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College Corner: Tackling tests

In this column, Academic Adviser and AP English teacher Molly Sargent discusses the college application process and gives advice for prospective college students.

While applying for college can be quite stressful, students often become too anxious about standardized tests that must be taken in order for most four-year universities to even consider an applicant. The tests are long, challenging, and, perhaps worst of all, the single most important factor in determining where graduating seniors will continue their educations.

The SAT and ACT, either of which is acceptable to almost all American universities, help college admissions officers decide which applicants will be most successful in their undergraduate studies, which is what these tests are designed to measure.

Not all students take tests well, so, understandably, these exams can be a source of extreme anxiety for many aspiring college students. A student’s creativity, unique perspective, or ability to think “outside of the box” is not measured by these multiple-choice tests, which critics point to as one of the exams’ major flaws. However, until a different admission test is developed, students have no choice but to score as high as possible on the SAT and/or ACT.

Each SAT section is worth a maximum of 800 points for a possible composite score of 2,400 points. Most colleges, though, utilize only the critical reading and math scores, using the writing portion to help determine English course placement. Less than one-tenth of one percent of test takers earn a perfect score on the exam. There are nine separately time sections and a 25-minute essay writing portion; the entire exam takes three hours and 45 minutes and costs $47, excluding late fees. Register online at

The ACT is scored differently. Like the SAT, the ACT tests students on reading and math, but also on science and English. The maximum score possible for each section is 36; the composite score is a rounded average of the four test totals. And like the SAT, less than one-tenth of one percent of test takers earn a perfect score. The 30-minute writing test is optional, and is not included in composite scores. The English portion of the exam lasts 45 minutes, while math runs an hour. Reading and science are 35 minutes each. Without the writing test, the ACT costs $33; with it, $48. Register online at

Admissions officers combine students’ test scores with their academic records (GPA, courses taken during high school) to decide whether to admit a student. Some schools, especially top-ranked ones, also rely on personal interviews for a more complete picture of the applicant.

There are many test preparation books available for purchase online and at bookstores to help a student prepare for the SAT and ACT, as well as classes that may be taken at a test help center for a significant fee. Whether either preparation method yields positive results is largely up to the motivation and work ethic of the student. Both the SAT and ACT offer a free “Question of the Day” on their websites.

Performing well on these tests hinges on a student’s preparation for them. Students should: work as hard as they can in their current high school classes; take advantage of the ?Question of the Day?; take the PSAT and PLAN, both practice exams for the SAT and ACT, respectively, that we offer on campus; and take practice tests that are available in study books and through test prep courses.

But the best advice I can offer is this: once you have received your scores, leave the rest to the Lord. ?For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). Even when the future is uncertain, the promises of God are always sure, always true. Trust Him to prepare the way for you and you may face tomorrow with peace.

For the previous installment, read the Nov. 1 column, College Corner: An overview of applications.

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    Dalton CowinSep 7, 2011 at 12:02 am

    Hahaha, Josh looks hillarious in this picture!