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Standardized testing plays significant, but small, role in the college application process

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Posted: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 12:00 am

Until the mid 1920s, only students who attended top-ranked private high schools on the East Coast had reason to apply to Yale. Elite colleges believed only students who had been through a rigorous curriculum could succeed in our nation’s best universities.

Obviously, this neglected a vast amount of budding geographically challenged geniuses without parents who could afford exorbitant tuition. In order to find these diamonds in the rough, a quasi IQ test called the SAT came into existence.

Decades later, students still take the SAT hoping to earn an acceptable score to gain admission to the college of their choice. While some do quite well, others find this test challenging as it assesses how a student thinks, rather than what a student knows, making it unlike any other exam. Those students who find success on the SAT elusive should consider an alternative, the ACT.

Unlike the SAT, the ACT math section looks like tests taken throughout high school. Students who find math challenging, enjoy the straightforward questions of the ACT versus the conceptual word problems found in the SAT. Because the SAT demands students apply concepts to think outside the box, students without a firm grasp of math find this section intimidating. Fortunately, the format of the ACT makes it much easier to study specific concepts and apply them to basic problems.

The ACT has three other sections; reasoning, reading and English, all of which require critical reading skills making it the better test for those with strengths in this area. In both the reasoning and reading sections of the ACT, students read information in order to pull out facts, draw conclusions and explain the point of passages, essays and experiments. The English section requires students to rearrange, reword, remove and insert sentences in various works as well as know the difference between words like affect and effect.

Oftentimes, parents spend thousands on SAT tutors for their children before learning the ACT better fits their student’s learning style. Don’t make this all-too-common mistake. Consider your student’s strengths and weakness before choosing the test in which you will invest your time and money. Better yet, have your student try both to determine the one with which they feel more comfortable.

No matter which test you choose, keep in mind that standardized testing plays a significant, but small, role in the college application process. If these tests don’t show off a student’s intellectual prowess, one’s grades and entrance essay will.


Shauna Cahill is a tutor, college planner and high school life coach in the Ahwatukee Foothills area. She offers an SAT Tips and Techniques Workshop, as well as ACT test prep throughout the school year. To register for February sessions, contact her at (480) 794-0177 or

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