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What Michigan’s switch to the SAT means for high school students

Wednesday’s announcement that the Michigan Department of Education will be offering the SAT as the free college admission test in all public schools caught many people by surprise. All Michigan colleges requiring an admission test accept both the SAT and ACT, but Michigan has offered the ACT as part of the Michigan Merit Exam to all public school juniors since 2007. Since Michigan has its roots as being an “ACT only” state, Wednesday’s announcement is a reminder that the only thing constant in applying to college is change.

Several recent articles in Bridge have covered some of the anxiety parents and students face when making a college choice or paying for college, so it would be easy to see this announcement as one more adjustment for college-bound families to make. But the switch to the SAT also gives students an opportunity to make the most of a new situation, and the related changes that come with the new test.

Some critical points to keep in mind:

The change takes effect in 2016. If you are a high school junior, absolutely nothing has changed. You will take the ACT as part of the MME this March, and it will still be free. If your school offers an ACT test prep class or workshop, take it—it will come in handy in a couple of months.

Tenth graders, double down on your studies. No one has seen specific questions that will be on the new SAT, but the goal of the new test is to better measure what students understand from their work in the classroom. As a result, the more you understand from class, the better prepared you’ll be for the test—just make sure you know the difference between memorizing (“Who was the first president of the United States?”) and understanding (“If the first US president was alive, what three things would bother him the most about government today?”)

Plan on taking the PSAT in the fall. A new version of the SAT next spring means there will be a new version of the PSAT this fall—and there’s nothing like the PSAT to get you SAT ready. Some schools will offer the PSAT test for free, but if your school charges a fee, it’s worth saving your pennies now for an experience that will pay off big dividends in eight months. PSAT test prep materials will be available when you come back to school in the fall.

Give your school counselor support and space. In the next year, your school counselor will have to administer the current MME; plan for the new MME; help teachers adjust curriculum to meet the demands of the new MME; revamp the test prep classes and seminars they offer so they’re ready for the new MME, and make sure they understand how to interpret the sub-scores of an SAT that isn’t created yet. Much of a counselor’s work on your behalf is done when you aren’t around, and that will include more hours on the MME this year. They’d much rather spend the time working with you—but for now, they will have to work for you. The best thing you can do is be patient, and appreciative.

Be ready to take both the ACT and SAT next spring. Just like two English teachers approach teaching differently, two college tests approach assessment differently—and one approach may make more sense to you than the other. Since that difference can play an important role in where you go to college, plan on taking each test next spring—and if you need help paying for the ACT, ask your counselor if you qualify for a fee waiver.

There are two kinds of excitement in planning for college—the kind that leads to worry, and the kind that leads to action. This week’s SAT announcement seemed to have come out of nowhere, but it can still take you somewhere. Just where is largely up to you—and that’s the good kind of excitement.

Patrick O’Connor is Associate Dean of College Counseling at Cranbrook Schools, and author of “College is Yours 2.0”

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