Frequently asked questions
When should I start studying for the SAT/ACT?
It is better to start preparing for test prep as early as possible! We recommend starting around your freshman - sophomore year, and take at least one test by the end of your sophomore year.
Don't underestimate just how busy you will be during your junior year!
How do I know whether to take the SAT or the ACT?
The current SAT includes reading, math, writing and language, and an optional essay, and is designed to measure your reasoning skills. (The optional SAT essay will be discontinued after June 2021.)
The ACT is composed of a total of five sections: mathematics, English, reading, science, and one essay. The ACT is designed to test the knowledge you have built throughout high school. Because of this, ACT already gives colleges an insight into a student's specific academic knowledge.
It is recommended to take a diagnostic test for the SAT and ACT, and figure out which one suits you better. We offer free diagnostic tests for all students -
contact us to schedule a time to come in.
Should I take the optional SAT/ACT essay?
The optional essay portions of the SAT and ACT exams offer colleges more insight into your writing abilities. With the SAT essay, you showcase your ability to analyze authors’ persuasive techniques, while the ACT essay demonstrates your ability to synthesize other arguments and produce a new argument of your own. Each of these writing tests may indicate preparedness for college-level writing.
Colleges are divided on whether they accept the optional SAT/ACT essay, so you should check each of your intended colleges’ requirements in advance. If you are a strong writer, or can write these particular essays well, then you should take the optional essay to provide more data to your colleges about your academic aptitude.
Be aware that the SAT optional essay will be discontinued after June 2021, so if you would like the SAT essay included in your score report you must sign up for the test dates before or by June 2021.
What is PSAT? Will it help or hurt my chances of college admissions?
The Preliminary SAT, shortened to PSAT, is a preparatory version of the SAT exam. The PSAT is only a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship, and won't add to your college admission applications.
You only take it once a year, and most students take it in school in October during their 10th and 11th grade year. If you score a high score on the 11th grade PSAT, you can become a National Merit Semifinalist and be qualified to receive a National Merit Scholarship.
What's more important - grades or activities?
Colleges list the following admission factors as most important, according to The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC):
1. Grades in college prep courses.
Most colleges will consider your performance in college preparatory courses the strongest sign of your ability to do well in college. Even if you struggled early in high school, colleges will look favorably upon strong improvement in subsequent years.
2. Strength of curriculum
Colleges look for students who took the most challenging courses available to them. If your high school offers only a few college prep courses, admissions officers will take this into account.
3. Admission test scores.
Your SAT and/or ACT scores usually count highly if the college requires them. Scores from AP tests and the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams may also be important, especially to more selective colleges to demonstrate achievement in select core subjects.
4. Grades in all courses.
Your overall GPA also serves as an indicator of your academic success in high school. Colleges also look over your transcript, which lists every class that you have taken in high school and the grade you received in each class.
Factors of Moderate Importance
What counts most to colleges is how long and how deeply you have been committed to one or two interests, how much time you allot to them, what leadership roles you have undertaken, and what you have accomplished. Aim to have extracurriculars that are related to your intended major and other fulfilling extracurriculars that give you unique skills and perspectives.
Letters of recommendation.
Many colleges require recommendations from your teachers, high school counselor, and possibly your principal. Colleges are looking for an honest professional opinion of your abilities and personality. Teacher recommendations should come from 11th and 12th grade teachers, so remember to participate in your classes and invest time getting to know your teachers.
Essay or writing sample.
Many colleges will ask you to submit an essay or personal statement. Here is your opportunity to put your personality into your application. A well-written essay can tip a decision in your favor. A poorly written one can do the opposite. Colleges may also ask for other essays about your educational and career goals and how you will contribute to their campuses. Work on defining your goals for the future and researching what campus opportunities you want to be involved in.
Going on a college visit, attending virtual information sessions, talking with admission officers, or doing an enthusiastic interview can call attention to how much you really want to attend. Applying to early deadlines such as Early Decision or Early Action may also make a good impression.
Colleges that use this factor want to see how much competition you had to face to achieve your rank. However, fewer and fewer colleges are giving class rank as much importance. In fact, fewer than half of high schools now track class rank. Rank is important to consider for colleges that offer auto-admission based on academic achievement.
As a parent, how can I help my child?
1. Help your student(s) see how HS lays groundwork for college. Explain to them why their classes and extracurriculars prepare them for college
2. Strategize as early as possible - even in middle/elementary school. Keep students active in extracurriculars so they can explore their passions and refine their goals earlier on
3. REALLY help student(s) set aside time for SAT/ACT/PSAT. Early preparation for PSAT may even help students prepare for National Merit in time for 11th grade
4. Get more advice from experts who live and breathe admissions
What should I do for my 9th grade year?
This is the “adjustments and exploration” year:
1. Take challenging classes, such as Pre-AP/IB courses
2. Manage your GPA -- i.e., get as many A's as possible
3. Sign up for a variety of extracurriculars and explore your potential passions
What should I do for my 10th grade year?
This is the "refine your interests" year:
1. Keep taking most-advanced classes and managing GPA
2. REFINE your extracurriculars to match YOUR INTERESTS
3. Take on more leadership roles in extracurriculars
4. Start considering internships and research opportunities
5. Start preparing for PSAT/SAT/ACT/AP/IB exams
What should I do for my 11th grade year?
This is your "major testing" year:
1. Take AP/IB/TAG/dual-credit classes and do well in them, being an active participant in your classes to get to know your teachers
2. Tackle PSAT/SAT/ACT/AP/IB exams
3. Take on leadership roles and invest QUALITY time in extracurriculars
4. Conduct research and participate in internships
5. Gather information about colleges, attend information sessions, and tour campuses to determine which colleges interest you the most
What should I do for my 12th grade year?
This is the "college applications" year:
1. Determine your major based on your background and interests
2. Make a college list that includes long shot, reach, match, and safety schools
3. Work on your college applications ASAP - i.e., during summer
4. Continue to ace your classes and be involved in your activities to increase your chances at your dream college
5. Prepare for college interviews by practicing mock interview questions