Did Einstein have to take the SAT? No! Then whyshould I? Well, everything is relative, and if he were alive today he would berequired to take it, too.
The SAT and its sister test, the ACT, arestandardized tests that give colleges a common ground to compare you with otherapplicants (but not with Einstein!). These tests are supposed to cut through thedifferences between schools and their various grading scales and measure theability of students to think and, some say, predict a student's success incollege.
SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. The test measures mathand verbal aptitude. A perfect score is 1600, which combines 800 scores in bothsections.
ACT stands for American College Test. Students receive scores inEnglish, reading, math, and science reasoning, as well as a composite score. Thehighest composite score is 36.
Extremely competitive colleges (i.e. IvyLeague schools), look for minimum SAT scores of 1350, and ACT scores of 30 ormore. Highly competitive schools, like Carnegie Mellon University, look forminimum SAT scores of 1100 and ACT scores over 25, while most state universitieslook for minimum SAT's of 1000, and ACT's starting at 20.
Samples of theSAT and ACT can be found at your library or bookstore. The sample tests willallow you to see which is best for you. In the verbal area, the SAT is designedto test vocabulary. If you have a strong vocabulary, but are weak on languageusage, it would be to your advantage to take the SAT.
According to thePrinceton Review, the math sections of the SAT are trick-oriented, with a heavieremphasis on arithmetic and virtually no coordinate geometry or trigonometryquestions. If you are good at arithmetic and basic geometry, the SAT might giveyou a higher score.
The ACT is divided into four sections: English, math,reading and science reasoning. Its advantage is that (unlike the SAT) there is nopenalty for guessing. In addition, you can send colleges only the scores that youselect. In contrast, the SAT reports every test you have ever taken. MicheleHernandez in A is For Admission advises that you take the SAT no more than threetimes. The ACT, however, allows you to cloak your scores and take multiple testswithout fear because you can submit only your highest score. The disadvantage isthat prep courses for the ACT may be hard to come by for some since the test ismost popular west of the Mississippi River. Most colleges accept either the SATor ACT.
The recommended time to begin taking these tests is junior year.Most students take the SAT because prep courses are available at communitycolleges, high schools, Princeton Review, Kaplan and libraries. The prices forthese courses vary widely, and some include prep books.
The SAT and theACT are given monthly during the school year. This enables you to apply for earlyadmission senior year.
One college admissions counselor suggests takingthe SAT in December because students say that that is the easier test. Some SATveterans say that the March test is the worst; no two tests are the same. ThePrinceton Review encourages students to take the test on dates that offer, for anadditional fee, a photocopy of your actual test and answer sheet, which allowsstudents to learn from their mistakes.
It's not the end of the world ifyou do badly on an SAT or ACT test. Colleges also look at your grade pointaverage, outside activities, application essays, class rank, athletic endeavors,personal circumstances, and teachers' recommendations.
The SAT and ACTjust help colleges see a piece of the puzzle that is you. But don't overlookpreparation, either in a course or on your own. Albert Einstein lived by theadvice offered by Louis Pasteur, "Chance favors the prepared mind."
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.