by Colleen McGeehan – Galin Education Director of Instruction
From the PSAT and the ACT to Subject Tests and AP Exams, there are a lot of standardized tests for students to face in their junior year of high school. Let’s take a look at each in chronological order.
First will come the PSAT (aka the preliminary SAT). The PSAT will be given in October. This test is also known as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Only Juniors can qualify for National Merit recognition or scholarship, and only the top 1.25 percent of juniors who take the exam will become semifinalists (sophomores are also given the opportunity to take this test if they want the practice). If you anticipate that your son or daughter might score well on the PSAT, it is worth the time to prepare as the scholarship could really pay off! If you intend to prepare for the PSAT, it might be easiest to transfer that preparation to the SAT (since the two tests are almost identical).
After the PSAT, the next test to worry about is the ACT or the SAT. These tests are considered identical to all colleges and universities. In other words, no school would require you to take one over the other. All schools will use a score conversion chart to equate the scores (for example a score of 1100 on the SAT is equivalent to a score of 22 on the ACT). Many students fret over which test they should prepare for (we’ve written an article about it). There are some subtle differences between the two tests;most notably the ACT has a stand-alone science section and the SAT has a no calculator math section. The best way to decide which test to prepare for is to take a practice test of each type and compare the results. The ACT and SAT both offer a variety of test dates throughout the school year. We typically recommend that students take the test of their choice 2 – 3 times. Keep in mind that all students attending public school in the state of Wisconsin will have to take the ACT in March of their junior year.
Towards the end of Junior year it will come time to think about AP Exams and SAT Subject Tests. Since AP exams typically follow directly from an AP class in which a student is enrolled throughout the year, they don’t always require additional preparation. Subject Tests, on the other hand, can require specific preparation. SAT Subject tests are recommended or required by most competitive colleges. These hour-long multiple choice tests give students a valuable opportunity to showcase their academic strengths. If a student performs well in an AP or advanced course, it is likely they will also do well on the subject test in that subject. The College Board offers 20 different subject tests (the full list can be found here). As with deciding between the ACT and SAT, the best way to decide which subject tests might be a good fit is to take some practice tests and compare the scores!
The variety of tests that students are required to take (or consider taking) throughout junior year can be very overwhelming. But, with a plan that appropriately spaces out the tests, students can approach each test confident, calm, and prepared.