Category Archives: Act Info

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.


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: ( They also offer the ACT Profile, 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:

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  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:

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:   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


Tips for Taking your Optimal Test

AwarenessAwareness of the material: Knowing the material to be covered on the test, and taking practice tests are a must. It is important to have practiced under testing conditions (timed, in a classroom setting) so that you learn the pace in which you should complete each section and so that your body and your brain have a chance to practice being in that (stressful) situation.

Awareness of Directions: Understanding the test’s directions prior to your test date, overall and for each section, will save you time and stress on test day. Prior to taking the test, read the practice test instructions carefully, so you are familiar with them. You don’t need to spend time reading these during testing time if you already understand them. Know how you are Continue reading