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Counselor's Advice to Junior Class

College Planning for Juniors

Plan a
family college discussion.
Review your courses with your high school guidance counselor.
Prepare a list of
questions to ask college reps.
Sign up to take the PSAT.

Get and stay organized: Create files to keep copies of applications and correspondence. Set up a calendar to track important dates and deadlines.

college fairs and financial aid nights.
Download College Answer's
College Fair Checklist(pdf).
Take the PSAT.
Start searching for
scholarshipsand ways to payfor your education.
Learn what
components make up the cost to attend college.
Review descriptions of the
different types of schools.
Begin to understand the basics about
federaland private loans.
Plan and make
college visits.
Download College Answer's
Campus Visit Checklist(pdf).

Review your PSAT results with your counselor.
Talk with your
college friendshome for break.
Take both the
SAT and ACTat least once.

characteristicsyou want in a college.
college fairs and financial aid nights.
Clear up the
financial aid mythsabout paying for college.
Let your parents know that the IRS could save them money through
education tax deductions and credits.

Run Sallie Mae's
Free Scholarship Search.
Register and study for the
SAT and/or ACT.

campus visits.
Narrow your
college list to a reasonable number.
Contact the
financial aid officefor each college on your list to discuss payment options.
Keep up
college discussionswith your family and counselors.
Get answers to your
"going-to-college" questions.
Estimate how much various
colleges will cost.

Select senior year classes—check with your counselor to ensure your courses meet necessary college requirements.
Download College Answer's
Campus Visit Checklist(pdf) and start visiting colleges.
Take the
SAT and/or ACT, if necessary.
Advanced Placement (AP) tests, if necessary.
Get a summer job to save extra money.
Considering a
military academy or an ROTC scholarship? Meet with your high school counselor before leaving for summer vacation.

Improve your reading and vocabulary skills. Download College Answer's Recommended Reading List(pdf).
Continue searching for scholarshipsandways to pay.
Combine vacation plans with campus visits.
Start working on your college application essays.
Talk to people in interesting careers.
Decide who you’ll ask to write letters of recommendation.
Talk with college friendshome for summer.



TESTING INFORMATION:                                                        

Sign up for the SAT at:

Register for the ACT at:


What is the ACT?

The ACT is a product of American College Testing, a competitor to Educational Testing Service (ETS) and College Board. The pioneer of the ACT was an education professor at the University of Iowa named E.F. Lindquist, who despised the SAT with a historical passion. In its early days, the SAT was promulgated as an aptitude test, the equivalent of an IQ test; so, if currently you are of the opinion that the SAT measures intelligence or aptitude, you are in good company. Lindquist, however, dismissed this notion, and instead he designed and marketed the ACT as a test of practical knowledge and college preparedness.

How is the ACT different from the SAT?

Most people find the ACT more straightforward, but more time pressed. It is a 2:55 minute exam (plus another 30 minutes for the essay). The SAT is a 3:20 minute exam (and another 25 minutes for the essay).

The ACT is comprised of four sections:


The ACT is comprised of four sections:

English: 75 questions in 45 minutes that test punctuation and rhetoric. You need to know commas, apostrophes, and dashes, as well as how to join together sentences. Redundancy, diction, and basic grammar are also tested. Most people can finish this section in time.

Math: 60 questions in 60 minutes that test mostly algebra and geometry. Many questions are just “wordy” word problems. Higher-level math includes logarithms, matrices, conic sections and trigonometry. Most people run short on time and also encounter content with properties and equations they simply do not know.

Reading: 40 questions in 35 minutes. Four 10-question passages in prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. All of the questions are definitively answerable from the text. Most folks run short on time. It’s not uncommon to be able to answer only three of the four passages.

Science: 40 questions in 35 minutes. Seven 5-7 question passages in chemistry, biology, physics, geology, meteorology, etc. Outside knowledge is not required, but familiarity with specific content knowledge certainly improves speed. Some basic science terms are tested within the context of the questions. Most people run short on time and often only answer 30 of 40 questions.


How is the ACT scored?

Like all standardized exams, it is graded on a curve, in this case from 1-36, with 36 being perfect. The Composite score is the average of the English, Math, Reading and Science scores.

Is there a penalty for wrong answers?

There is no penalty for incorrect answers; they are treated as omitted questions. Students, therefore, should fill in all of the questions if they run short on time.

What schools take the ACT?

Every school that you know. As of now, only Staten Island and Ramapo Colleges say they will not accept the ACT in lieu of the SAT.

What schools take the SAT?

Pretty much every school, but a few are eschewing the SAT for the ACT or Subject Tests. Connecticut College is one notable example.

Do colleges look at the ACT differently from the SAT?

The US News and World Report College Ranking Guide treats the ACT and the SAT as equivalent tests. Colleges do too. If you would have identical test scores on the ACT and SAT, the most elite East Coast colleges (Ivies) likely give some small edge to the SAT. Otherwise, colleges don’t care and are just looking for a high score. Period.

Is there an advantage to taking both tests?

Only if you want to bury admissions in near perfect scores to distract them from lower grades, or if you cannot think of a better use for your Saturday mornings than taking another standardized test.

Perhaps: From the standpoint of the student, the only reason would be if one test was taken with disappointing results and there’s reason to think that the other test would produce better results. Otherwise, from the standpoint of the colleges, there is no reason.


What’s this "score choice" thing?

Beginning with the class of 2010, both the SAT and ACT will allow the option of reporting scores by test date. That is, you can send the results of the May test, but not the January test, if you like. In turn, you can swing for the fences as if it’s a home run derby, ignore the whiffs, and then only send the killer score to create the impression that you are “a natural.”

HOWEVER: Several colleges, including Yale, Amherst, and Princeton are opting out of score choice and still asking on their applications for students to report the scores from every standardized test taken. As other colleges can and will likely change their policies at the drop of a hat, prudent students should therefore err on the side of caution: don’t trust score choice to hold. Treat standardized tests as students did in years before. Don’t take the SAT (or the ACT for that matter - the baby looks to be thrown out with the bath water) “just to see how it goes” or to get a “baseline score.” Be prepared. Have an idea of where your scores will come out before taking the test for real. Take the PSAT sophomore and junior year to get practice and familiarity with the test and a prediction of future SAT scores. If you don’t do your best the first time out, it is not a crisis. Prep a bit more and take the test again. But, don’t blithely take a test, assuming you can hide a score.


How about "superscoring"?

Superscoring is the process by which colleges form your aggregate standardized test score by cherry-picking the highest sub-scores from multiple tests taken on different dates. When SAT score reports were cumulative, most schools calculated their scores in this way, and most still do. Far fewer schools superscore ACT scores, so check on the school’s policy before deciding which scores to send.

PrepMatters College Counseling department recently compiled an extensive list of top college’s policies on superscoring, along with other useful information, which one can access here.


Should I take the ACT with Writing?

When the new SAT was launched in March 2005 with an essay, the ACT responded by tacking an essay onto the end of its test. Most colleges want students tested on an essay, so students should take the ACT with Writing. Colleges, however, care little about the ACT Writing score since it is not part of the Composite score.

How can I know which test to take?

The ACT may be described fairly as a more academic test than the SAT. Any test’s degree of difficulty is a function of its “power” (the absolute difficulty of its questions) and its "speededness" (the number of questions that can be answered in the allotted time). The SAT has a higher power and lower speededness. The ACT is the flip. Having all day to do questions on the SAT wouldn’t change the fact that there are vocabulary words you simply don’t know, or there are certain math questions that are just too tricky. The ACT is speeded; students frequently feel as if they could have done all of the questions, but just didn’t have enough time. Figuring out which test is better for students is a function of how their strengths and weaknesses align with one test or another, how their anxiety is manifested, and how they’re affected by this anxiety.

Below are some qualities that might point to the likely better test for you:

You are a fast reader but not a "deep reader." - ACT

You are good with words and can parse language. You read well and don’t need Spark Notes or an explanation to figure out what even the densest text is saying. - SAT

You are a slower reader but can approach the question analytically. - SAT

If you can get extra time on one test but not the other, take the test you can get extra time on.

If you can get extra time on both, take the ACT.



Who does better on the ACT relative to the SAT?

Highly academic students prone to test anxiety. The ACT does not lean on working memory as much as the SAT does. When students get anxious, their ability to effectively store and manipulate new information decreases, so anxious students are more likely to underperform on the SAT than on the ACT because of the demands on working memory created by the SAT.

Who else?

People at the top end of the curve. The ACT has a squishy curve. Once students start to top 27, the ground gets firmer, with each correct answer generally resulting in another point. This is true of all bell-curved tests, but markedly more so on the ACT than on the SAT. Part of this reflects the fact that the SAT has 60 increments (200 to 800) and 67, 54 and 49 questions on the Reading, Math and Writing portions respectively. The ACT has 36 increments (1 to 36) for 60, 75, 40 and 40 questions on the English, Math, Reading, and Science portions respectively. Generally, students in the high 600 range who cannot quite crack the 700s on the SAT find the equivalent ACT barrier easier to surmount. Also, it appears that the ACT-SAT equivalency chart is a bit skewed in such a way that getting a 31 (really 30.5) is easier than getting a 700. Think SAT/ACT arbitrage.

Lastly, folks who can get extra time generally feel the ACT is more their test.


Who does better on the SAT relative to the ACT?

Sharp wise-guys (and girls). The SAT rewards people whose mindset is to look for "the angle."

Who else?

Students who will always be too slow to get through the bulk of the ACT, but find that the time doesn’t affect them as much on the SAT. Also, the SAT may be better for those who find that tricks on the SAT can earn them points. Kids in the 450-550 range without extra time will likely not find a strategic advantage in the ACT unless the facets that allow a reduction of stress are paramount. The middle range of the ACT is squishy, where several more correct answers yield only a few points. The SAT is less squishy, with a more direct correlation between correct answers and higher scores.

ACT English vs. SAT Writing:

The Writing section on the SAT principally addresses grammatical points (subject-verb agreement, pronouns, parallelism, dangling participles, etc.) The ACT English section principally addresses the mechanics of punctuation (commas, apostrophes, dashes) and rhetoric (transitions, sentence order, conjunctions). There is no meaningful content found exclusively on one or the other. The SAT, however, more consistently picks on the deviation between standard written English and how we actually speak the language, while the ACT focuses more on testing punctuation. Students who don't "have an ear for language" are likely to struggle on both, but may find more success on the ACT English than on the SAT Writing. However, there are two important strategic concerns:

One: As many colleges are still not placing as much importance on the SAT Writing as on the SAT Reading and Math, students may be able to stumble on the SAT Writing without hurting their admissions chances. Not so on the ACT. The Composite score (the average of the English, Math, Reading and Science scores) remains the key number for admissions. A poor English score therefore cannot be "swept under the rug" and will materially affect the important Composite score.

Two: One-third of the SAT Writing score comes from the graded essay (the section’s multiple-choice questions account for the other two-thirds of the score). Students, therefore, should consider their comfort and skill with writing timed essays and whether that will improve or hurt their total SAT Writing score. Although the ACT does have an essay, its score is not incorporated into the Composite score, and thus, in some ways, “doesn’t matter.”


ACT Reading vs. SAT Reading:

The ACT Reading is straightforward. The answers are in the passages. However, the test is designed such that only strong or fast readers can comfortably finish all of the questions. Test-takers generally have less of an issue with time on the SAT Reading. The ACT has the advantage of not emphasizing vocabulary the way the SAT does. So, students with weaker vocabularies (non-native English speakers, for example) will generally have a much higher potential on the ACT Reading. Lastly and significantly, the inherent difficulty of the SAT Reading is found not in the level of the text, but in the cleverness of the answer choices. Students frequently find that “more than one answer works” and feel bedeviled when trying to decide between the two; they must, therefore, be sure to look closely at words to determine the difference between what the words “might say” or “seem to mean,” and the literal, dictionary-based reading of the words. Students who have the ability to parse language can, with effective guidance, “see through” the SAT. Students for whom such an approach is difficult or who don‘t have that level of reading sophistication will (time permitting) find greater success on the ACT Reading.

ACT Math vs. SAT Math:

The math on the ACT is more straightforward but, at the highest level, more advanced. The content of the SAT includes arithmetic, geometry, and algebra I. A handful of items from algebra II make an appearance, including functions, coordinate geometry and analytic geometry. The ACT has content that includes those areas as well as logarithms, trigonometry, matrices, and conic sections. The most difficult problems on the math of the ACT are effectively more esoteric topics, while the most difficult problems on the math of the SAT are clever versions of more rudimentary math. Dutiful students will likely find the ACT Math more to their liking. “Clever students,” especially ones who have not yet had math beyond geometry, may perform better on the SAT Math.

ACT Essay vs. the SAT Essay:

The essay on the ACT typically asks questions about school life, teen issues, or educational policy; questions that students should have opinions on. The essay on the SAT typically asks more philosophical questions that are best answered with concrete examples from history, literature, etc. Students who are comfortable with generating detailed support will feel at ease with the SAT essay. The ACT essay tends to be easy for most students. Keep in mind that the essay begins the SAT and ends the ACT. Some prefer to "get it over with," while others are happy not to be worn out by the essay.




















Summer Internships

Looking for a place to volunteer at? Try this link:

The Volunteer Center has many places where you can volunteer your time and has a wide variety of places to choose from. 

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