Thursday, March 22, 2012

College Testing

Although my older son is only a HS freshman, we are already thinking about college testing.  No it isn't because I'm some horrible Type A Tiger Mother; rather it is because he'll eventually have to take at least 2 subject SATs and Biology would be a natural for him since he is strong in the sciences.  He's taking Biology this year, so it probably would be wise for him to take it in June and have it all over with.  Not only will the material be fresh in his mind, but then he won't have another test to contend with as he's in the throes of the college application process.
So I attended an Inspirica seminar a while ago to learn more about the subject SATs.  Here's what I got out of it:
  • The subject SATs are similar to the achievement tests we took when we were in HS.  Were once called SAT IIs.  They are administered by the College Board.
  • They are content-based (measure what you learned, as opposed to the standard SAT which measures reasoning), 1 hour tests.
  • All are multiple choice.
  • There are 20 different subjects: English literature, Biology (Ecological), Biology (Molecular), Chemistry, Physics, U.S. History, World History, Math 1, Math 2 and foreign languages (only recommended for those who are really fluent).
  • Math 1 covers algebra 1 & 2 plus geometry.  The content is more difficult than SAT math, but the scale is more forgiving (50 questions, can get 10-12 wrong and still score in the 700s).  Appropriate for 10th graders.  Calculators are allowed on both math tests.
  • Math 2 covers algebra 1 & 2 plus geometry and trigonometry.  The content begins at a higher level than Math 1 and the scale is even more forgiving (50 questions, can get 17-20 wrong and still get in the 700 range).  Should take this test if you are touting math/science skills and/or you are going to math/science oriented school (e.g. MIT).
  • The Biology tests are not easy, so although this is often a freshman subject, some 9th graders really won't be ready.  75% of the test is the same, but the Molecular test has a genetics/biochemistry focus, while the Ecological is geared more toward population/environmental issues.  The curriculum and results of a practice test should determine which test the student takes.
  • The Chemistry and Physics exams are the most difficult of all the subject tests, as both require both breadth and depth of knowledge.  Calculators are not allowed.
  • English literature is the least tied to coursework - it tests reading comprehension and literary analysis but not vocabulary.  60 questions. 50/50 prose and poetry, so must be comfortable with poetry.  If students do well on the critical reading section of the SAT, they are more likely to do well on this.  60 questions - can lead to time constraints since there is lots to read and respond to.  Many juniors take this early in the school year to get it out of the way.
  • Both history tests focus more on the eras and trends than on dates and names.  Good to check in with your school to make sure the curriculum covers a broad enough spectrum.  World really means world - includes questions about Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and US.
  • Each college has its own testing requirements (and they often change them), but most require/recommend 2 SAT subject tests in addition to the SAT/ACT to demonstrate achievement/interest in specific subject areas.  Some schools are ok with the ACT Plus Writing rather than the SAT and 2 SAT subject tests.  You can see school testing requirements via the common application.
  • A possible strategy is to take as many as possible if you are a good test-taker.  You don't have to submit the results.  And you can take each test multiple times.  Can even cancel scores several days after the test day (but if you take more than one test per day, but cancel or keep all).
  • Best idea: take a sample test - Inspirica will analyze the results.  The pre-test is a previously published tests.  This should show if the subject is worth the effort for a subject SAT for you.
  • Recommended: take the test in the subjects in which you excel.  If you take math and science, for example, you can show your humanities strengths in other ways on the application.
  • Certainly you want to have these out of the way by the end of your junior year.  Can do a diagnostic in Feb/March, do prep throughout the spring, and take the test in May or June.
  • There are quite a number of test dates throughout the year: the ACT, SAT and SAT subject tests are given almost monthly; the PSAT is in Oct; AP tests are on specific dates.
  • Here is a possible calendar: 9th grade - take Biology test in May/June; 10th grade - take PPSAT in Oct., Chemistry/Math 1 diagnostic in March, Chem or Math 1 test in May; Chem or Math 1 test in June; 11th grade - determine test focus with SAT & ACT diagnostics over the summer, take PSAT in Oct., take Physics/Math 2 diagnostics in March, take ACT in April, take AP exams and Physics or Math 2 tests in May, take Physics or Math 2 test in June; 12th grade - work on college essay over summer,  retake ACT in Sept and again in Oct if needed, retake subject tests if needed in Nov.

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