This year’s crop of Michigan high school juniors will be the first to take the SAT college admission standardized test instead of the ACT. The switch, announced in January, lowered costs for the state, but raised the blood pressure of families and school officials, who worried the switch could affect test scores and, because those scores are used as a factor in admissions to most colleges, affect college enrollment.
Bridge spoke with a variety of test prep and college admission experts, who said the impact may be less than feared, especially for students who do their homework.
Is the ACT prep Michigan students have completed worthless now?
Worth less, perhaps, but definitely not worthless.
Most Michigan schools gave students the ACT-based standardized tests EXPLORE and PLAN in grades leading up to the 11th grade to help acquaint students with the ACT. That test prep won’t be as helpful on the SAT.
But the SAT is being redesigned for 2016, and is expected to more closely resemble the ACT than in the past, said Tim Parros, founder of Parros College Planning in Ann Arbor. That could make that ACT prep more helpful on the new SAT than on the old SAT.
Will Michigan students perform worse on the 2016 SAT than they would have on the ACT because they aren’t as familiar with it?
Maybe, but that won’t hurt them as much as you think. Here’s why:
The vast majority of college-going Michigan students attend colleges in Michigan. Admission officers at those universities “are sensitive to the switch-over to the SAT,” said Brandy Johnson, executive director of the Michigan College Access Network a nonprofit organization focused on preparing students for college, particularly low-income and first-generation college students and students of color. “They fully expect the scores to go down, and are planning to adjust their admissions criteria because of that.”
One admissions officer at a Michigan public university told Johnson that, at least in the short-term, SAT scores would be de-emphasized in the admissions process and more emphasis put on high school grades.
But what if I want to go to college outside of Michigan? Will I be at a disadvantage compared with students from elsewhere accustomed to the SAT?
Patrick O’Connor, associate dean of college counseling at Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills and past president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, says the 2016 redesign of the SAT nationally should decrease that disadvantage.
“Not only are we switching to the SAT, but the SAT itself is changing,” O’Connor said. “The good news is that colleges around the country are not only concerned about what Michigan scores will look like, but how everyone is going to look like.
“If you’re going to switch, this is a good year to do it,” O’Connor said. “I would imagine colleges will be leaning more heavily on grades and other factors” until they can assess how the new SAT is working.
If the SAT given in March is new, is there any way to prepare for it?
Information on the new test, which will be given for the first time in March, can be found here.
Free sample tests are available online through a partnership between the College Board (the creator of the SAT) and Khan Academy. After you take a sample test, Kahn Academy will make suggestions for areas where you can study to improve your score. That’s also free and online.
Johnson and O’Connor encourage students to take the sample tests. “It’s really interactive and really fun,” Johnson said. “It’s totally free and really rivals the quality of (fee-based) test programs.”
I still think I’d do better on the ACT.
You can still take the ACT. In fact, it’s encouraged.
In addition to the SAT that all juniors will be required to take in March (free, at their schools), College planner Parros recommends students also take the ACT. “If it were my son, I’d advise him to take the ACT until the bugs are worked out of the SAT,” Parros said. “I’d hate to send someone in blind.”
Students have to be proactive if they want to take the ACT. They need to sign up online to take the test, which is given on national test dates several times during the year, beginning in September. They’ll have to pay for it ($56.50 to take the test with the writing segment) or apply for a fee waiver.
In addition to the sample tests on Khan Academy, what else can I do to prepare for the new SAT?
The PSAT (a shorter version of the SAT) is given to juniors in the fall. It offers students a preview of the SAT under real test-taking conditions (In addition, students must take the PSAT if they want to be considered for a National Merit Scholarship).
The PSAT is given at most Michigan high schools, but often is only given to students who sign up for it. There is a fee for the test, but low- and moderate-income students can qualify to get the test for free. It’s typically up to the student to apply for a fee waiver, generally through the student’s high school.
Students should ask their advisors about the PSAT, O’Connor said.