Category Archives: Act Info

The Truth about Test-Optional

jon-tyson-hhq1Lxtuwd8-unsplashI have heard from lots of students and parents over the past week about trouble registering for the August or September SAT, and frustration over June ACT test site cancelations. Meanwhile, the University of California has announced plans to move away from requiring or even considering the SAT or ACT, at least for in-state applicants.

With many colleges going test-optional for the fall of 2020 and beyond, what should students do? How will applicants be evaluated and what does “test-optional” really mean?

At first glance, hearing that colleges are going “test-optional” seems like a compassionate gesture to students who have lost control over a big part of their college admission process. But not all “test-optional” colleges are alike. Only a few schools will be test blind (Cal State Universities, Hampshire College, Loyola University-New Orleans), meaning they will not consider test scores, even if submitted. Most schools will consider test scores as part of their admission decisions if the students submit them, leaving it up to students to decide how important it is to try and secure a seat for a future SAT or ACT, and whether or not to share their test scores.

It is important for students to read each colleges’ test-optional policy statement, as Continue reading

Challenges & Opportunities

openroad2The Coronavirus pandemic has brought on new opportunities and challenges unique to the HS classes of 2021-2023 concerning college admissions.

Opportunities

Students have equal access to colleges! All students can attend virtual admission sessions, take a virtual campus tour, meet virtually with an admission staff member who will be reviewing their applications, and connect with current students to learn more about life on campus. Previously, this access was only available to those able to pay for travel and find room in their schedules.

Additionally, you have access to an online college fair that includes presentations (live and recorded) on college admission topics and insights into what specific colleges are looking for in applicants.

Challenges

Colleges will expect you to take advantage of these resources before you apply. If you are too busy now, understand that you will need to prioritize connecting with your colleges and learning more about them later.

Colleges either care about demonstrated interest and will take that into account when evaluating you for admission, honors programs, and scholarships OR they will care about how well you articulate your fit with the college in your application essays. In the rare case that your school does not care about demonstrated interest and doesn’t ask a “why this college” essay, where you go to college is a big decision. In all situations, you need to learn about them. The resources to do so are waiting for you.

Activity Challenges

Many of you worked hard to come up with activities for your spring and summer, and now plans are canceled or at risk of being canceled. Spend time now preparing a back-up plan.

Opportunities

This will require you to be more creative and take initiative, but those are exactly the qualities colleges love to see! Creating your own activity also shows leadership without needing a title or elected position. Colleges look for “intellectual vitality” too. You can pursue an intellectual passion. Embrace the free time you have by doing something to move you towards your future goals. If one of your strengths is compassion, there are endless ways to volunteer. Even simple acts of kindness show this characteristic.

Challenges with Grades or Lack of Grades

Continue reading

Coronavirus Impact on Standardized Tests: SAT, ACT, AP & IB Exams

coronavirusemoji2Every day, the College Admission Landscape is being altered in response to the Coronavirus. Here are a few very new and important updates on what has recently changed.

How Colleges Are Reacting to the Canceled ACT and SATs

Multiple colleges have announced they will be going test-optional next fall and cite the Coronavirus and test cancelations as the reason. Case Western Reserve University and Boston University, for example, will both be test-optional just for the 2020-2021 application season. Both Oregon State and the University of Oregon have announced they will be test-optional going forward (although the majority of merit-based scholarships at the University of Oregon will still require test scores). Tufts University announced it will have a 3-year trial with test-optional admissions next fall. MIT, while still requiring the ACT or SAT, will no longer consider subject tests. 

Harvard University has stated that 2021 applicants will not face penalties if they are not able to submit AP or SAT Subject Test scores. More colleges will likely announce application changes for next fall soon. Sign up for my blog to be kept up-to-date on major changes.

No May IB Exams

On March 23rd, the International Baccalaureate announced that this year’s IB exams, which were supposed to be given from April 30th to May 22nd, will be canceled due to COVID-19. The IB made this decision based on worldwide school closures and the need to maintain a single grading scale for the 200,000 students in IB courses all over the world.

The IB’s statement details how schools should handle the semester’s remaining coursework, which may include projects and oral examinations (for language classes).

IB exams are normally a key part in determining which students are awarded IB Diplomas or IB Course Certificates. This year, however, students will receive their diplomas or certificates based on their course performance only, rather than on exam scores. These diplomas and certificates are still awarded by the IB, but they’ve extended the deadline for schools to send in their students’ coursework and final grades.

IB exam scores also play a role in college credit. Just like AP exams, IB exams are standardized, so colleges often reward high scores in certain IB exams with course credit in the same areas.

How will colleges assess course credit for students in IB courses with no exams? The IB’s statement did not provide a definite answer to that question, but stated that its members have “consulted with universities and in order to support students [the IB] will continue to work closely with universities and colleges as they receive results.”  Continue reading

College Admissions: The Year in Review

ChangeThe year 2019 did not disappoint those who love change in college admissions. Here are highlights prospective students should be aware of.

Changes to the NACAC Code of Ethics

Last year, the Justice Department stated that the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s (NACAC) rules violated antitrust laws and reduced student choices. In order to preserve the organization (and avoid a costly legal fight), NACAC members reluctantly voted to remove four key protectionary provisions at their annual conference. 

How will this impact students? 

The deleted protections prevented colleges from offering exclusive incentives to students applying Early Decision (e.g., special housing or scholarships), and rules that prevented colleges from recruiting students once they committed to a college. With the restrictions removed, admission experts predict many colleges will begin “poaching” students after the May 1 deadline in order to fill their classes (May 1st is the enrollment deadline for selective colleges, but an increasingly irrelevant deadline to many others); others predict colleges will raise their deposits in order to avoid being raided by other colleges for their students. 

The Admission Scandal and Admission Changes

Of course, the most publicized event of 2019 was the Varsity Blues College Admission Scandal. While there will always be individuals who manipulate the system, the vast majority of those who work in college admissions (including NACAC, HECA, and IECA members) do follow strict ethical guidelines. Time will tell if there will be any positive, systemic changes as a result of the scandal, but many colleges took it as an opportunity (or responsibility) to review admissions policies, especially around recruited athletes. 

A recent Bloomberg article reports that Yale, Pomona, and Bowdoin are performing “spot checks” with this year’s application cycle, taking the time to verify information students put in their applications. “Beyond athletics, we will be implementing measures to reduce the risk of fraud in all applications,” Peter Salovey, Yale University’s president, stated in a letter. The goal is to encourage students to be honest – even about the little things. 

Standardized Test Changes

The College Board, which administers the SAT, started a firestorm when it revealed last spring that it had been quietly sharing an Environmental Context Dashboard (aka, the “adversity score”) on students’ SAT reports with a few colleges (including Duke, Yale, and Florida State) and that many more colleges (100-150) would be seeing this score in the 2019-2020 admissions cycle. 

The adversity score was made up of the average of two rankings, one for the school environment and one for the student’s neighborhood environment. The intent was to offer colleges information about a student’s socioeconomic and educational environment, thereby helping colleges understand how much of an achievement a student’s SAT score is in light of their background. Students, parents, and high school counselors, however, were told they would not be able to see the score attached to students’ files.

The announcement immediately sparked a rush of criticism about both the predictive value and fairness of the test. The College Board responded by agreeing to provide additional background information with colleges instead of one arbitrary score, changed the name of the dashboard to the less objective Landscape, and agreed to share details with the public on Landscape’s methodology. 

ACT

In October, the ACT announced big changes to what it will offer students this fall. Starting with the September 2020 test, the ACT will offer Section Retesting, a listed Superscore, and online full-length tests with faster scoring (two business days).

Section Retesting will allow students to retake one, two, or three sections instead of having to retake the entire test, but is only available to students who have already taken a full-length test. There is no limit to the number of times students can retake sections. While this sounds enticing to ACT test-takers, experts argue it favors the wealthy and will drive up the scoring curve. 

The ACT will also be adding a student’s calculated “Superscore” (a composite of a student’s top section scores across multiple test dates) to students’ Section Retesting report. The ACT is strongly encouraging colleges to allow superscoring (which would save families additional fees when sending multiple reports), but colleges set their own policies regarding test scores. It remains to be seen if and how colleges will change their policies in light of ACT’s enhancements.

Test Optional?

A coalition of advocacy groups filed a lawsuit in November against the University of California, demanding that its nine undergraduate campuses stop requiring applicants to submit ACT or SAT results. The group argues that the standardized tests are inherently biased against the poor. If the UC system becomes test optional, many predict this will drastically change the college admission landscape and more colleges would follow. A review of SAT and ACT relevance by a UC task force is expected to conclude by the end of the 2019-20 academic year.

Other Trends in College Admissions

To learn about other trends in College Admissions, read NACAC’s State of College Admission Counseling Report. Highlights include:  

-Colleges are increasing their use of selecting Early Decision applicants to fill a large portion of their classes.

-More colleges are offering to put students on their waitlists, but admit very few of them. 

-A high Student-to-Counselor ratio remains in schools (in 2016–17 each public school counselor was responsible for an average of 455 students).

-Admission Offices continue to identify grades, high school curriculum, and test scores as top factors for first-time freshmen.

-Colleges, on average, accept 66.7% of their applicants.

 

Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon and is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready.

PSAT Results: What do they mean?

psat_graphicIf you or your student took the PSAT in October, you should be receiving the score reports on December 10thHere is a video explaining how to find your score report and here is one to learn how to read your report. Please read below for some tips on understanding your scores and what do to with them.

The PSAT is scored on the same scale as the SAT, but the maximum you can score on each of the two sections of the PSAT (Evidence-based Reading & Writing plus Math) is 760 (for a maximum total of 1520), while the SAT’s two sections are scored on an 800-point scale (maximum total score of 1600).

What you score on the PSAT should equate to a projected SAT score if you took it now. However, since the tests are normed to the student population, scaling from PSAT to SAT is actually going to look different at each point within the bell curve. Additionally, be aware that the PSAT percentiles are often higher than what is reported on students’ SAT reports, with a number of students scoring below their predicted SAT scores based on the PSAT percentiles. This can be due to a number of factors, including the fact that PSAT percentiles are based on averages of “all students” vs. just students who took the PSAT:

  • Nationally Representative Percentile – shows how your scores compare to scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don’t take the PSAT.
  • User Percentile – shows how your score compares to scores of U.S. students in your grade who typically take the PSAT.

The percentiles on the SAT, in comparison, show how you did compared to other students who actually took the test. Read more here to understand why percentiles are important on the SAT (more so than they are on the PSAT). Regardless, to make the most of your PSAT, make sure that you and your student log in here to see their full report, watch this video on how to read the report, and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report?

There is a total score, a math score, an evidence-based reading and writing (ERW) score, a “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile(s),” three test scores, two cross-test scores, seven subtest scores, and a National Merit® Scholarship Corporation Selection Index.

Each of these sets of scores has a different score range. The total score ranges from 320 to 1520; Math and EBRW (Evidence-Based Reading & Writing) scores range from 160 to 760; test scores and cross-test scores range from 8 to 38; subscores range from 1 to 15, and the NMSQT Selection Index ranges from 48 to 228.

The subscores and cross-test scores can give you insight on how to study for your next test, showing areas of strength and areas where to focus. The percentiles tell you how competitive you are compared to other test takers or potential test-takers, but don’t let a high percentile fool you into thinking you don’t need to prep/study for the SAT or ACT.

Here is what you should do with the results: Continue reading

PSAT Results Are Coming. What’s Next?

testSophomore and Juniors:

If you or your student took the PSAT in October, you should be receiving the score reports next week. Here is a video explaining how to read your report, and continue reading below for some tips on understanding your scores.

The PSAT is said to be scored on the same scale as the SAT, but the maximum you can score on each of the two sections of the PSAT (Evidence-based Reading & Writing plus Math) is 760 (for a maximum total of 1520), while the SAT’s two sections are scored on an 800-point scale (maximum total score of 1600).

What you score on the PSAT should equate to a projected SAT score if you took the SAT now. However, since the tests are normed to the student population, scaling from PSAT to SAT is actually going to look different at each point within the bell curve. Additionally, be aware that the PSAT percentiles are often higher than what is reported on students’ SAT reports, with a number of students scoring below their predicted SAT scores based on the PSAT percentiles. This can be due to a number of factors, including the fact that PSAT percentiles are based on averages of “all students” vs. just students who took the PSAT. Here is how the PSAT creates these percentiles:

  • Nationally Representative Percentile – shows how your scores compare to scores of all US students in your grade, including those who typically don’t take the PSAT.
  • User Percentile – shows how your score compares to scores of U.S. students in your grade who typically take the PSAT.

The percentiles on the SAT, in comparison, show how you did compared to other students who actually took the test. Read more here to understand why percentiles are important on the SAT (more so than they are on the PSAT). Regardless, to make the most of your PSAT, make sure that you and your student log in here to see their full report and continue reading for more details and what to do next.

Why are there so many different scores on the report? Continue reading

Should I care about the PSAT?

by Kristen Miller @ College Bound & Ready psat_graphic

The PSAT/NMSQT (National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) will be offered in high schools around the country next week (offered 10/11 or 10/14). Sophomores are usually required or are strongly encouraged to take the exam, and juniors have the option to take it.  For each group of students, the PSAT is worth considering and taking seriously.  Even though college admission offices will not use the scores to assess admissions applications, the PSAT is important and students should familiarize themselves with the test ahead of time.  Here’s why:

For sophomores and juniors alike, the PSAT is great prep for the SAT and a diagnostic tool for determining which college entrance test to take (SAT or ACT). If students come out of the PSAT feeling like the test was doable, perhaps they should focus on studying for the SAT.  If the test proves too challenging, students might consider the ACT. The PSAT is slightly shorter than the SAT (165 minutes vs. 180 minutes), but the structure and content are the same on both tests.  Even though there are slightly fewer questions per section on the PSAT, the amount of time allotted per question is also the same (except for math, where PSAT takers have a few more seconds/question). The main difference between the two tests is the scale (the PSAT is out of 1520 points; the SAT is out of 1600) and the fact that the PSAT does not have an essay (it is optional for SAT test takers).

With the PSAT, students will get a feel for the no-calculator math section, the “great global conversation” passages in the reading section, and the charts and tables in the writing section. You will gain a better sense of which sections present pacing problems, as well as an awareness of math or grammar content that might catch you by surprise. With that knowledge, and score results (released in December), students will be better prepared to decide either to take the SAT or switch tests and prepare for the ACT, since both are accepted at colleges without preference. PSAT scores can also give students insight into how competitive an applicant they are for their college list, which juniors should start creating the 2nd half of the school year.

In addition to exposing students to the content and pacing of the SAT, the practice of taking the PSAT under testing conditions is great conditioning for taking any standardized college admissions test.  Part of being a successful test-taker is being able to work at peak capacity for an extended length of time, without getting too nervous or too fatigued. Students are no longer reading books for enjoyment, and studies show this contributes to struggles with intense concentration for long periods of time, as well as having less critical thinking skills. Plus, it is natural to feel nervous about taking a test that carries such weight, as it appears to in college admission chances.  As with many things, being successful at taking college admission tests requires practice in order to improve concentration and control anxiety.

Some schools use the PSAT for AP course placement (check with your counseling office if you are unsure). If this the case, you might want to do some preparation between now and next week to ensure the score you will provide to your school represents your best. Download the two, free practice PSATs from the College Board website and devote time this weekend to working through some timed sections.  Also, consider using some test strategies. You might consider guessing on the last few difficult math problems to save time for the low-to-mid level questions, if during your practice sections you are unable to answer all questions in the allotted time.  If there are specific question types that trip you up, you should go to Khan Academy for tips and practice problems. Perhaps you should practice annotating the reading passages in order to catch as much detail as possible the first read through. In addition to these strategies, you’ll want to check with your school to determine the AP qualifying policy and relevant cut-off scores for your desired classes.

For juniors, the PSAT is used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC) as an initial screen of candidates for the National Merit® Scholarship Program, an academic competition for recognition and scholarships. Recipients and finalists must score in the top one tenth of one percent. The cutoff scores to become eligible for the corporate scholarships and college-sponsored scholarships offered by some colleges and universities varies by year as well as by state (Oregon’s Class of 2018 cutoff was 220). In some cases, these scholarships cover full tuition, in other cases, $2,500. For more information, visit NMSC’s website (or see the FAQ below).

There are many free resources to familiarize yourself with the PSAT test.  A few hours of preparation can make the 2-hour and 45-minute test less painful, and perhaps even profitable (by earning a scholarship). Overall, the PSAT is great practice and a great launching point for college planning.  Please contact me if you have questions or to see how I might help with your college planning needs.

FAQ:test

What is a good PSAT score for sophomores?

What is a good PSAT score for juniors?

What was the Oregon NMSQT score for 2018?

How is the NMSQT cutoff score calculated?

 

 

 

 

 

 

ACT Changes and Tips for Success

Everyone has probably heard about changes to the SAT, and its initial debut coming up on March 5th; but not many people are aware of changes the ACT recently made.  The most notable feature is the ACT essay and how it is scored.  There has been a bit of controversy about the new scoring, as many students who have historically done well on the ACT essay are finding their scores surprisingly low.  There are also new items on the score report, including predictions of how well a student will do in college level classes, that will seen by colleges but not students!  Read below for more detail on the changes and tips for success (if you’re short on time, focus on the bold text).

Before I explain the changes and suggested strategies, I want to review the test structure. The ACT has four test sections: A 75-question/45-minute English section followed by a 60-question/60-minute Math section; then a 10-15 minute break followed by a 40-question/35-minute Reading section and a 40-question/35-minute Science section.  Then there is a break, and an optional 40-minute Essay.  The ACT is scored on a composite of 1-36; a rounded average of the four section scores. There is no penalty for wrong answers.  One important thing to note is that as you get into the upper echelons of scoring, answering one additional answer correctly can raise a section score by 2 points. So it is very important to stay focused and answer all questions (even if all you can do is guess, or better yet, eliminate answers then guess).

The English section consists of Fundamentals of Grammar, Usage and Punctuation. Math covers everything students have learned from 3rd grade up until now.  There are trigonometry questions and pre-calculus topics but no actual calculus.  Reading requires the student to find content and draw meaning from various passages. The Science section is more about analyzing graphs, charts and tables to draw conclusions than it is about scientific topics.  The Essay involves creating a logical, persuasive argument that supports the student’s position as well as analyzes others’ perspectives.

Tips for improving your score in each section:

English: Review grammar and usage rules, read the questions carefully, look for clues in the questions to guide you to the correct and incorrect answers, and reread the sentence with your answer to make sure it makes sense.

Math: Review high school , middle school and elementary school math. Most of what is on the test will be from material you learned a while ago (i.e. absolute values). Look at the answers before doing calculations to rule out obviously wrong answer choices; and plug in answer choices and substitute values to help get through this section more quickly.  Don’t be afraid to draw charts and work out problems on your booklet to help you.

Reading:  Speed Read!  Skim the passage first for overall structure or go right to the questions first.  Use your pencil to highlight important elements of the questions and/or passage.  Eliminate answers that are obviously wrong.

Science:  Be familiar with Experimental Procedure and ready to analyze both procedure and results. Know where to find the information. If you’re asked about procedure, look to the text first.  If you are asked about results, go to the chart or graph first.  It is a very fast section. Speed is important, but be mindful to read questions and data carefully.

Update on the Changes:

Starting in June 2014, the ACT quietly introduced some career-focused changes. It wants to be the #1 assessment test for schools beginning in the 3rd grade: (http://www.discoveractaspire.org/). They also offer the ACT Profile https://www.actprofile.org, which includes career-readiness assessments and a social media component to share college-related information with others.

The ACT test itself has increased the difficulty of its math questions slightly, which can be helpful to students in higher-level math as the material is more recent.  One of the reading topics now requires a comparative evaluation between two passages.  The science section has the same number of questions as before, but one less science passage (6 vs. 7). There is a new writing prompt format and time limit (now 40 minutes in length vs. 30). And the Score Report has changed, adding additional elements that colleges can see but students cannot!  (Look here to see what colleges see: http://bit.ly/actcollegereport.)

The “Enhanced” writing test, introduced in September 2015, is intended to better represent high school writing and provide more detailed data to high schools and colleges.  So far, it has resulted in a much more challenging scoring structure. Two readers still read each essay, with each providing four scores on a scale from 1-6 in the following areas: 1) Ideas and Analysis 2) Development and Support 3) Organization 4) Language Use and Conventions.  All the scores are added together for a possible score range of 8-48. That score is then scaled to a range from 1-36.  The new scores have been generally lower.  Before September, a score of 8 indicated college-readiness, and now would be recorded as a 25; an old 9 is a 29, 10 is 31, and 11 is a 34.  In comparison to a top score of 36, a writing score of 25 might seem shocking to a student with a composite score of 30.

There are some reported discrepancies that can’t be explained by the new scaling system alone.  If you receive what you believe is a low writing score, you can use the rescoring feature for a $50 fee.  For more information, check out http://bit.ly/essaycorrection.  If the ACT improves your score, the $50 fee will be waived. I am hoping that the scoring issues will be corrected, and students won’t have to use this feature.  It’s important to note that more colleges are choosing to waive the essay requirements for both the ACT and the new SAT.  To learn individual school’s policies, check out the admissions page on the college’s website or use this tool: http://actapps.act.org/writPrefRM/.

The new score report has added a STEM score. They simply average the Math and Science score. They also added an ELA score, which is only calculated if the student has taken the optional writing portion, as it is an average of the English, Reading and Writing sections.  They’ve added a “Text complexity progress indicator”, which is based on responses to the Reading test. It assesses students’ ability to recognize subtlety in the text, nuances in language use and structural complexity of paragraphs and sentences. Students are noted as “below proficient”, “proficient” or “above proficient”.

There is one new thing that colleges will see on the report that students and parents will not be able to see (learn more about it here: http://www.act.org/standard/).   It provides colleges with grade predictions in a variety of general coursework based on whether ACT scores meet college readiness standards/benchmarks. What are these Benchmarks? 18 for English, 22 for Math, 22 for Reading and 23 for Science are the scores the ACT has determined makes a student “College Ready”.

On the report colleges see, the “GPA Chances of Success” predicts a student’s chances of getting a “C” or better and a “B” or better in core classes, compared to other students.  Here’s one potentially troublesome situation I see: Students are asked to fill out a lot of personal information when registering, including grades, interests, activities and possible future majors.  What if the student indicates they are interested in accounting but scores 19 on the math section?  Colleges will see on the student’s ACT report his chances of getting a “C” or better in college algebra is only 18%.  This might be a red flag to colleges.

Most colleges have not stated how or if they will be using this information. Since this is unknown, I recommend that students only fill in the required information when registering for the ACT (or SAT).  If students are looking for career exploration ideas, they can try resources such as My Next Move or My Majors, where there information will not be used in college admissions.

ACT or Redesigned SAT?

SATvsACTMost of you have heard about the redesigned SAT debuting in March 2016.  For seniors, this change is most likely too late to affect their college planning, but for students graduating 2017 or later, a tougher decision needs to be made.  The current SAT is much different than the ACT, which made it easier for most students to decide between one test or the other.  The current SAT is known as a “reasoning” test, vs. the ACT which is known as more of an “achievement” test.  Because the SAT has been losing ground to its competitor, its redesign makes it much more similar to the ACT.  Students will have to spend a little more time, thought and perhaps full practice tests in order to determine which test to focus on.  Here are some tips for making that decision: Continue reading

Big Changes to the College Process

Big changes have been made recently to how students apply to colleges and how they apply for financial aid.  If you have a student graduating high school in 2017 or later, definitely read on.planningphoto

Most of you have heard about the redesigned SAT debuting in March 2016.  For seniors, this change is most likely too late to affect their college planning, but for students graduating 2017 or later, a tougher decision needs to be made.  The current SAT is much different than the ACT, which made it easier for most students to decide between one test or the other.  The current SAT is more of an “aptitude” test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities; the ACT is known as more of a curriculum-based “achievement” test, measuring what a student has learned in school. Because the SAT has been losing ground to its competitor, the redesign makes it much more similar to the ACT.  Students will have to spend a little more time, thought and perhaps full practice tests in order to determine which test to focus on.  See my blog on SAT vs. ACT to help you determine which test to take.   Continue reading