Juniors who took the PSAT/NMSQT test in October will get their scores back next week. Consider this the starting gun for your test preparation and planning efforts over the next 12 months. Not sure what else the test and its many scores mean?
Here are our top 3 tips for acting on your PSAT score report:
What Is the PSAT and Is It Important?
The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®) is a standardized test administered by the College Board and co-sponsored by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which is supposed to measure a student’s readiness for college by testing their skills in reading, writing, and math. It also initiates a student’s participation in the National Merit Scholarship Competition, which awards scholarships to more than 15,000 seniors each year.
The PSAT test is designed to mirror the SAT up to a certain level of difficulty, and thereby give an accurate assessment of how a student will do on actual SAT tests in future months. You should think of it as a baseline for your future test scores, one from which to increase.
The score is NOT important to your college applications, but it IS important to how you plan for and tackle the admissions tests you will use as part of your applications. A thorough analysis of your score report will identify areas to focus your prep time on before your first actual test.
Getting Your Score
For Maryland students, your score will be available through www.psat.org/myscore on December 11, 2019. If you registered for the test in October, use your existing account. If not, you will need to set up an account to access your score report [parents: you can search for your student once your account is created]. Once you are logged in, you can follow the prompts to review and download your score report.
What Do the Scores Mean?
Total Score: a scaled score meant to be comparable between test dates, so your 1420 in 2019 should equate to the same score in 2018 even though the test material was different. Since the PSAT is slightly easier than the SAT, the range of the Total Score is from 320-1520, whereas the SAT is 400-1600, but the intent is for a student to know how well they would do with similar material on the SAT. The SAT will just include a few questions of a higher difficulty.
Test Scores or Section Scores: These are the scores for the individual sections of the test and range from 8-38. These are used to compute your Total Score, but they also play a role in your NMSC Selection Index Score, which will be used to rank candidates for National Merit Finalists in each state.
Subscores: You will find the most important information for improving your future SAT scores in the online score report’s Subscore section, where you can see your scores for each of the types of questions on the test. Knowing these details allows you to focus your prep and maximize your preparation time. The Question Level Feedback section of the score report will also help you hone in on the question types and skills that are tripping you up.
Percentiles: Ignore them and focus on improving your overall score. At best, they show you how you ranked against everyone who tested with you that day, but they will not reflect your potential rank against those in your test pool when you take the actual SAT, and the difference could be substantial (for example, if you were taking the March test, which is the year’s most competitive).
Prepare Your Test Plan Now
Whether you scored a 1480 or a 900, take the time between December and February to get your 2020 test plan in place:
National Merit Scholarship Competition
For the top 1% of test takers (roughly 15,000 students a year), their PSAT scores will give them the chance to compete with others for tens of millions of dollars in scholarships through the National Merit Scholarship Competition. Your three section scores will be used to create a NMSC Selection Index Score (double the sum of your three scores). Each state has a cutoff score that will be announced in September. Students who’s NMSCSI score is at or above this level will become a National Merit Finalist and will be invited to submit an application for a scholarship award during their senior year.
Have your score report and still have questions? Contact us for a free consultation on planning your upcoming admissions tests.
Ready to see how your ACT score will compare? Schedule a free ACT diagnostic test with us on December 14, 2019 or January 11, 2020. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your seat.
You have questions—we have the answers.
With the October announcement from ACT about changes in scoring options for the test starting next school year, our parents have been asking if their students should delay taking the ACT until the fall.
Our answer is no. Right now, we have no indication that colleges, especially top-tier schools, will change their current score reporting and consolidation practices (such as super scoring), and the ACT has not given guidance on how it will implement the new scoring and retesting options.
We feel confident that you can take spring ACTs to get your first test in, and if the potential benefits of the new ACT practices are adopted by most schools next year, then you will be able to utilize them by taking an additional test in the fall to potentially improve your scores.
Here are the main changes ACT announced last month:
1) ACT Section Retesting – allows students who have already taken one ACT to retake one section in the test on a future date.
If this is accepted widely by colleges, it will help most students achieve a final composite score more reflective of their abilities since we find it rare for a student to do their absolute best on every section of a test in one sitting. We hope that it will not lead to students re-testing repeatedly on one or more sections just to achieve minimal gains.
2) Superscoring – If you take the test more than once, ACT will report a superscore combining your best section scores from all your tests.
When combined with individual section re-testing, this new option could certainly have benefits for every student, with the caveats discussed above. In truth, many schools already superscore if you send them all your test scores.
3) Online Testing – Promising faster results (two days vs. two weeks) and easier administration, the test will be available to take on computers at limited testing centers starting next year and then rolled out to all national test day centers in future years. The paper test will continue to be available at all centers.
The initial advantage we see here will be for Seniors who want to increase their score during fall or early winter test dates ahead of filing their applications.
We will provide future updates as these changes are implemented and the schools react.
Learn more about the changes ACT announced.
Have a question you need answered? Call or email us; we’re always happy to help.
By this time next year, you will be putting the finishing touches on a year of hard work, exploration, and self-discovery unlike anything you may do again in your lifetime. Daunting, yes, but remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You have been preparing for this coming year for more than a decade, and if you stay on track and follow some simple guidelines along the way, you will conquer the college admissions process in one piece and position yourself for future academic success at any number of schools.
At the highest level, your plan should include some key components for academics, testing and prep, and school research and selection. Each will be a facet of the college applications you will submit next year.
Here is our roadmap for how to break the process up into manageable chunks and which components to tackle as the year progresses.
Start researching schools by asking yourself some basic questions:
You want a big list here to start – do not exclude based on costs or academics at this point. Also try to avoid biases. Yes, Harvard is a great school, but it’s not for most people. Maybe that small school two hours away has everything you need to succeed. Take the time to explore what is out there and what checks the boxes on your personal requirements. The goal is to find a large number of possible targets.
The fall is also a good time to attend college fairs and tap into local resources such as your school’s workshops on financial aid and career planning.
Prioritize your studies over non-essential activities for the next two semesters. An extra 30 minutes a day can go a long way towards good grades all year and raising your GPA overall.
Your courses should be individually but not collectively challenging. You can take all Advance Placement classes, but you would be better off doing well in a few classes versus middling in all of them because you took on too much. Most importantly, do well in the classes that will be a focus of your college studies.
We recommend Juniors take diagnostic tests in the fall and then try to get at least one test (either SAT or ACT depending on their diagnostic testing) in before winter break. If you are not ready to test in the fall, be sure to plan you spring test schedule carefully and allow time to prep before your first test.
SAT: December 7
ACT: December 14
Start to whittle your list down by eliminating schools that have major negatives compared to the others. Maybe it’s too far away or you know you would never enjoy being on such a small campus.
Once your list is down to 10-15, start to plan how you can visit as many of them as reasonably possible. We would prioritize your target schools, then safe schools, then stretch schools. The process of visiting schools can be time consuming and expensive, so look for ways to explore schools through online resources like videos, chats, and reviews before deciding to visit in real life.
A plethora of digital tools exist to help you with the research. One we really like is www.petersons.com, which has a variety of search options and will suggest similar schools to ones you identify from your initial searches.
The process right now should be about easily disqualifying as many as possible and solidifying your top choices through positive reinforcements you discover (a specialized program, a unique scholarship, affordable and close to home).
Be sure to finish the semester strong, enjoy your winter break (really take a rest if you can), and hit the ground running after break – your grades the second semester will be a critical factor in admissions decisions 12 months later.
Second, and just as important, be extremely careful with your senior-year course selection, which many schools do at the start of second semester. If your school list research is well advanced, you should know the requirements of your top schools. Don’t accidentally disqualify yourself from consideration by not taking that fourth year of science your top school requires.
With the break in testing till February, we recommend that juniors who have not already tested should prep during the months after break ends so they are prepared for the early spring tests and have the chance to retest in late spring, summer or fall if necessary.
PSAT scores come back on December 11 for Maryland students, so many use that as an inflection point to decide what test they will take and what prep plan they will employ. Get ahead of that wave if possible.
ACT: February 8
No matter what else you do, prioritize your studies this semester. Back off on non-essential activities and dedicate an additional hour or two a week to getting good grades. Everything else you are doing to bolster your application will be for naught if your grades falter during this period.
At this point, you should have a strong list of schools and a plan for visits or outreach.
We like visiting during the spring because campuses are full of students and you are more likely to get actionable intelligence about the school from interacting with the full student body and staff. It’s also easier to get in to see a specialized program or lab or meet with key figures who might support your application later, such as a coach or department head, to discuss your interest in the school and a particular program or sport. Plan ahead and be smart about your travel. You don’t want to sour on a school just because it’s the last one you’re seeing on a 10-day trip.
By the end of the semester, you should have a list of 3 target schools, 3 stretch schools, and 3 safe schools solidified.
Spring semester is also the time to think through who should and would write letters of recommendation for you. Plan on making these requests by the end of the semester if possible. This gives your writers plenty of time to get you something before the fall.
If you have not tested already, it is absolutely imperative that you have now identified which test track you will pursue and register early to take at least one test during the spring.
You should also be aware of any SAT Subject Tests you might need for your target schools and be planning your test strategy for them. You can take multiple SAT subject tests in one day, but we recommend breaking them up if possible. What you cannot do is take the regular SAT and a subject test in one day, so you do need to map out any required subject tests carefully so they do not interfere with your SAT or ACT plans.
Also keep in mind for your planning that any AP class you are taking will have national exams in mid-May. This is right at the home stretch for the semester, so plan ahead (and don’t forget to register).
SAT: March 14, May 2
ACT: April 4
AP Exams: May 4-15 (Full AP Schedule)
Plan to spend part of your summer working a job or in an internship in your planned field of study. We also encourage taking classes or attending camps that support your interests and which offer leadership or personal growth opportunities. Other options might be volunteering in your community, church, or school. Offer your talents in computers, writing, or math to help tutor. Be the coach on a swim team. The possibilities are endless, but the opportunity to demonstrate yourself is not, so make the most of the time this season affords you to expand your learning beyond the classroom into the real world.
If possible, you should visit any remaining schools you are strongly considering.
We also recommend that students start their applications now. With so many schools accepting the Common App or Coalition App, we recommend starting with those and then working on individual school applications later in the summer and early fall. The multi-school applications should be available for 2021 applications starting August 1, 2020.
Everest offers several week-long college application bootcamps in August for students who want affordable, experienced assistance with preparing their applications and essays. Recent attendees have raved about the experience and the leg up it gave them going into senior year. Check back in early summer for 2020 dates.
Start researching scholarships offered by your targets as well as by outside organizations and local companies. If you are focused on a specific career path already, look into scholarships offered by professional organizations in that area of study. Don’t know where to begin? Start by asking the financial aid offices at your high school and at your target schools or search on sites like Scholarship.com.
Parents and students should also take this time to register with the Federal Student Aid agency and become familiar with the paperwork and data they will need for the FAFSA, which will become available on October 1.
We recommend that rising seniors who want to improve their spring scores consider using the summer to prep for the summer test dates. With school out, prep can be condensed into a few weeks and done right before the exam date, allowing the student to be well prepared and singularly focused for a short period of their break.
SAT: June 6, August 29 (anticipated)
ACT: June 13, July 18
And there you have it – a roadmap for the rest of Junior year that will have you ready for applications when school starts back in September.
No matter where you are on the path, we hope you take away:
1) this is all doable so long as you break it up into parts over time, and
2) there is no better time like the present to begin.
Have questions or need assistance with your academics, test prep, or college selection process? We have an experienced team ready to assist you with any portion of the journey.
Should you take the SAT or the ACT? Do you know? Are you or members of your family test biased?
Why Not a Combo Test?
We have found that the shortened and contrived combination diagnostic tests offered as lead generators by many tutoring companies do not provide accurate results because:
Both Equally Accepted and Valued
Since both tests are accepted equally at every school, and have been for more than a decade, students owe it to themselves to explore which test better matches their knowledge, skills and abilities. The difference could mean beating the score threshold at your target school.
If you are going to invest in preparing for one or both, it makes sense to know your strengths and weaknesses and to focus your investments of energy, time, and money on the option where you have the highest chance of doing well and gaining additional points.
Sign Up for Diagnostic Testing
Interested in finding out which is best for you? We recommend starting your diagnostic tests at least 10-12 weeks before your first potential test date. Testing is available most Saturdays from 9:15 a.m.-1:30 p.m. We also offer extended time sessions for students who have received accommodations for either test.
Contact us to schedule your seat at an upcoming diagnostic testing session.
You have questions — we have the answers.
Today we will tackle Score Choice for the SAT and ACT tests. We often get asked by parents of Seniors if the schools their children are applying to can see all of the scores for the SAT or ACT tests the student has taken.
The answer is that students make this choice…in most cases.
With the score choice system used by both test providers, the student has the power to decide which scores will be released to the colleges of their choice. For the SAT and ACT tests, the student can choose by test date. For the SAT Subject tests, a student can select to send only scores from a specific test on any date if they tested for more than one subject on that date.
Note that certain schools may have more specific rules, and some do require that you release everything, so check those details before applying. Your decisions on score choice also will not preempt your high school from receiving all your scores.
These programs benefit the students as well as the test companies. According to the ACT, “43% of ACT test takers chose to take the test more than once last year, and more than half of them improved their scores.”
Another factor to consider is the practice at many schools of superscoring. With superscoring, the student provides all their scores from test dates they’ve selected with the understanding that the school will take the highest score for each section from the tests dates submitted to arrive at the student’s best possible score.
So we say don’t sweat it too much. Even if they have all your scores, the vast majority of schools are only going to plug your highest section scores into their analysis. And likewise, it is in your best interest to retest if you missed your targets on the first or second tries. Everyone has bad days, poor test environments, or other impediments at least once in this process. If you feel a test did not truly reflect your capabilities, we say it’s more than okay to try again.
Have a question you need answered? Call or email us; we are always happy to help.
Are You Ready to Tackle the High School Admissions Process?
The school year just started, but if you are an eighth grader, it is already time to consider where you will be attending school this time next year as the high school admissions process has kicked off at most schools.
Why Is This important?
In the near-term, applications will be due to private high schools and Montgomery County Public School magnet and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs in the coming months, meaning you need to start gathering and preparing your materials now as well as planning any school visits, future interviews, and entrance test preparation.
Longer-term, the consideration of your high school selection is important for two main reasons. First, college admissions decisions about your academic performance will be judged on both the grades achieved in individual classes as well as the school or advanced academic program where those classes were taken. A 4.0 GPA is not the same at every school, and admissions officers weigh this in their consideration of a student’s application. Second, opportunity and fit are important for future success in high school (and college). If the school you attend is not a good fit for your abilities and interests, and if it does not provide you the right opportunities to grow and learn, your overall academic performance will suffer.
Entrance Tests Already?
Private schools will also require the applicant to take an entrance test such as the SSAT, ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam), or HSPT (High School Placement Test). This score will be a key indicator used by the admissions team to gauge a student’s ability to perform in high school. While the testing window varies by school or program, you can expect to need to take a test in late November or December for most. In the case of private school admissions, most will take both the SSAT or ISEE, but there are some notable exceptions, so it helps to check. If you are focused on attending a Catholic Church high school, the HSPT is the standard choice of the Archdiocese.
These tests focus on verbal skills, reading comprehension, quantitative skills (pre-algebra to geometry), and in the case of the HSPT, grammar. Their difficulty can often stretch past the abilities of eighth graders because schools use them to test students as far along as eleventh grade. With this in mind, we see many students each fall for test prep focused on one or two of these tests.
Prep is focused on reinforcing the knowledge a student already has as well as preparing them for content and skills they may not have seen before in middle school. For verbal, this means a concentration on roots, suffixes, and prefixes so they can understand the context of words they may not know. We also focus on how to read passages for critical information and the strategies needed to answer the types of verbal and reading comprehension questions used on these tests. Students must approach these questions differently than they would a subject test in school. To prepare for the quantitative sections, we use diagnostic tests to determine the student’s math abilities and knowledge. Using this baseline, we will review concepts that a student knows within the framework of how the tests ask these questions. We will then start adding skills for any concepts that they should know by eighth grade, and if possible, expand their abilities beyond this core set so they can demonstrate a higher level of math knowledge on the test. As with verbal prep, we also provide the key strategies to answering the specific types of questions a student will encounter on the test.
For entrance to the Montgomery County Public School magnet programs, students will take the CogAT (Cognitive Abilities Test). This test differs from the others because it is testing a student’s ability to examine a novel problem and find a solution instead of testing just their learned knowledge. Because of this, we approach CogAT prep differently. Here our goals are to familiarize the student with the types of questions they will see and then to improve their reasoning ability to tackle these problems.
You Do Have Options for High School
While our society has a predilection to stress the importance of the college admissions process, we know that the choice of high school can have as significant an effect on a student’s future as the college they attend since one is foundational to the other. While costs and logistics can often be limiting factors in a family’s decisions about which high schools to target, we would recommend at least investigating the options available to your student. Most private schools offer generous tuition assistance based on need, and just like colleges, every high school is looking for talented and unique individuals to diversify their student body. Do not preempt the process before exploring all your options; you never know where you might end up because you took that first step.
If you have questions about the local high school admissions process or need help preparing for an entrance test, give us a call today. The consultation is free, and we are here to help you achieve your academic goals this year.
Read more about our high school entrance exam prep process.
If you are planning on taking an SAT test, ACT test, PSAT test, or AP exams this school year, we have something for you. Our handy test calendar allows you to track these important dates, the days Montgomery County Public Schools will be off or have early dismissal during the 2019-2020 school year, and the key to dos for students planning their college admissions process.
Download the printer-ready PDF below or stop by our offices to pick up a copy.
Unsure of when you need to start your prep or what to do next? Call us to discuss the next steps on your road to achieving your educational goals this year.
If you are preparing to scale the mountain that is Junior year, we have some advice for you: take your SAT tests or ACT tests in your first semester.
The first semester provides the best window for taking two tests in a row. We recommend that in September Juniors should decide which test (ACT or SAT) they want to take based on diagnostic testing, use September and October to prep for that test, and then take two of the tests in a row to maximize their testing preparation and experience. If you plan now you will have plenty of time for test prep before the mid-Fall tests, which are on October 26 for the ACT and November 2 for the SAT, followed by the December 14 ACT and December 7 SAT.
This advice applies especially to students on the SAT track because of the large gap of time between the December 2019 and March 2020 test dates (the next ACT is a little earlier in early February 2020). If you prepare for the December test, you will have exams, holidays, the new year, and several months of second semester to distract you before you retest. We find large gaps like this cause students to forget the skills and strategies they have learned for the initial test date, greatly reducing their potential to increase their score on the second test and minimizing the value of their preparation.
Watch Out for March
If you are focused on an SAT track, there is another large downside to the March test that you should know: the pool you will be scored against is traditionally more competitive than any other test date each school year. This is because the March test date is the only one that does not offer SAT subject testing. Many competitive students also complete several SAT subject tests during their Junior year and focus on taking the subject tests on the other test dates. This leaves them the March test as one of their definite SAT test dates. Since your math and verbal scores are based on how you do on a particular test compared to everyone else taking it that day, you may score lower on the March test than you would normally if you are not already prepared to do extremely well.
The same effect is not present in the ACT because the difficulty of the individual sections differs from test to test (sometimes math is harder, other times it might be science or English), and these variations tend to wash out any effects of having more competitive students in your exam pool since the final score is a composite of all four section scores. The test gap decline is still real though, so if you are on an ACT track, be sure to knock your tests out this Fall as well. You will appreciate having time to focus on finishing your academic year strong and being able to take a third test if for some reason your earlier scores did not meet your goals.
When to Start
When should you start prepping for the fall tests? We recommend taking diagnostic tests at least 9-10 weeks before your first potential test dates. This allows time to compare your SAT and ACT results, decide which test track you should pursue, and plan an individualized course of prep for the student. We find 6-9 weeks allow enough time to prep for your first exam, after which we can reevaluate your performance and, if necessary, provide additional focus on any areas where you can improve on the second test.
Our Fall schedule fills up quickly once school starts, so call us today to discuss your needs for meeting your goals this year.
Today we’ll cover the ACT and SAT writing exams. Our clients often ask if the optional 40-50 minute exams, which students take in addition to the required sections on test day, are really necessary.
Our answer is: potentially yes.
While many schools do not require them, that often isn’t the case with most Ivy League and other competitive private schools. Even competitive state schools like Cal Berkeley require the writing tests. Schools can also change their requirements from year to year, so you are better prepared for potential changes if you have taken one.
Adding the exam costs $15 for the SAT and $16 for the ACT, and they are offered at every regular test day for both tests.
If you’re thinking about applying to a school that requires the exam, we can add specialized exercises and preparation to your individualized plan as part of our verbal test prep instruction.
Check Your Schools
If you know your target and reach schools already, you can check their requirements with these handy search tools:
At Everest, we have the luxury of offering personalized learning in our private tutoring setting. The ability for a teacher to reach a student is much more effective when we can cater to that one student at that one time. Here is a blog post (http://bit.ly/2pneKJZ) from Bill Gates on moving this model into schools...a change our educational system should thoughtfully consider.