Apr 19, 2009

Standardized Testing in the Scheme of Things

Over the past few weeks, a number of you received test scores from either the dreaded College Board or the less familiar ACT test conglomerate. Consequently, I have been fielding questions concerning test prep or the advisability of various test-taking strategies. As a former instructor in a high school based SAT prep program, I have lots of views on these topics but I generally defer to the experts--and there are many these days! The one thing I want to emphasize to students and parents, however, is that neither the SAT nor the ACT tests a student's potential in life or in college for that matter. I sometimes think we get too wrapped up in the numbers and forget to see the larger picture. Standardized tests represent a moment in time. In fact, as kids mature (and learn more), they tend to do better on tests. Not surprisingly, test prep programs take lots of credit for what could simply be a result of growing up. Certainly practice helps as does tutoring on test-taking techniques. If you do better in a structured environment with repeat test-taking a central component of the drill, than any one of the many test prep programs available in this area will definitely help. Care should be taken, however, not to bite off another extracurricular activity that detracts from school work. When all is said and done, GPA reigns supreme with test scores a clear secondary consideration in college admissions.

One of the more interesting turns in testing is the gradual move the SAT has taken to be more like the ACT in what it tests as well as what information it conveys to college admissions officials. Originally conceived as an "aptitude" test, the SAT has become more of an "achievement" test. Although the Educational Testing Service claims that the SAT is a first-rate predictor of success in the freshman year, many admissions officials suspect that more curriculum-based tests such as the AP or the SAT Subject Tests do a much better job of predicting how well a student will perform as a freshman in college.

For those wishing a scholarly parsing of the differences between the ACT and the SAT, I have available edited material originally prepared by the Appelrouth Tutoring Service of Atlanta (8/26/08). Contact me directly (Nancy@CollegeExplorations.com) for a copy. If you are looking for a more direct comparison of scores, I would refer you to the ACT website concordance tables.

I recognize that some of this information is a bit dense and can be confusing. Whatever you do, please don't be discouraged by test results. Colleges know there is more to you than any number can ever represent!

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