The purpose of standardized testing is to level the playing field of college applications when it is nearly impossible to compare the quality of secondary education around the U.S. and around the world. For the most selective colleges, an impressive SAT or ACT score sits beside high marks from a tough academic program in an application worthy of consideration.
Tips on how to approach them?
- Like your U.S. counterparts, write the PSAT’s in October of grade 10. If your school does not offer them, Havergal College and St. Michael’s College School in Toronto, as of this writing, offer a limited number of spaces to outside students. Your results include your scores and identification of areas you need to work on for future testing. Note: Pre-ACT tests are available at some US high schools, and if you find anything nearby, please share that with us.
- Prepare in advance. At various sites are sample questions from both tests:
Trying practice tests can help you choose which test you prefer.
- Write an actual SAT or ACT during your grade 11 year, preferably in the fall or winter, well before year-end school exams. You then have time in summer for further prep if you want to write in the fall of grade 12.
- Consider carefully before committing major time and funds to tutoring. For some, it’s not even an option, and schoolwork is your primary job at this stage of your life. Do your research carefully, remembering that even if you raise your scores to the highest echelon, you may still not make it to the elite program of your dreams.
- Don’t panic if your second-round scores are worse that your first. Counter-intuitively, students don’t necessarily improve on a re-write. It’s scored on a bell-curve, and everyone writing in the fall is in grade 12.
- Remember also that these standardized tests really show skill at doing that kind of a test, but not other kinds of intelligence. These tests do help selective colleges with thousands of applications to focus on the highest scorers. Creativity, motivation, thoughtfulness, and ability to see different angles of an issue are not on the table. Many extremely bright and successful individuals never did well on these tests.
- Good news: an increasing number of U.S. colleges are becoming test-optional, though you may need to write an additional essay about why you are well-suited to that school, or what your strengths are that standardized tests do not show. There are additional selective colleges that do not require the tests from international applicants.
Our best advice: Give them your best shot without going bananas. Balance your prep time with other commitments and see how you do. You don’t want to disqualify yourself from consideration at a desirable school that does require them, even though their median acceptance scores aren’t prohibitively high. Who knows? You may do better than you expected.