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Should Your Sophomore Take The October PSAT? And More on Standardized Testing...

Uploaded: Oct 12, 2014
In March, The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT (once known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test but now simply known as the SAT), announced plans to redesign the exam. The first full length practice tests will be released in spring 2015 and the new SAT will be available to our students in March 2016. According to College Board officials presenting at the College Board Counselor Conference on September 23, 2014, the new SAT emphasizes vocabulary deemed more relevant to college level coursework, focuses on an increased breadth of math fundamentals, including precalculus, and includes an optional 50 minute analytical writing section that requires direct evidence and argument. I imagine that more selective colleges may prefer to see the writing section in order to more fully evaluate applicants and that students who elect to take and submit the writing portion of the exam will hold a distinct advantage.

The Khan Academy in collaboration with College Board is creating in-depth practice problems and instructional videos (see These will be available at no charge in spring 2015 ? a year before the launch of the redesigned exam. Each student will be able to practice at his own pace using Khan's personalized training which advances the student from one level to the next as she progresses toward her score goal.

Should current sophomores take the current version of the PSAT in October even though the SAT is going to change? This is the question many families are asking as we approach the October test date. My objective in this article is to offer families an understanding of the alternatives available so they can make more informed decisions. I will state at the onset that I suggest sophomores as a group can safely ignore the PSAT this fall. However, if your student is already registered (and the fee is paid), there is no harm in taking the exam...just don't take the scores to heart! Read on...

The majority of colleges include standardized testing as a requirement for admissions. Current sophomores (Class of 2017) have three options to choose from in order to meet this testing requirement:

Option 1: Sophomores still have four chances to take the current SAT in October, November and December of 2015, as well as January 2016. Option 1 gives the student the opportunity to avoid the stress of taking a newly designed test the first season it is administered, achieving their score goal early in junior year and moving on. Taking this option, I suggest current sophomores ignore the PSAT; the results of the PSAT are not available until mid-December and a lot of learning takes place in the first months of the year; we all know that quick feedback on any exam is most useful to learning. Sophomores should aim to do as well as they can in 10th grade coursework and take a full length (current version) SAT practice exam in June 2015. Exams that have been administered are easy to access. At the end of sophomore year, students will be more prepared to take the exam and thus can place greater confidence in the results. If they feel good about the test and their scores, they can prep for and take the current SAT on one or more of three test dates in the fall of 2015, or even in January 2016. These students may well be done with testing just as the second semester of the busy junior year unfolds.

Students who have not achieved their score goal by January 2016 will have to decide if it is best to accept these scores, or prepare for and take the new SAT. If they decide to take the new SAT, they will have the summer following their junior year and fall of their senior year to prepare. Many students do that now successfully and it is not unusual. In addition, they will be able to access the free Khan Academy materials to help achieve their goals. Certainly there will also be ample opportunities to participate in the numerous fee-based SAT prep seminars and private tutoring that are offered in abundance in our region.

Option 2: Ignore the PSAT this October, take the redesigned PSAT in October 2015 as a practice test for the new SAT and prepare for and take the exam, which will be administered for the first time in March 2016. The pros of this option are that students are older, more mature and have more coursework completed, including any summer academic enrichment they may have pursued. The cons are that colleges have never seen, much less used, the new scores in admission decisions and we don't know how they will view them to evaluate applicants. Another downside is the reliance on the test prep industry to competently develop new prep materials and train their tutors to guide our students. I am not certain I would want my student to be the 'guinea pig' during a test transition cycle.

Option 3: Take the ACT. The ACT is the other standardized test that colleges accept when students apply. Either the ACT or the SAT meets the admission requirement and last cycle, for the first time in history, more students chose to take the ACT. The ACT is not expected to change significantly from its present form. Students who can read quickly and remember the details of what they read tend to do better on the exam. The easy way to tell if this is the right test for your student is to have her take practice reading and science sections of the ACT to see if she can finish on time without making careless errors. (You can diagnose a careless error by having her retry the missed questions, untimed, and then have her indicate which ones she feels she "should have gotten right.") Practice tests can be found in The Real ACT Prep Guide.

Given these three options, sophomores can safely ignore the PSAT this October as well as any other testing being offered. For a stronger read on testing, sophomores should take a full length SAT practice exam in summer 2015, preferably soon after school lets out while academics are still fresh in the student minds. To discern if the ACT is right for them, they should follow the guidelines for the ACT suggested above about the same time. Armed with both test results, they can make a more informed decision.

A final note: Is there a reliable way for your current sophomore to know if the redesigned SAT or the ACT is better for them? My position is that it is too soon to discern significant differences. Too early because there is insufficient information about the new SAT to formulate valid sets of questions, too early for our students to have mastered the necessary academic material, and definitely too early to put our students into a competitive standardized testing mindset. Our children, especially younger, more vulnerable 10th graders, are already under too much stress and this approach creates more. The best preparation for any standardized test (current SAT, new SAT or the ACT) is to develop a solid academic foundation in high school. Good students tend to perform well on any exam. Reading a good book or sleeping in on a Saturday morning beats taking another standardized test any day!

Elizabeth LaScala Ph.D. guides college, transfer and graduate school applicants through the complex world of admission. Elizabeth helps students identify majors and career paths, and develops best match college lists; she offers personalized essay coaching, and tools and strategies to help students tackle each step of the admissions process with confidence and success. Elizabeth guides students from all backgrounds to maximize scholarship opportunities and financial aid awards. For more information visit Elizabeth Call (925) 891-4491 or email her at
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Posted by First Time Mom of High Schooler, a resident of Bonde Ranch,
on Oct 13, 2014 at 10:34 pm

Thank you so much. This article has been very helpful. I hope to be a pro on the ins and outs of SATs and ACTs by the time my 3rd child goes to high school. My oldest will still take the PSAT on Wednesday as she has been registered already. At least she will still get a good practice out of that...but I think after everything that I have been hearing and reading about ACT, she might end up taking ACT eventually.

Posted by Carole, a resident of Monte Vista High School,
on Oct 18, 2014 at 12:59 am

Thank you for this useful information. As a parent of a current 10th grade student, I am concerned that the new SAT with the Common Core format may prove challenging for students graduating in 2017. They only just transitioned to the common core learning style and due to this, may struggle with some of the new SAT content.

Posted by Tim, a resident of California Somerset,
on Mar 4, 2015 at 6:31 am

Thank you for sharing this article, It helps a lot to decide what to do with SAT or ACTs especially for young students. I recommend this website for study tips, hope it helps for other students.

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