The tests are not the enemy. They are actually useful tools that give you a lot of valuable information about what you do and do not know. Are you reading on or above grade level? Do you actually understand the math you are taught? Can you do some mental math in your head? Standardized tests will usually reveal these issues, and test prep gives you a valuable chance to correct them.
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Who makes it? The College Board
What is it? Designed to align with Common Core standards and test how well students have learned the expected high school curriculum.
What’s on it? Four Sections: Two math sections with multiple choice and grid-in answers, one with calculator use and one without. Two Evidence-Based Reading and Writing multiple choice sections, one focused on reading comprehension and the other on grammar, usage and writing. + Fifth (optional) essay section.
How long is it? Three hours and 50 minutes (including the essay)
How long has it been around? The SAT was originally created in 1926. The “new” SAT was introduced in March 2016.
Frequency Seven times a year
Max Score 1600
What is the latest I can take the SAT? While early admissions applications are due in November, most colleges will accept scores from early November SATs or SAT Subject Tests. To submit scores from these later test dates, you must note the school you want to send your scores to when you register for the test. The school will automatically get the score. You will not have the chance to screen your scores before the colleges you selected see them. Some schools are stricter with deadlines than others. The following schools are some that require students to submit test scores before November 1:
Always check the website of the college you are applying to, to make sure your tests will be submitted on time. If you feel uncertain, you should call a college’s admissions office to clarify its policies.
What is Score Choice? The College Board offers Score Choice for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. If you take a College Board test multiple times, you get to choose which scores to send to colleges. If you choose to send a college a score, however, they will see the entire score from that test date; you can’t send or withhold particular sections. Not all colleges participate in Score Choice, so some schools may ask to see all of your scores.
What is superscore? To give you the opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light, many colleges will superscore your SAT results from multiple test sittings. They will combine your best scores for each section of the test, across all test dates, to demonstrate your highest composite score. For example:
How many times should I take the SAT? Most students take the SAT twice, once during the spring of junior year and once during the fall of senior year. We encourage students to avoid taking a real test more than three times, unless they have a convincing reason to believe another try will result in a significantly higher score.
For more information on the SAT, see The Zinc Guide to College Entrance Exams.
Who makes it? ACT (American College Testing)
What is it? This is a test designed to measure how well students know the expected high school curriculum.
What’s on it? Four multiple choice sections: reading, English, math and science + Fifth (optional) essay section
How long is it? Three hours and 40 minutes (including the essay)
How long has it been around? The ACT was originally created in 1959, and it has been evolving ever since.
Frequency Seven times a year
Max Score 36
*No test centers are scheduled in New York for the July 18, 2020 date
If I take the ACT, can I skip the SAT Subject Tests? Many colleges accept the ACT as a stand-alone test with no additional subject tests required. If you are applying, however, to schools that require SAT-takers to submit Subject Tests, many other applicants who submit ACT scores will also submit Subject Test scores. If you’ve worked hard in high school to learn a subject, taking the SAT Subject Test demonstrates what you’ve accomplished.
When is the latest I can take the ACT? While early admissions applications are due in November, most colleges will accept scores from late October ACTs. To submit scores from these later test dates, you must note the school you want to send your scores to when you register for the test. The school will automatically get the score. You will not have the chance to screen your scores before the colleges you selected see them. Some schools are stricter with deadlines than others. The following schools are some that require that students submit test scores before November 1:
What is Score Choice? Almost all colleges allow Score Choice for the ACT. For most schools, you may take the ACT as many times as you like and submit only the scores you want colleges to see. However, a small number of selective colleges ask that you send your scores from every time you took the ACT. Colleges on this list include Yale University and Barnard College. You should check the admissions website of each school on your list to find out the specific score reporting policy.
What is superscore? To give you the opportunity to present yourself in the best possible light, many colleges will superscore your ACT results from multiple test sittings. They will combine your best scores for each section of the test, across all test dates, to demonstrate your highest composite score. For example:
How many times should I take the ACT? Most students take the ACT twice, once during the spring of junior year and once during the fall of senior year. We encourage students to avoid taking a real test more than three times, unless they have a convincing reason to believe another try will result in a significantly higher score.
For more information on the ACT, see The Zinc Guide to College Entrance Exams.
Which test should I take? We think that the SAT is the easier test for most students in rigorous high school programs. The tests cover similar content, but the ACT requires students to work much faster while maintaining accuracy. Also, the new SAT replaces the ACT’s most difficult section—Science— with more manageable data interpretation and science passages throughout the test’s other sections.
For more information on the SAT vs. the ACT, see The Zinc Guide to College Entrance Exams.
Who Makes it? The College Board
What is it? Subject Tests are designed to measure your mastery in a specific subject on a high school level. There are 20 different Subject Tests in various subjects.
What’s on it? The subject matter varies from test to test, but they are all multiple choice.
How long is it? Each test takes one hour, and you can take up to three tests in one sitting.
Frequency Six times a year
Max Score 800
How many SAT Subject Tests do I need to take? Most of the more competitive colleges require or recommend that applicants who submit the SAT also submit one, two or three SAT Subject Tests. Check the websites of colleges you’re considering to find out what they expect.
When should I take SAT Subject Tests? Because these tests measure your knowledge of specific subjects, you need to plan thoughtfully. If you’re only taking one year of U.S. history and want to take that SAT Subject Test, you should schedule it to coincide with the end of your course. If you loved biology in 9th grade but did not take the SAT Subject Test at the end of that school year, relearning the material in 11th grade will demand an enormous effort. If you’re planning on taking a subject throughout high school, you may benefit from waiting until senior year to take the SAT Subject Test. Many students take foreign languages, math and literature throughout high school, and will stand to perform best on those Subject Tests in the fall of senior year.
When are Subject Tests offered? 2019-20 SAT Subject Test Dates*
*Dates are subject to change. Please check the College Board website before you register.
So what do colleges expect to see?
Courses at different high schools vary greatly. Knowledge and performance that get you an A in biology at one school may only get you a B at another. The Subject Tests give colleges an additional, objective measure to use when looking at candidates. The tests that you choose to take can also help you to differentiate yourself. Once you get to college, scores on these tests may be used for placement. Some schools require a certain number of Subject Tests or certain tests in particular. Visit the websites of colleges you are interested in to find out what they expect.
Should I take Subject Tests if I am taking the ACT?Quite possibly.
Many colleges accept the ACT as a stand-alone test with no additional subject tests required. If you are applying, however, to schools that require SAT-takers to submit Subject Tests, many other applicants who submit ACT scores will also submit Subject Test scores. If you’ve worked hard in high school to learn a subject, taking the SAT Subject Test demonstrates what you’ve accomplished.
For more information on the SAT Subject Tests, see The Zinc Guide to College Entrance Exams.
What is it? AP Exams are designed to measure your mastery in a specific subject at the college level. There are 37 different AP Exams in various subjects. Some universities award college credit for strong scores on AP Exams (hence the name Advanced Placement).
What’s on it? The subject matter varies from test to test, but these exams usually consist of a mix of multiple-choice and free-response sections. Some language exams have listening portions.
How long is it? Three hours
Frequency Once a year
Max Score 5
If my school does not offer AP classes, should I take AP Exams? College admissions officers make an effort to know the policies and standards of individual high schools. They will know which AP classes, if any, your school offers, and take this information into account when assessing the rigor of your schedule and testing choices. If your school does not offer an AP class you are interested in taking, you can look into enrolling in an online course (the College Board has a list of approved online courses), enrolling in a class at a local college, or studying for the test on your own. It will require significant self-motivation to take an AP Exam without participating in the class, but students do it. Preparing for and successfully taking AP Exams in subjects that interest you can help demonstrate your abilities to colleges. To register for AP Exams when you are not registered for the corresponding AP class, contact AP Services via the College Board (888-225-5427) to find a local AP Coordinator who has agreed to test outside students. Students should call AP Services no later than March 1 of the year they want to take the test to get this process started (we recommend calling much sooner, if possible).
Should I take AP Exams or SAT Subject Tests? APs are more impressive to colleges than Subject Tests, but also require more preparation. APs are longer and more comprehensive tests than the one-hour multiple-choice SAT Subject Tests. If you do well on an AP Exam, you don’t need the companion SAT Subject Test because admissions officers will see that you know the material. The exception to this would be that if you’re applying to a college that requires a specific number of Subject Tests (usually two or three), and you aren’t confident in additional subjects outside the AP Exams you already took, then it’s perfectly fine to take an AP Exam and its companion Subject Test.
For more information on the AP Tests, see The Zinc Guide to College Entrance Exams.
Who makes it? ERB (Educational Records Bureau)
What is it? The ISEE is a leading admissions test for independent schools. It is designed to measure student achievement compared to other students on his or her grade level.
What’s on it? Four multiple-choice sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension and mathematic achievement + Fifth (unscored) essay section
How long is it? Lower Level: Two hours and 20 minutes Middle Level and Upper Level: Two hours and 40 minutes
Frequency ERB (the company that makes the ISEE) divides the year into three testing seasons:
Fall (August-November) Winter (December-March) Spring/Summer (April-July)
Students may take the test once per test season, a maximum of three times in one 12-month admission cycle.
Max Score Students receive four scores:
A raw score (calculated by adding up the number of right answers) A scaled score (converted from the raw score, between 760 and 940) A percentile (a rank based on the percent of students in the same grade who performed equally or better) A stanine (based on the percentile score, 1-9)
Are there different levels? Yes. The Primary ISEE is for students entering 2nd–4th grade. The Lower Level ISEE is for students entering 5th and 6th grade. The Middle Level ISEE is for students entering 7th and 8th grade. The Upper Level ISEE is for students entering 9th–12th grade.
Within the different level groupings, students are taking the same test as kids in different grades. Are students’ grade levels taken into consideration in the results? Yes, students are only being compared to others from their grade level.
How does scoring work? ISEE scoring is notoriously complex, but we will try to demystify it for you!
Raw Score: A student’s raw score is calculated by adding up the number of right answers. (No points are taken away for wrong answers.) Scaled Score: The raw score for each section is then converted into a scaled score between 760 and 940. This scaled score takes differences between multiple test versions into account. Percentile: From the scaled score, ERB gives students a percentile between 1 and 99. This percentile tells how the student scored compared to other test-takers in the same grade. If an 8th grade student is in the 72nd percentile that means that he or she scored better than 72% of 8th graders who have taken the test in the past three years. (It doesn’t mean that he or she got 72% of the questions right.) Stanine: Using the percentile, ERB assigns students a stanine. Below is a table showing where different percentiles place test-takers based on ERB’s reporting.
If you still have ISEE scoring questions, check out ERB’s very detailed scoring brochure that accompanies score reports, or read their What to Expect on the ISEE online book.
Does the essay matter if it is not scored? Yes. Schools use your essay as a writing sample. Since they have few means for assessing your potential, the essay offers an important opportunity to showcase your talents. You won’t get a score for your essay, but writing it well makes a difference.
Are there different levels? Yes. The Elementary Level SSAT is for students applying for 4th and 5th grade. The Middle Level SSAT is for students applying for 6th-8th grade. The Upper Level SSAT is students applying for 9th – 12th grade.
Does the essay matter if it is not scored?
Yes. Admissions offices read the essay as a writing sample, so although it is not scored, the essay offers an important opportunity to showcase your talents.
How does scoring work? Points are given for correct answers, and none are taken away for incorrect ones. The number calculated from correct answers is combined with question difficulty levels to create a scaled score.
Who can take the test?