Archive for the ‘College test prep’ Category

SAT Strategy Tips – including some secrets!

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

Karen_Berlin_Ishii_SAT_prep_tutor_New_York_10.27.12Until a few years ago, the SAT was known as the “S.A.T.”, its letters standing for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” In 2004, however, the test makers removed the periods and officially declared that “SAT” doesn’t stand for anything – admitting that the SAT is not an aptitude or intelligence test: It’s just a test of how well you can take the SAT.

So what does it take to do well on the SAT? Intelligence is helpful, of course, but intelligence – even when paired with knowledge – is insufficient without strong test-taking skills and strategy. Here are some key tips for SAT success.

1. Do plenty of timed practice SAT exams. Take at least four full, timed SAT exams, each one in a single sitting, before you take the real SAT. Use real SATs from the “CollegeBoard Official Guide to the SAT” and take each one under test-like conditions using the bubble answer sheets, timing yourself precisely for each section. Then go over your results, thoughtfully analyzing your errors and adjusting your pacing for next time.

2. Plan to take the SAT in January of Lower Sixth year, treating it as a practice test. Take it again in May, ordering “Question and Answer Service” when you register. This will provide you with a copy of the exam test booklet along with your annotated answers, a great study tool for next time. Finally, take the SAT in October of Upper Sixth. Most universities will select your best score from each of the three test sections over the range of all the tests you take, so it is definitely in your best interest to take it again in the fall (especially if you’ve used the summer to study).

3. Remember that each question – whether easy or hard – is worth only one point. So spend more time on easy questions than hard ones, ensuring that you don’t lose points by rushing through the easy ones in order to make time for harder questions (which you are more likely to get wrong, even with more time, anyway).

4. In Math, be alert to the twist, that aspect of the question that you don’t expect. Maybe you are solving for x, but the answer requires you to use x to complete one more equation. Make note of whether the question asks for any integer or a positive integer, only. Watch out for questions which specify “must” versus “may”.

5. In Critical Reading Sentence Completions, remember that the questions go from easy to hard. Easy questions have easy answers and hard questions have hard answers, right? So if you are stuck between two choices in question #8 (the last one on the page, and thus definitely a hard question) choose the harder word – even if you don’t know what it means. That’s more likely to be right.

6. Resist the urge to automatically cross off answers that contain words you don’t know. Train yourself to put a little squiggle mark in front of those words and only deal with them once you’ve eliminated all the others you can.

7. For Writing multiple choice questions, don’t trust your ear to judge what sounds right; everyone has an ear! If that’s all it took to get a high score, everyone would score high. Instead, learn the rules of grammar that the SAT commonly tests and be on the lookout for errors in those areas. Learn to pair up the subject of a sentence with its verb. Know when to use “who” versus “whom.” Be alert to the difference between a comma and a semi-colon. And remember: The word “being” is almost always wrong.

8. Build vocabulary drills into your daily life, spending 5-10 minutes twice a day to learn and review new words. Carry a few paper flashcards with you to school or use an app for digital flashcards that you can bring up on your cellphone. Practice the words you learn, saying them in sentences, using them at home and in your schoolwork. Over the course of six months to a year, you can make a substantial difference in your word power that will help you on this test and far beyond.

9. On the SAT essay, choose your side and pound away at your point. Don’t equivocate; be bold and emphatic. Have two strong examples with lots of details that all support your point. Aim to write two full pages because a long essay is, by definition, a good essay. Throw in a bucket of those big words you’ve studied (especially near the beginning when the reader may still be reading, rather than skimming, your essay). Be descriptive, lively and interesting. If you can’t remember details, make them up, because facts do not count.

Use the SAT error “penalty” to leverage partial knowledge. If you can eliminate one answer choice, you should guess. Just don’t let a hard question steal time that you could be using to get other, easier questions right.

Enjoy preparing for your SAT! Treat it as a challenge: the math a puzzle, reading an opportunity to build word power and comprehension, writing multiple choice a game of “Where’s Wally?” and overall a chance to hone your skills in making thoughtful decisions fast. As you engage, you’ll find you start making real progress.

About the Author:

Karen Berlin Ishii, a graduate of Brown University, is a New York City-based tutor with over 25 years’ test prep experience. Karen teaches students internationally via Skype for the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, ISEE, SSAT, SHSAT, GRE and TOEFL exams.

Learn more about Karen at or contact her directly at

This post was originally published by The US-UK Fulbright Commission for their newsletter. Find it here.


Upcoming events and resources for USA university-bound students in UK and Europe

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

Karen Berlin Ishii, Jilly Warner

American high school students and their families are well aware of the many steps and challenges in the US college preparation and application process. For US students living abroad – and even more so for international students who don’t attend American schools – the process can be particularly difficult. In the UK, students typically don’t start their college process until senior year, while American students start their SAT or ACT studies and their college list and visits by the middle of their junior year or earlier. There are fewer opportunities abroad to take the SAT and many students haven’t even heard of the ACT. School systems in Europe rarely offer the array of extracurricular activities and community service that stateside students know are favored by American college admissions officers. Good SAT and ACT test preparation tutoring and textbooks can be hard to find, and European schools do not prepare students for the kinds of multiple choice questions and pointed essay skills demanded by these tests.

Fortunately, there are some great resources for students, if they do a little research. The Fulbright Commission is very active in London, offering free courses and seminars for students and their school advisors to educate them on the American college  process. In the fall, the Fulbright Commission in London presents its US College Days, a big 2-day fair to which dozens of US colleges and universities send their representatives, and independent college counselors and test preparation companies offer free advice. Students can talk with college admissions officers and shop for SAT tutoring or courses. For students In Paris, the AAWE, an association of American women living long-term in France, publishes a guidebook to higher education in France and abroad, a must-have book for American expatriate families in the country. The AAWE also sponsors the big CIS Paris College Day fair, this year on September 29 in Paris. The Fulbright Commission in Paris has information for students in both French and English. Visit their website here.

In London, FOCUS, “a community for expats by expats” offers resources and information. The September/October 2013 edition of their print magazine features an article on US college preparation, “Choosing an American University Education.” In September and October, several introductory presentations and workshops on SAT preparation and the US university process will be offered in London and Paris by College Goals Educational Consultants and Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Prep, including a presentation for students and parents, “Preparing for an American University Education” in both cities, and several SAT prep mini-courses and a Boot Camp intensive course in London during the October half-term. For families who cannot make it to Paris or London for these events, College Goals’ consultant Jilly Warner will be travelling to Geneva, Switzerland; and Karlsruhe, Germany, too. Families may contact College Goals for more information.

Here is the information about upcoming presentations in London and Paris:

Preparing for an American University Education
from and Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Wednesday, September 25, 2013 from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

SAT Sunday Mini-Course in London
from Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Sunday, September 29, 2013 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

from and Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Monday, September 30, 2013 at 7:00 PM  and Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM (GMT)
Paris, France

SAT Boot Camp London!
from Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 10:00 AM – Friday, November 1, 2013 at 5:00 PM (GMT)
London, United Kingdom

SAT Tutoring London 2013
from Karen Berlin Ishii Premier Tutoring and Test Preparation
September 22 – 29  and October 26 – November 3, 2013
London, United Kingdom



Best online resources for SAT prep

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012
For test prep in New York City, Karen Berlin Ishii teaches Reading, Verbal, the ACT, SAT, Math, and Writing in Also, she teaches many students online via Skype for college application editing their essays, helping students with TOEFL and more.

Online resources enable students to study wherever, whenever it’s convenient.

While it is certainly possible to prepare successfully for your SATs using books alone, why not take advantage of the additional resources online? Below are a few of the best. They are all free and really do supplement the best of the paper resources.

1. The Collegeboard’s online companion explanations for their Official SAT Study Guide (2nd edition and new edition with DVD) – Finally, the CollegeBoard is providing explanations to every question in all of the 10 real tests they publish. Find them (plus option to take the practice tests online) here. After you login to your CollegeBoard account, choose your textbook and type the key word: for 2nd edition book it’s “passage,” for DVD edition it’s “reference.”

3. Khan Academy online – Something bad has happened to the wonderful Khan Academy collection of clear, step-by-step explanations to the CollegeBoard math sections: Someone has reorganized the site, making it hard to navigate. Here is the updated link to the new, confusing list of sections. The test numbers as identified on the Khan site refer to the first edition of the CollegeBoard book, so either pick up a lightly used copy of that one (cheap on Amazon) or go to SAT Prep NY for a key to which Khan lesson applies to which test in the 2nd and 3rd editions. (Tests 4-10 in the newer editions are identical to Tests 2-8 in the 1st edition, so these terrific, patient lessons by Salman Khan are still very useful once you finally locate them.)

You can also download the entire collection to your computer or iPad – and it’s all free. Go to the Khan Academy Downloads page for a link to their collections at Apple’s iTunes U, go here for the iPad app.

3. – Want to hone your skills with a free new quickie SAT diagnostic tool? Check out their free SAT timed drills. The website claims to use special MIT-developed algorithyms to adjust the test questions it throws your way for each of the 25 minute sections (one each for Math, Critical Reading and Writing/Grammar) in order to give you a fine-tuned prediction of your SAT score. Take the tests over again to raise your scores; the website keeps your records on your account. One tip: No explanations or identification of errors are provided, just your score, so take a screenshot as you go if you want to go over the questions later, especially any that you skip or guess on. (Mac users: hold down Command-shift-4 to take a screenshot. PC users: Here’s an explanation of your options.)

4. – Quizlet is an online flashcard app that allows you to make your own vocabulary flashcards or take advantage of premade sets, such as their roots/word webs collection which will help you guess well on new words which have familiar roots. Start with their SAT word collections and then add your own words based on new words you encounter in practice tests and in your readings and drills. There are also collections of flashcards for SAT Math formulas and fun vocab cards with pictures to help you learn the words more effectively. Combine others’ sets with your own, too, to benefit from already created sets that you customize for yourself.


SAT or ACT? ISEE or SSAT? Tips and advice

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

homework help and SAT test prep study in New York and remotely online via SkypeHere are some test tips and advice I recently shared with the website visitors of Aristotle Circle in New York, as a Featured Expert.

Q: When should students take the SAT or ACT? Does it make sense to take both tests?

I generally recommend that students take the SAT or ACT in the spring of junior year and retake that same test in the fall of senior year. Ideally, that’s two tests, total. May is a perfect month for the SAT since students can order “Question and Answer Service” (which is only offered three times a year), a terrific study tool for the next round. Taking the May SAT also allows students to take SAT Subject Tests in June, close to the end of the semester in which they are studying those subjects.

The ACT Q&A service, “Test Information Release,” is offered in April and June. June is the best time to take the test, when courses are nearly over and students have learned more math, which is relevant on this test. Then take the test once more in September or October.

Most students score comparably on either test and colleges accept both. For students applying to colleges that require the SAT + SAT Subject Tests, or ACT alone, and who do not have strong SAT Subject Test options, the ACT is appealing. For students who are weak in reading and vocabulary but strong in math, the ACT is often the better option. Otherwise, the SAT is generally considered the more coachable test. Students can take a practice test in each to get the definitive answer of which test is a better fit for them.

Q: Under what circumstances should students retake the SAT or ACT? How much better should a student expect to do the second time around?

Although the trend is to take more and more tests, there are several reasons students should not retake the SAT or ACT more than once. For one, colleges look askance at the records of students who had to take the test numerous times in order to compile a competitive score selection. Students’ time could be put to much better uses than prepping for and retaking tests, too. Students who study for these tests tend to make a big jump in scores after their first course of study: 50 points or more in each SAT section, 2-4 points in each ACT section. After that, many students plateau out, but still manage to raise their scores in the fall, sometimes an additional 50 points per SAT section, and a 1-3 points on the ACT.

Since colleges cherry-pick the best scores to make a superscore, nearly everyone should take the test again in the fall. Many students pull it all together then: They are a half year older than when they first took the test; they’ve grown and matured over the summer, too. A number of factors lead some students to see big improvement in the fall test. Even if they only pick up a few points here and there, it adds up and overall is likely to be much higher than initial scores.

Q: What is your advice for parents, when it comes to helping your child juggle the necessary components of admissions (exams, essays, paperwork, tours, etc)?

Every student and family is different, but the demands of college applications and admissions are the same: burdensome and confusing! Students need to be willing to accept some parental help and guidance but may rightfully reject meddling. Families should sit down early in the process and establish roles, boundaries, and procedures for making sure everything gets done. Personally, I have no objection to allowing a student to delegate much of the logistics and bookkeeping to parents. Some students are not ready to take on that responsibility or are too busy juggling school and test prep and all the rest of their myriad responsibilities. It does not mean that they are not ready to go on to the next step. Essays, however, and anything that is supposed to be in the student’s voice should not bear any parent’s fingerprints.

Q: How early should students begin studying for the SSAT or ISEE? Do you ever recommend that student take both tests?
Students generally start studying for these tests a few months before the exams, but there are great ways to boost performance over the longer term. Reading lots of challenging books, building vocabulary, or doing math games and practice over the prior summer are great ways to up those scores!

The tests are very similar but have subtle differences. The SSAT may be a better choice for students whose reading skills and vocabulary are stronger, while the ISEE may be better suited to students with stronger math skills. If the school does not require one test over the other, students might take one test and if the score is low, give the other test a try.

Note that students may only take the ISEE once in a six month period and may not take the test as practice; a formal application must be made to at least one school for each test application and old scores are superceded by new ones. Students may take the SSAT multiple times, however, and then just submit their best individual score to schools, although the score report will note that the test had been taken more than once.

Q: Should students ever cancel their scores on the ACT or SAT? If you feel you did particularly bad is it a good idea to cancel your test?

Both ACT and SAT scores may be cancelled within a few days of the test, but students should really have a good reason to do so, not just nerves. It really is difficult to predict one’s score based on a gut feeling after taking the test, but if the student was ill or had any other extraordinary circumstance that would have affected his or her test performance, cancellation is a last resort. Remember though, most colleges will superscore the results from all the SATs taken, and a growing number of colleges will do so for the ACT, too, so even if the results in one or two sections of the test are poor, a higher score in another section generally makes it all worth keeping, since that score would benefit the overall score compilation.

For students taking the SAT Subject Tests, note that score cancellation affects all tests taken that day. Even if the student is concerned about one of two or three tests taken that day, it probably would be wiser to keep all the scores. Most colleges allow Score Choice, so any weak scores can be suppressed later.



Sunday, October 23rd, 2011
SAT prep ACT tutoring New York test prep tutor ISEE tutor New York SSAT tutoring PSAT prep NYC SHSAT Manhattan in-home tutoring Karen Berlin Ishii

Stuck between the SAT and the ACT?

Until recently, the SAT was taken by students applying to colleges on the East and West Coasts, the ACT by everyone else. Now, most colleges accept either test and students are often overwhelmed by choice. Which test suits whom? Is there any advantage to taking one test over the other? Or should students just hedge their bets and take both?

The same but different

The tests are about the same length, about 4 hours long. They both test reading, math, grammar and usage, and require an essay of about the same length (25 minutes for the SAT, 30 minutes for the ACT). Most students score comparably on either. Both tests are offered around 7 times a year and offer the option to submit only the best date’s scores to colleges. For students who have better scores in one section on one date and another section on a different date, the Common App allows students to list all and colleges generally create their own “superscore” from the best composite of either ACT or SAT results.

There are some important differences between the tests, however. The SAT Critical Reading section includes Sentence Completion questions which reward students who have strong vocabulary knowledge. The ACT doesn’t have that kind of question, but has a Science Reasoning section in addition to the math, reading and writing they have in common. The SAT has a reputation for “tricky” questions and scares some students with its error penalty provision: every four errors in any of the three sections results in one raw point off. The ACT has no penalty for errors.

For students who are applying to colleges that require SAT Subject Tests + SAT or ACT test alone, the ACT would be a natural choice if they do not have good scores to submit in two or three otherwise required SAT Subject Tests. Also, for students applying for special accomodations, if one test service grants the accomodation and the other one doesn’t, the choice is clear.

Which test is better?

The best way to answer that question is to take a full, timed practice test in each, under similar test conditions. That’s two 4.5 hour time investments, however – an exhausting proposition to many students. An easier way is to take a practice test in either one and if your results seem inconsistent with your overall academic achievement, then consider the other brand. Generally, students who have weak vocabularies (especially those who do not do much reading, or enjoy reading much) BUT are strong in math and science would do better to choose the ACT. Students who are uncomfortable with the SAT’s abstract essay topics might be more comfortable with the ACT’s student-friendly essay prompts, and the fact that on the ACT, the essay comes at the end of the test. The SAT essay is the first section, which some students find that exhausting. Since the essay is the least important section of both tests, students whose attention seriously flags over the course of such a long exam might score higher if they get to work on multiple choice questions first.

Choose one!

But in any case, choose one test! Top college coach Michele Hernandez advises students to pick one and prepare well. Note, too, that college admissions officers may look askance at too many test scores on an application, wondering why this student hasn’t found other things to do with his or her time. At a recent panel on college admissions strategies in New York, Ms. Hernandez stated her preference for the SAT because students can use the error “penalty” strategically to leverage partial knowledge and raise their score. Some test prep tutors prefer the SAT for that reason, too. Students tend to take whatever test is popular at their school, but the key consideration should only be this: On which test can I score higher?


Do you need to take SAT Subject Tests?

Friday, September 30th, 2011
SAT prep ACT tutoring New York test prep tutor ISEE tutor New York SSAT tutoring PSAT prep NYC SHSAT Manhattan in-home tutoring Karen Berlin Ishii

Foreign language skils translate into SAT Subject Test success.

SAT Subject Tests (previously called SAT IIs or Achievement Tests) are one-hour tests from the CollegeBoard, offered in a range of academic subjects. Most colleges require students to take the SAT or ACT but do not require the SAT Subject Tests. Among the more competitive colleges, however, applicants are encouraged or required to take two, preferably one each from the humanities and math/science offerings. For some of the most competitive colleges, three SAT Subject Tests are required.

Some colleges offer students the option of taking the SAT plus two SAT Subject Tests – or the ACT alone. For students who plan to take the ACT, it saves time, money and the stress of taking two more exams! But check the colleges’ requirements carefully so that you don’t fail to take a test that you might have needed for one or more colleges on your list.

SAT Subject Tests are offered in many subjects, including foreign languages (some with listening tests, offered only in November), history, literature, math, biology, physics, and more, all listed on the CollegeBoard’s very informative website. The best candidates for these tests are scoring high in their honors or AP course of the same subject. Ask your teacher if your course prepares you for the corresponding test. If so, and you are doing well, take a full timed practice test and see how you do.

The CollegeBoard publishes a book containing one real test in every subject that is offered, taking the guesswork out of the decision. Many students who plan to take the Math test are unsure whether Math I or Math II is the best fit, sometimes choosing based on peer pressure. Better to take the practice test – it only takes an hour – and decide on that basis. If you do not score near or above 600 without prep, you probably are not a strong candidate for this exam. There is no point in submitting low SAT Subject Test scores, and if you can’t produce the high scores expected by colleges that require these tests, that’s a signal to widen your college search parameters!

SAT Subject Tests are different from the SAT and the ACT. For one thing, they are much shorter and you can take up to three tests on one test date. You cannot also schedule an SAT exam on that date, so plan ahead. If you take advanced biology in 10th grade, you’ll do best on the bio test if you take it that same spring; don’t wait until you are a junior, first thinking about testing a year too late! If you are a strong speaker of Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean or Spanish, take the language test with listening as early as sophomore year so you can focus on other tests in junior and senior years.

The SAT Subject Tests are different in tone from the SAT and ACT. Much is made about strategy and test-taking techniques for those tests. If you’ve done your homework for them, you’ve absorbed enough strategy. For the SAT Subject Tests you really need to know your subject well, specifically the facts that the CollegeBoard thinks are important! Use the review books and few published real tests from the CollegeBoard to guide your review. If you are very strong in the subject, use Barron’s guides to the tests, which tend to be harder and more detailed than Kaplan or The Princeton Review, for example. Note that if you buy the individual subject test books published by CollegeBoard, one of the merely two real tests included in each book is the same one that is published in their big book of SAT Subject Tests.

Students may take the same test more than once and most colleges will just count the higher score. In fact, most colleges allow students to apply “Score Choice” to their test score submissions, choosing which tests they want the colleges to see, and which scores will be hidden. So, usually it doesn’t hurt to try a test which you are unsure of. Since you are not required to sign up for more than one test per date but may take up to three once you are there,  it’s a great idea to take a second or third test as a practice test for next time, or just to see how you do in a subject in which your strengths are not so clear.


Great tips for SAT prep and college admissions with a New York focus

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Karen Berlin Ishii is a  top SAT tutor in New York, ACT, SSAT, ISEE and homework help, too.

I recently expanded my SAT and College Admissions prep advice columns to a terrific Web resource,, where I am wear two hats: New York Examiner for College Admissions and New York Examiner for Test Prep.

Check out expanded versions of posts from this blog as well as many more articles with great tips and timely information for high school students to prepare for the SAT, ACT and college admissions. You can find an index of all Test Prep articles here, and College Admissions articles here.



Cracking the College Admissions Code

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

College prep and admissions deciphered for parents and teens in New York City, September 17, 2011.

The Brown Club in New York is proud to present a terrific panel of experts in the college admissions process who will take these issues apart and help make sense of the tasks for students and their parents. As time permits, panelists will also respond to individual questions from the audience.

Participants include:

– Michele Hernandez, one of the very top independent college counselors, a former admissions officer at Dartmouth College, best-selling author of “A is for Admission” and “Acing the College Application.” She appears regularly on TV and writes for major publications on college admissions.

– Mike Muska, Dean of College Relations at Poly Prep in NY and former Assistant Director of Admission at Brown, as well as co-author of “Getting In!”

– Lynn O’Shaughnessy, higher-ed journalist, speaker, consultant and author of the best-selling “The College Solution.” Lynn also writes about college issues for Time, The New York Times, BusinessWeek and other national publications.

– Larry Dannenberg, owner of College Solutions and an independent college coach with unique expertise in applying financial strategies to college planning and choices.

– Karen Berlin Ishii, ’78, SAT and ACT test prep expert in New York who has taught for The Princeton Review and Boston Academic Tutors.

The panel will be moderated by Magee Hickey, ’77, TV news reporter and producer of many years’ experience, now an anchor at WPIX News in New York.

Our panel’s goal is to give you concrete suggestions – as well as thought-provoking ideas – that will help your teens achieve smart, timely college prep and make all-round wise college choices. This is a terrific opportunity to get answers to your questions from a range of respected names in college prep and admissions.

This event is open to alumni, family, and friends. Parents are encouraged to bring their children and attend as a family. Click here to purchase tickets.

Breakfast buffet will be served.
Saturday, September 17, 2011  10:00 AM – 12:30 PM


The Cornell Club
Ivy Room
6 East 44th Street
NY, NY 10017

For additional information, please contact Karen Berlin Ishii at
Panel members subject to change.


When is the best time to take the SAT?

Monday, April 11th, 2011
SAT prep, ACT tutoring, New York test prep, tutor New York, college test prep

Who took too many SATs?

With college test anxiety at a record high, some students are prepping as early as fall of sophomore year, taking the SAT multiple times their junior year, and burning out on the test process as a result. Not only is this unneccesary, it’s counterproductive, since it increases stress, takes time from more worthwhile activites and academic achievement, and doesn’t really raise scores. At a panel discussion on college test prep and admissions presented by The Brown Club in New York City, experts in the field agreed on these tips:

Plan to take the SAT twice: once in the spring of your junior year and once in the fall of your senior year. The best dates are May and October. May is a great time to take the SAT for the first time since it is nearly the end of junior year, so you have time to prep and build nearly your entire year’s worth of knowledge before the test. May is also one of the three times a year when the SAT is offered with “Question and Answer Service.” For an additional $18, students can request a copy of the test booklet and an annotated copy of their answer sheet, comparable to the PSAT results. This is a terrific study tool for the fall SAT! Be sure to order this at the time you sign up for the test, not after you take it, as the Collegeboard requires 8 weeks’ notice before they will send it.

Taking the SAT in May leaves June for SAT Subject Tests if you plan to take those. That’s a great time since AP exams and finals are around the same time and you can study concurrently for all of the subjects, since the tests cover the same broad body of knowledge.

Then you have the summer to review your results, make your college list with your scores to guide you, and study for the fall test. Take the SAT one more time in October. This gives you plenty of time to receive your scores for college applications, and if you have improved, you can add more competitive colleges to your list. November is a second opportunity to take SAT Subject Tests. You can retake a test from the spring that you worked on over the summer, or add another test to the mix. There’s no downside to presenting more test scores than the colleges require, as long as all your scores are high. For SAT Subject Tests, which are only required by the most competitive colleges, scores under 600 should not even be submitted. (If all your scores are lower, then consider adding colleges to your list that don’t require these tests.)

If anything goes wrong in October, you do have November, December and yes, even January to retake the SAT! November is the last test date for Early Decision applications, however, and if you do plan to take a late SAT, be sure to notify the colleges’ admissions offices to confirm that they will accept those scores, and advise them to expect your score reports.

Since most colleges and the Common App only ask you to list your best score per section, cherry picking from all your SAT tests, there’s no need to order “Score Choice;” just submit all your scores. By taking the test in May and in October, with ample study and time to mature between those dates, students are most likely to achieve the most reliable score improvement with the least amount of anxiety and excessive test-taking.


Taking the SAT or ACT with extra time accommodations

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

For students with demonstrated need, most standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT offer a wide range of special accommodations such as extra time, a quiet space, use of a computer for otherwise handwritten responses, handicap access, large print, dictation, and more, making it possible for most students to take these tests. And since 2003, the SAT, PSAT and AP test scores of students who take the tests with accommodations are no longer “flagged,” enabling those students to compete on equal footing with every other student.

By far the most common and covetted accommodation is extra time, typically time and half on the SAT and ACT. With ADHD and other learning differences increasingly diagnosed, demand for extra time is higher than ever. According to the CDC, over five million American children have ADHD, 8.6% of the child population. It follows that the standardized test companies are receiving huge numbers of applications for accommodations. As a result, the criteria have become more stringent, detailed and complicated, so it is crucial to get accommodations in place early and to follow the recommended procedures.

The system is far from perfect; many students fall through the cracks through no fault of their own. The student who, though granted extra time at school, has gamely persevered without using that extra time, will be denied it on the SAT or ACT, even though his documentation is in place. In one instance, a student at one of New York’s most competitive high schools, The Bronx High School of Science, had worked extra hard to take tests in school with his classmates, and was subsequently denied the critical recommendation for accomodations from the school psychologist, who claimed that his participation in regular testing negated his disability. Without the school psychologist on board, it is very difficult to prepare a package that the SAT or ACT administration will accept, even with other professional testing results.

Online bulletin boards are filled with pleas for advice from parents of children who merit accomodations but haven’t been accorded them. One problem is that the ACT considers high functioning learning-disabled students’ applications with prejudice because their academic achievements are subjectively ruled sufficient, even though they may be far below that student’s capability when granted the needed accommodation. There is some good news, though. According to an excellent recent article in the New York Times, court rulings and a revised disability law that goes into effect in March 2011 should help some of these students.

The parents of students who need extra time often have to make a tremendous – and sometimes costly – effort to secure their children’s rightful accommodations. In the long run, though, it is more than worth it, as test scores almost always jump up massively with the extra time. For anyone considering applying for accommodations, make this task a top priority in your college preparation.

Here are some excellent resources on testing accomodations:

Extended Time and other Accommodations on the SAT and ACT

New York Times Education section article: Accommodations Angst

The National Center for Learning Disabilities – The SAT: Where It’s At

SAT: The CollegeBoard’s Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD)

Homeschoolers Applying for Accomodations on the SAT

ACT: Services for Students with Disabilities

GRE (also PRAXIS, TOEFL, AP tests, SATs)