The Edge Our college admission blog

Making Sense of the PSAT Score Report

by Rachel Katzman January 8, 2016

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PSAT results were delivered online on January 7th. If you were able to log in and see your scores (with no technical glitches), you might be among the flurry of parents and students who reached out to us asking what it all means.  Here is some basic guidance to help you decipher the report, as well as some advice.

Exemplar Score Report provided online by The College Board.

psat score reportTest Scores: Each of the three sections (Reading, Writing & Language, and Math) are broken into sub-scores on a scale of 8 to 38. To break down how your Total Score was calculated, you can multiply your Reading score and Writing score by 10, and then add them together to get Your Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Score. Then multiply your Math score by 20 to obtain Your Math Score. Those two numbers add up to Your Total Score, which is presented in bold and centered in your report.

The maximum Total Score is 1520, so don’t be confused/disappointed when no one receives a perfect 1600 – the PSAT score was lowered by 80 points to reflect the fact that it’s a practice test by design, and therefore slightly less difficult than the SAT. Know also that the Total Score can be used to help predict your score range for the SAT. However, most students take the PSAT with little-to-no preparation beforehand, and you can expect to see score variation the next time you take the test.

Skills Scores: One cool feature of the PSAT is that you get to see how you scored on each measured skill, as well as on the actual answers to the test questions. Be sure to take advantage of the information in this hard copy – it’s one of the best resources you’ll have to prepare for the SAT itself.

And Then There’s the “College Readiness” Benchmark…

Most of the questions we’ve heard concerning the PSAT scores have been about a new method of reporting a student’s “College Readiness.” The intentions here are good: the College Board wants you to think about the SAT as being a skills-based exam, and this feature is intended to help you identify specific areas of improvement to meet the median scores for a four-year, selective college. The confusion stems from the fact that test scores are by no means the only indicator of one’s “College Readiness”, and this is not explained by the report. At Admitster, we’re well aware of the “college readiness” buzzwords, but have taken on a broader definition of their meaning:

College Readiness refers to a student’s overall preparedness for the specific schools to which he/she is applying. College Readiness is…

  • … reflected in your “non-cognitive” skills and attributes, such as your organization and time management capabilities, your independence, and your resiliency.
  • … directly related to the specific schools to which you’re applying. For instance, to be college-ready for a technical program in engineering requires you to have met certain math and science prerequisites. To be college-ready for an intended arts major requires you to have a polished portfolio. To be college-ready for a liberal arts college requires demonstration of critical thinking and writing skills. Get the picture?
  • … having knowledge of the college admissions process – including knowledge of different colleges and universitiesthe application process, and financial aid. That is, you need to know how to apply to college in order to be ready for college.

And remember, even if you earn a perfect score on the PSAT, this does not mean that you are college-ready. Any student in their junior year should expect to grow academically and personally between now and the time when he/she applies to college. Juniors have months ahead of them to practice the specific skills that these tests are measuring; to achieve success in interesting classes; to take on leadership roles; to pursue enriching summer activities; and to respond to personal experiences (even failures and disappointments) with thoughtful reflection and self-awareness.

The Bottom Line for All Students:

If your score report included some red or yellow, it’s OK. This does not mean that you will not get into college. You can help to increase your scores by looking closely at which skills you need to improve and then by being proactive! For instance, the College Board allows you to sync your score report with Khan Academy’s tutorials  and, if personalized assistance would be helpful, our test prep tutors can work closely with you to examine the test questions alongside your results, recommend a personalized practice plan, and help you to put your scores in context with the overall admissions process.

If your score report contained a healthy amount of green, that’s great! Keep in mind, however, that the range of scores that meet the “readiness” benchmark is wide. Also, the score range and weighting of standardized test scores in the admissions process varies drastically depending on where you apply. Many schools, especially those that are test-optional, might value GPA over test scores, while for others, your SAT score might be a deciding factor for merit-based scholarships.

We invite all students to reach out to our admissions experts to help work towards achieving the scores needed for their top-choice schools. Moreover, now that you have actual test scores, you can begin to input your data into our free College List Builder tool, see your chances of admission at the schools of your choice, and use the What If? Engine to work out your personalized admissions strategy!

Final Advice: 1) Keep calm, 2) Resist the impulse to over-share your scores, 3) Take time to read the fine print, and 4) Don’t let any labels impact your overall attitude to the college admissions process!

Admitster & Adele

by Katie Z, Ph.D November 24, 2015

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It’s that time of year again – Thanksgiving! While many of us are looking forward to the long weekend and to having time in the company of family and friends, high school seniors may be feeling a bit conflicted about the upcoming holiday. Yes, a feast with loved ones and some time off are both very good things BUT Thanksgiving also means that college application deadlines are quickly approaching! How should one’s Thanksgiving break be spent? Completely relaxed? In an application-induced panic? In reality, of course, the optimal state lies somewhere in between these two extremes. Yes, your college applications should definitely be on your mind, but you should also take some time to relax. As is the case with most things in life, finding the right balance is key.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Admitster can help you to find that balance, and to stem any feelings of stress and panic that you may be experiencing with regard to your college applications. To begin with, if you haven’t yet seen SNL’s A Thanksgiving Miracle, I highly recommend taking four minutes out of your busy day to watch the clip – it’s hilarious! And now that you’ve had a good laugh, let’s turn to more serious matters, namely, your college applications. You shouldn’t be filling in your Common Application in the midst of your Thanksgiving meal…

apple pie

 

…however, there are some practical steps to take over the Thanksgiving holiday that will set your college applications merrily cruising along into December and January:

  • If you’re taking the SAT on December 5th or the ACT on December 12th, definitely set aside some time to study. Khan Academy offers great, free resources for SAT test-prep (click here), and The ACT also provides test-takers with some free revision resources, for instance, these sample questions.
  • You should really be working to finalize your college list now, ensuring that you have a great mix of reach, target, and safety schools. Admitster offers a free, online college list-building tool that is extremely helpful in terms of putting together a robust list of schools OR (if you think you already have a completed list) ensuring that your list of schools is, in fact, well-balanced. Click here to learn more!
  • Once you have a great college list, the next step is to ensure that you’re completely organized in terms of deadlines and application requirements – stay on top of your admissions game! If the whole process is feeling overwhelming and stressful, however, know that Admitster can help. For example, we offer a great deal on a five hour, personalized, admissions advising package, whereby you work with one of our experts to develop an application plan, create a calendar of upcoming deadlines, and have your essays and applications reviewed prior to submission. Investing in these five little hours can really help to boost your odds of admission at your top-choice schools!
  • Another thing you should be working on at the moment are drafts of your application essays. You may feel completely confident in tackling the writing for your college applications, but if you think that perhaps you could benefit from some guidance in terms of essay review (i.e. ensuring that your essay effectively tells your unique story and is error-free), just click here.
  • At this point, you should also be working to gather your recommendations – the earlier you ask your teachers and counselors for recommendation letters, the better!

We’re thankful for the opportunity to help you to own the journey to college – we’re here to support and guide you along the way. While Adele’s soulful voice may help to bring calm to the Thanksgiving dinner table (seriously, watch that SNL clip!), Admitster can bring calm to the stress and panic that may be setting in now that your college application deadlines are quickly approaching.

You can register for our free online tools (the College List Builder Tool, the Prediction Tool, and the What If? Engine) by clicking here, and you can reach out to us about our affordable expert services (essay reviews and admissions advising) by filling out the online form, calling 1-800-803-1541, or sending us an e-mail at expert@admitster.com.

We’d love to hear from you and wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread

by Admitster August 24, 2015

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I recently wrote a guest blog post for a company called Testive (they build “amazing and intuitive tools that combine people and technology to help students unlock their true potential”) and wanted to share it with you, my dear readers, as well.  The post focuses on the impact of the New SAT not on students and parents, but on colleges and universities.  Remember, it’s helpful to sometimes pause and reflect upon the admissions process through the eyes of college admissions officials, to take a walk in their shoes.  Today’s post looks to do just that, to get a feel for the type of New SAT information being received on the college side of the fence.  From what I read, the new test sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread!  Time will tell how it all plays out, but how the New SAT is being presented to schools both near and far is definitely something to chew on (a slice of tasty bread, anyone?)…

SlicedBreadFinalFinal

 

A great deal of the hype surrounding the New SAT has focused on the actual changes to the test, but how do those changes impact admissions on the college side of the equation?  Attempts have been made to glean what those sitting in admissions offices around the country are thinking about the New SAT (e.g. Kaplan carried out a survey of admission officers at 375 schools), but findings have been largely inconclusive, for instance, “Schools were divided on how to evaluate the new writing section” and “No one knows exactly how the new test scores will compare to the previous test scores.”  Though we can’t know what each individual college admissions officer thinks of the revised test, or how college admissions policies will be altered (if at all) to take into account the New SAT, we can look to The College Board to see which types of outreach efforts have been made and how the New SAT is being presented to colleges and universities.

To read on, click here …

Yankee Do The SAT!

by Katie Z, Ph.D August 7, 2015

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I find it interesting that at a time when more colleges and universities are opting to become “test-optional” (see, for instance, here and here) that more states are deciding to make standardized testing mandatory.  Of what do I speak?  It starts with a “C” and rhymes with “etiquette”.  Yes! Connecticut!

ConnecticutSmall

 

If you call this fine state home, know this: Yesterday, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Connecticut to Require All 11th Graders to Take the SAT”.  The state song may be “Yankee Doodle” but you now have permission to sing it with the lyrics, “Yankee Do the SAT!”

In this case, the required SAT will take the place of another state-wide exam, and you may be surprised to learn that the policy is actually an attempt to have students in public schools take fewer tests.  As was pointed out in the article, “The federal government requires that states assess students in both reading and math once during high school. Because so many Connecticut public school students take the SAT anyway, replacing the existing high school test, given in 11th grade, with the SAT would leave young people with one exam fewer on their roster.” (insert sigh of relief)

Other states with mandatory standardized testing?  Some examples are:

  • Colorado – ACT
  • Delaware – SAT
  • Idaho – SAT
  • Illinois – ACT
  • Kentucky – ACT
  • Maine – SAT
  • Michigan – ACT
  • South Carolina – ACT
  • Tennessee – ACT
  • Wisconsin – ACT

Taking fewer tests is one reason to make the SAT or ACT mandatory, but what else lies behind this trend?  Well, the thinking is that if students are compelled to take a college entrance exam (at no financial cost to the student) that they will then be more likely to apply to college!  Has this borne out?  Let’s investigate…

An article entitled “The Maine Question: How Is 4 Year College Enrollment Affected by Mandatory College Entrance Exams?” was recently published in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal.  The study concluded that their “most conservative estimates suggest that the mandatory SAT policy in Maine increased 4-year college-going by 2-percentage points” and that “much of the increase in bachelor’s degree completion was also concentrated in Maine’s colleges.”  Not bad!  Of course, this is only one study, but the Maine experience sheds some light on the developments in Connecticut and leaves the reader thinking that perhaps this is a promising strategy after all.  Time alone will tell whether the growing test-optional trend at colleges and universities will impact these state policies.  Patience will also be required before knowing how it will all play out in Connecticut, both in terms of incentivizing students to apply to college and, in the longer term, whether the policy will help to increase the number of Connecticuters with bachelor’s degrees in their pockets.

The Beginning Of The End?

by Katie Z, Ph.D July 29, 2015

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It’s all over the college admissions news – George Washington University has jumped on the “test-optional” bandwagon.  This means that if you want to apply to GW, you don’t have to submit your standardized test scores.  Now, this isn’t exactly surprising – many colleges and universities have changed their admissions policies over the last few years, opting to be “test-optional”.  What makes this recent development a big deal is the fact that George Washington University is “one of the largest and most prestigious to make standardized test scores optional for applicants.”

GW image

In fact, the move led NPR to ask the question, “Is this the beginning of the end for the SAT and ACT?” Their article reports on the findings of GW’s Task Force on Access and Success, established in order to study the benefits and potential pitfalls of becoming a “test-optional” school.  The task force’s primary finding?  “The school’s reliance on these tests was excluding some high-achieving students who simply don’t test well.”

The article also provides results of research carried out by the National Association for College Admission Counseling.  One of the NACAC‘s main findings?  “It’s not at all clear whether performance on those tests is a reliable predictor of future academic success.”

Now, as has been the hope at other test-optional schools, GW believes that the policy will help to “strengthen and diversify an already outstanding applicant pool and broaden access for those high-achieving students who have historically been underrepresented at selective colleges and universities, including students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households,”

As the NPR article points out, the ACT and College Board beg to differ, claiming that “test-optional policies do not increase socio-economic and racial diversity on college campuses — which is what these policies claim to achieve.”

The debate is on!

Time alone will tell how the “test-optional” trend plays out.  Certainly, the ball is rolling (click here for a comprehensive list of test-optional schools).  What will be interesting to see is whether more and more schools, particularly those that fit GW’s profile (i.e. large, prestigious universities), join the “test-optional” movement, or whether the College Board and ACT can sit back and relax, knowing that their place in the college admissions process is secure.

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