Late Spring-Early Fall ACT and SAT Testing

The end of the school year and early fall can be a great time to take or retake college admission tests to try for higher scores. When scheduled at these times there are fewer competing commitments and distractions that might interfere with solid preparation. Neither the ACT nor the SAT is administered over the summer months. The last opportunity to take the ACT at this point is June 8. The initial registration date has passed, but you may register on a late basis until May 17 and pay an additional fee. The last opportunity to take the SAT prior to the summer hiatus is June 1. Late registration for this test is by May 22, also with a late fee. The basic charge for the ACT without the optional essay is $35; with the essay the cost is $50.50. I recommend taking the test at least once with the essay, as some colleges require it. The basic SAT cost is $50. Low-income families can request to have fees waived by both companies.

The earliest fall administrations of each test are as follows: ACT September 21 (with a registration deadline of Aug. 23), and SAT October 5 (with a September 6 deadline).  Remember that you may take tests numerous times and most schools will utilize your best outcomes in their admissions decision. While it is the case that more than 850 schools are now test optional (meaning that you needn’t submit test scores), many schools still rely on testing as an aspect of admissions decisions, and especially, for awarding merit scholarships. Therefore you don’t need to overly stress about ACT and SAT testing, but you should give the tests your very best effort, including plenty of advance preparation.

The official test books from the two test companies feature actual retired ACT and SAT tests along with in-depth information about skills and strategies for each test segment. Titles and ordering information for each are:

The Real ACT Prep Guide, 3rd edition. ISBN-13: 978-0-7689-3432-8

The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd edition. ISBN-10: 0874478529

Also both companies feature a full test with answers and preparation suggestions on their websites:

The above methods of self-preparation work well for students who are highly disciplined and self-directed. For those who work better with someone leading the way and explaining questions and answers in detail, Pinnacle Education will be offering both individual and small group test prep in advance of the June and September/October dates. Call or email for additional information:


ACT vs SAT: Which is Best?

Most students perform better on one exam versus the other given the slightly different orientations of the tests.  I typically advise my student-clients to try both after reviewing test strategies and questions from each. Then if one proves to be the stronger choice we emphasize that test in our work together.

These days most colleges will accept either test, since there is a widely used concordance chart that permits direct comparison of outcomes. The tests are more alike than not, but here are some of the key differences that may suggest a stronger performance on one of the exams:

Generally speaking, the SAT plays to students who read a lot (including reading for pleasure), and consequently have larger vocabularies. In my opinion, this is the most critical difference between the tests. The SAT automatically includes an essay-writing component, although with the ACT this is something that must be added to the test registration if desired. The majority of more highly selective colleges request the essay component, although many colleges are okay with the ACT without essay.

While the SAT is the longer test (at 200 minutes) when compared with the ACT w/out essay (175 minutes), the ACT has longer test sections, so students with attention-span issues may not do as well. The SAT rotates students through nine alternating test sections lasting 25, 20, and 10 minutes, while the ACT offers four sections lasting 45, 60, 35 and 35 minutes. Among the ACT segments is a science segment that requires students to interpret data charts and illustrations, so students who are into science this may do well in this area.

The ACT covers more advanced math problems with the inclusion of some trigonometry, although it is generally considered the broader test, relating more directly to courses taken in high school. The SAT is more esoteric, requiring more complex, critical thinking to answer many of the questions. This is seen in the essay components as well, with the ACT questions appearing to be more straightforward.

A lot of good info is available on the test websites, including local administration dates and sample tests and questions:

Pinnacle just concluded a 3-week ACT series and is about to launch a four to six-week SAT series for students in the Denver area testing on Nov 5 or Dec 3  For more information see the website:


Early Fall College Planning

What should high school students and their families be doing in the late summer/early fall to be ahead of the college planning game? Here is what I would suggest:

Seniors: Do as much as you can before senior year starts. You will be distracted, you will be busy, and besides applying to colleges your main job will be keeping your grades up. Start your college essays; you can have them well underway if not finished before your classmates — one less stress during crunch time come November-December, which is prime application-time. Check the essay prompts for the Common Application, which are pretty typical.  Even if you are asked to write a different kind of essay by a particular school, cutting and pasting sections is often possible.

Also, do some initial scholarship research to see what you might qualify for (also a time-saver later), and visit any schools you have a clear interest in that you haven’t visited. Many colleges regard an official visit as an indication of sincere interest, so don’t miss out on communicating this.

Juniors: Do some serious prep for the ACT/SAT (see my blog of Feb 21, ‘11) and take each exam.  If your results aren’t stellar determine which was your strongest test, do more prep and re-take it.  Schools will only consider your highest scores, so there is no downside to repeating these tests.

Make this a standout academic year, as junior year grades are what you will be showcasing in the majority of your applications come fall of senior year. Maintain one or two of your past extracurriculars, as these will be scrutinized as well.

Begin building a college list and touring colleges in earnest to identify what kinds of schools match you, and to establish your interest.  Participate in some of the college fairs that happen locally in the fall. This is a great chance to learn more about all kinds of colleges, collect information, and meet admissions reps.

By all means, consider working with an independent educational consultant!:)

I made additional recommendations for high school sophomores and freshmen in my past blog of Sept 28, ‘09; check it out!


Test Optional Colleges

An evolving trend in the world of higher education is a swing toward test-optional colleges, meaning schools where students are not required to submit SAT or ACT scores. According to the National Center For Fair and Open Testing, the current count of such institutions is over 850, and is expected to continue growing. The list includes many selective and highly selective colleges, especially private liberal arts colleges, and some state universities. So far no Ivies have gone T.O. (after all, the SAT was originally developed as a means for Harvard to judge applicant scholarship worthiness). The following is a short illustrative list:

  • Bard
  • Bowdoin
  • California State system
  • Denison
  • Franklin & Marshall
  • Lawrence
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Middlebury
  • Rollins
  • University of Arizona
  • University of Kansas

Test optional is good news for students who are bright and hard-working who may not perform well on standardized tests, and it is good news for colleges, as the trend allows them to escape to some extent from the tyranny of publishing ever higher student score ranges to sustain their selectivity profile.

The diminishment of the importance of testing follows from long years of criticism of the cultural bias of such tests and their potential lack of validity. Admissions professionals at many colleges affirm that the strongest predictor of student success in college is performance in a rigorous high school curriculum.

For a comprehensive list of test-optional colleges, see