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Basics of College Testing
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The Basics of College Testing
Standardized admission testing is often a requirement for admission to four-year (and some two-year) colleges and universities, so it is important to understand the options that are available, how to register for them and how to interpret and use the results. Fortunately, the two major testing agencies provide many good resources for students and their parents. Once you are familiar with the types of testing and where to look for answers you will be well equipped to advise and help students with all their testing needs.
What Is the Purpose of Standardized Tests?
High Schools use a variety of grading scales and curricula, which can make comparison of students' grades difficult for admission officers. Standardized tests provide colleges with a common measure to help them sort through credentials from thousands of high school students across the country and around the world. Additionally, standardized tests are one indicator of a student's readiness to do college-level work. (Others include clas rank, GPA, extracurricular activities, personal essay, and recommendation letters.) Admission officers can compare test scores among applicants to help in the process. Test scores may be used as a criterion for awarding merit-based financial aid.
Who Are the Testing Agencies?
The two major testing agencies are the ACT (formerly known as the American College Testing Program) and the College Board. Both are helpful in providing materials for counselors, students and parents. Students should become familiar with the two agencies' Web sites: www.act.org and www.collegeboard.com. Each offers important information regarding test dates, registration, preparation, and score reports and interpretation.
What Are the Tests?
The most commonly used tests in college preparation and admission are the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifiying Test (PSAT/NMSQT), PLAN (Preliminary ACT), SAT I, SAT II Subject Tests, ACT, and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Advanced Placement (AP) is also a standardized test that some high school students take, but these tests are more commonly considered advanced coursework assessments, rather than college admission qualifying tests. (However, some colleges may consider them as part of the student's overall academic profile.)
The PLAN is the practice test for the ACT. PLAN measures achievement in the same four areas as the ACT does, which are English, math, reading, and science reasoning. The score report provides information to students about the skills they have learned and those they have yet to master. Students also receive career planning information, based on their responses to a career assessment inventory (which is informational only and does not affect their test score results). Learn more online at http://www.act.org/plan.
The ACT assessment is more of an achievement test than the SAT. It is accepted at most colleges in lieu of the SAT I and sometimes in lieu of both the SAT I and II Subject Tests. ACT's Web site states that the test "is designed to assess high school students' general educational development and their ability to complete college level work." ACT is a multiple-choice test containing four parts: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. Four separate scores are given on a scale of 1-36, and a composite score (averaged from the subscores) is also provided on the same scale. Seven sub-scores help identify particular areas of strength or weakness. ACT provides a clear, comprehensive booklet to help the student and counselor interpret the scores. ACT now offers an optional Writing Test (comparable to the SAT I essay section), designed to measure a student's skill in essay -writing. Details are available online at http://www.act.org.
Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT)
The PSAT/NMSQT is a practice test for the SAT. It measures verbal, reading, math , and writing skills. It is also the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Competition. High scorers are identified, using regional score cutoffs, and invited to participate in the scholarship competition. PSAT/NMSQT scores are also used for the National Achievement and National Hispanic Recognition programs. The PSAT is offered in the fall and is school-based. (In other words, the school does not have to be a test center to administer it to its students, unlike the SAT and ACT tests.) A school can only administer on one of two dates, typically a Wednesday or a Saturday in mid-October. The tests are designed to be given to juniors as a preparation for the spring SAT, although many schools also administer it to sophomores for additional practice. The PSAT can be a useful tool, because the score report gives a customized analysis of the results for each student, indicating where their strengths and weaknesses lie and what they might do to improve.
SAT I: Reasoning Test
The SAT I includes three sections: critical reading, math, and writing. The critical reading section, formerly known as the verbal section, will include short reading passages along with the existing long reading passages. Analogies have been eliminated, but sentence-completion questions and passage-based reading questions remain. The expanded math section now includes topics, such as exponential growth, absolute value, and functinal notation, and place greater emphasis on such other topics as linear function, manipulations with exponents, and properties of tangent lines. The quantitative comparison questions will no longer be part of the SAT I. The writing section has both multiple choice questions and a short essay. The math section will include some Algebra II for the first time, and quanititative comparisons will no longer be part of the test. There will be three scores given for the new SAT I: 200-800 on critical reading, 200-800 on math, and 200-800 on writing. For more information visit the College Board Web site at http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/sat/about/SATI.html
SAT II Subject Tests
The SAT II Subject Tests are available in many different subject areas and are required by some of the highly selective colleges and universitites. (Fewer than 10 percent of colleges require them.) According to the College Board's Quick Reference Guide, "The SAT II Subject Tests measure students' knowledge and skills in a particular subject and their abililty to apply that knowledge." Students should consider taking an SAT II Subject Test upon completion of their highest level of high school preparation in that subject.
English Proficiency Tests for English Language Learners
The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), available through the Educational Testing Service of the College Board, tests students for whom English is a second language. This test reports a total score and subscores for three sections: listening comprehension, structure and written expression, and vocabulary and reading comprehension. TOEFL is offered online in most regions of the world. In areas where computer access is limited, a paper-and -pencil test is available. Colleges that require the SAT may also require the TOEFL and in most cases, will focus more strongly on the TOEFL than the verbal portion of the SAT. Learn more athttp://ww.ets.org/toefl/. Another available test is Levels of English Proficiency (LOEP), used primarily by open admission colleges to place students in the appropriate English course.
Advanced Placement (AP)
Although not specifically used for college admission, Advanced Placement (AP) is a program in which college-level courses are offered in high schools, and students who score high enough on AP exams may be able to qualify for credit for, or exemption from, introductory college courses. Thirty-four exams are offered in 19 subject areas. A little-known fact is that students who have not taken AP courses may sit for AP exams. AP exams are given in May at individual high schools. Details are available on the College Board Web site atwww.apcentral.collegeboard.com.
Source: NACAC Fundamentals of College Admission Counseling Manual
Visit Learning Express Library at www.infohio.org to take practice tests for the ACT, SAT and AP courses. You must log in at school the first time to create a username and password to make this product accessible at home. See Mrs. Van Wey in the library if you need help.
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