A glossary of high school standardized tests

by Grace

From Princeton Review, a glossary of standardized tests

AP (Advanced Placement): End of year, college level exams that are used for admissions purposes at just a few competitive schools (the Ivies, Berkeley, UCLA, USC), and to give students college credit at virtually every college and university. The scoring grid goes from 1-5 (higher is better), with 3 representing a passing score. These tests are traditionally given at a student’s high school during the second and third weeks of May. ACT: An alternative to the SAT. This test tends to reward students who are better in reading and grammar than they are in math. The ACT is the dominant college entrance exam in the Midwest and the South, and is scored on a 1-36 basis (the average score is about 21 or 22). The best time to take this test is in February or April of the junior year and/or September of the senior year. The practice ACT is called the PLAN. To sign up for the actual ACT, go to http://www.act.org.

PSAT: An excellent practice test for the SAT that has absolutely nothing to do with college admissions. Rather it serves the following functions. It is a strong window into your testing soul — if you do well on the PSAT, you are likely to do equally well on the SAT. Very good testers can achieve National Merit stardom, a scholarship contest that is predominantly linked to PSAT scores from the junior year of PSAT testing. Finally, when you sign up for the PSAT, you will be given the chance to join the Student Search Service through which your name will be released to colleges and you will receive ridiculous amounts of junk mail from colleges that both interest and horrify you. The PSAT is offered at your school during the second week or the third Saturday of October and you must sign up for this test through your high school. There is no essay or Algebra II on the PSAT and it’s about half the length of the SAT.

SAT: The grande dame of admissions tests and you know it all too well. The SAT is popular in the West and the East, and is scored from 600-2400. The average score is about a 1560, a good score is anything over 1800, and 2200+ is the number for the most ridiculously competitive schools. The SAT has Math, Reading and Writing sections, includes some Algebra II and an essay, and can be taken 2-3 times since colleges only count students’ highest scores. To sign up to take the actual SAT, you go to http://www.collegeboard.com.

Subject Tests: The Subject Tests are one hour, multiple choice exams that focus on individual subjects. Until recently, these used to be called the SAT II exams. Subject Tests are offered in Biology (Ecology or Molecular), Chemistry, Physics, World History, US History, Math Level I (not accepted by the UC but is accepted by private colleges), Math Level 2, English Literature and a host of foreign languages. These are of some significance in elite private college admissions, and can be submitted to UC schools to show strength in a subject where perhaps your grade is a little soft. If you are fluent in a foreign language, then take the Language with Listening Subject Test on the first Saturday in November. The test is offered in French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Korean and Chinese. You will need to bring a portable CD player with headphones with you to the testing center. You may take up to three Subject Tests in one day (although we wouldn’t recommend it – it’s pretty tiring), and each Subject Test is scored on the 200-800 scale. A good score is 600+, and a great score is anything over 700. To sign up to take the actual Subject Tests, you go to http://www.collegeboard.com.

Related:  A recommended schedule for taking the SAT, ACT, and AP tests (Cost of College)

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