! If you still have questions about college admissions, test prep, or anything else, just click below to schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. We’re here for you!

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Do Juniors Still Need to Take the SAT/ACT as Many Schools Become “Test-Optional”?

For decades, the college application process has begun with high school juniors taking college admissions tests. But with many colleges and universities becoming “test-optional” (meaning that they do not require SAT or ACT scores to be submitted with an application), many students with test anxiety are beginning to wonder if testing at all is really necessary.

While the “test-optional” movement is worth understanding as you apply for college, most students find that taking either the SAT or ACT is still a good idea. Read on to learn why.

Understanding Test-Optional Policies

As mentioned, colleges with test-optional programs still accept SAT/ACT scores but no longer require applicants to submit them. Instead, students are evaluated for admission based on their grades and other factors like letters of recommendation, essays, and extracurricular activities. Some schools even accept creative portfolios, video profiles, business plans, or scientific research projects as alternate evidence of a student’s potential. 

This trend is fairly new but gaining momentum. In fact, over 1,000 schools have some type of test-optional admission policy now. At first glance, this sounds fantastic, at least to kids that may not be great test-takers, but there are caveats.

For example, at George Mason University, you need to have a GPA above 3.5 for test-optional consideration, and not every department is included. The Computer Science and Engineering programs still require test scores. Home-school applicants and those applying as Division I athletes are also required to submit scores. These caveats vary by school, so it’s important for applicants to fully understand each school’s requirements before applying without test scores.

Why Testing Is Still a Good Idea

Even with a growing number of schools offering some sort of test-optional consideration, most schools are still not test-optional. Considering that students apply to between 5 and 8 schools, it’s highly unlikely that all the schools on a student’s list will be test-optional. For that reason, it’s still a good idea to take the SAT or ACT before applying to schools. 

It’s also important to remember that just because you take the test doesn’t mean you have to submit the scores to a test-optional school. If you have a strong application that can stand out from the masses without a test score—and you believe your test score will detract from rather than add to that application—you can always choose to submit an application without your scores to a test-optional school.