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Standardized Tests (excluding APs&IBs)

A key to doing well on standardized tests (i.e. SAT Reasoning, SAT Subject Tests, and ACTs) is timing.  Great timing can reduce the amount of studying needed and even ensure better scores.

SAT Subject Tests

First, these tests can be classified into two groups – those that are very class-dependent and those that aren't:

Non-class-dependent tests:

Class-dependent tests:

Here's one simple tip: time your SAT Subject Tests wisely and you can cut your studying time drastically.  Basically, take class-dependent tests only in May or June, with May being the preferred date if you are already studying for the same AP exam anyway.  AP exams are taken during the week, and SATs/ACTs are taken on Saturdays.  So there's no timing conflict.

There is one major exception.  If you are taking classes at a local community, you may learn the whole year's worth of materials in one semester (e.g., the first semester of 1st-year college chemistry is basically a year's worth of chemistry in high school).  In that case, take the SAT II of that class in January.

SAT math Subject Tests should be taken as early as possible once you have learned all that would be tested.  For many, this means the end of geometry or trigonometry.  For some of you, taking an SAT Subject Test at the end of your freshman year may actually be the right thing to do.  Research on this a bit (these tests have changed significantly since I took them...).  Khan Academy has an extensive collection of SAT math preparation tutorials.

Some colleges do not accept SAT foreign language test scores of one's native language.  Therefore, look through the college requirements carefully.  "Native language" generally refers to your first-learned and dominant language.  Therefore, if you were born in the U.S. and have not spent most of your early childhood in another country where that language is dominant, then that particular language is probably not your native language.  Even if you speak mostly another language at home, it may still not be your native language if you speak English most of the time outside of your home.  If in doubt, contact the college and explain your situation.

You can take as many as three SAT Subject Tests in one day.  Try to schedule it so you do only two (maybe two in May and one in June).  Your scores on the third test may be lower because of exhaustion.  Clever scheduling will cost you a bit more money, but it's worth it.  If money is an issue, get a fee waiver from the counselor.

Take non-class-dependent SAT IIs, SAT Reasoning, or ACT at other times when you feel you are ready (take a few sample exams to see if you are really ready...).

There are many tips and tricks that you can learn online, in books, or at preparation classes.  Read them!  Remember your goal here is to get the best score, not to be the best student.  Sometimes to ace tests, you have to do some things differently (e.g., write long, semi-intelligent essays in a brief period of time instead of the best essay possible).  It's sad, but you have to beat the system in order to make it to the best colleges.  (On the other hand, the essays you write for your application should be concise and intelligent...)

SAT Reasoning Test or the ACT?

There are major differences between the two.  Some people feel that SAT Reasoning focuses too much on vocabulary, and its math questions are tricky.  ACT, on the other hand, is more closely aligned with what you learn in high school.  So for many people, it's easier to prepare for one than the other.  You may be able to find out which one suits you better after trying them out and figuring out your potential in raising scores for both of them.  Personally, I got the same equivalent scores on the two tests (those tests are different than today's tests, however).  But for the ACT, I studied for just one month, compared to a whole year for the SAT.

If you do take the ACT, please also take the writing test (unless you do really poorly on the writing test even after repeated practices).  Some schools require it, and you don't want to be missing that score when you apply to such schools.  The key is to practice such writing tests ahead of time.  It's a great skill to learn because writing intelligent essays quickly is absolutely critical in college.  You won't see too many multiple-choice tests in college...

An Extra Test for Non-Native Speakers

There is a test for students whose native language is not English: the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).  The basic idea of TOEFL is to evaluate if one can use and understand English in an academic setting.  It is not there to test how many difficult words you know.  Colleges understand that non-native speakers may score poorly on SAT verbal or ACT but still have enough English ability to do very well in college.  Therefore TOEFL is required for all non-native speakers and it is in your best interest to take TOEFL if you are a non-native speaker.  By showing that you can follow the coursework without language problems, you can somewhat offset the poor scoring on the ACT and (especially) SAT verbal.  In most cases, people who have spent a few years in an English-speaking country should be able to ace TOEFL without much studying.

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