Standardized tests give a leg up to college hopefuls

Standardized test scores from either the ACT or SAT supplement a student’s college application by providing admissions officers with objective data.  The College Board offers additional standardized tests that have other useful purposes for a student, in addition to aiding with admissions decisions.

The PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is offered only during October (this year on 10/16 or 10/19) and measures critical reading, math, and writing skills. Besides providing students with an opportunity to practice for the SAT, this test offers feedback on areas of strength and weakness, and can help a student decide whether to continue prepping for the SAT or to focus on the ACT instead.

High school juniors have an additional incentive to take the PSAT, as it is used to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.  Of high-scoring students, approximately 34,000 receive letters of commendation, another 16,000 are designated as semi-finalists, and, eventually, 8,000 are named as finalists. Students may register for the PSAT and pick up a test guide in their counseling office.  Ambitious students in the 9th or 10th grades also may register to take the test for practice, in addition to using books, online tools, or test prep companies.

SAT Subject Tests, or SAT IIs, may be required by highly selective universities, such as those in the Ivy League, in addition to either the SAT or the ACT. There are 20 one-hour long subject tests within five general areas:  math, English, history, science, and foreign languages. Students take two or three tests to demonstrate their depth and breadth of knowledge within the subject.  Besides providing data to determine eligibility for general admissions, these tests also may be used to secure a seat within a specific school or major, can be used to determine appropriate course selections, or in some cases, may lead to college credit, – depending on the score.

It is ideal to take subject tests right after studying that particular subject in school, as the material is fresh in the student’s mind; course textbooks or subject test prep books serve as excellent study aids.  Subject tests are offered several times a year and usually taken during the junior and/or senior year.

Advanced Placement (AP) tests, are taken by high school students after completion of an AP course.  These rigorous courses prepare students for college, demonstrate their willingness to challenge themselves, and can result in college credits.  These test scores, if reported, provide supplemental data to admissions representatives.  According to the College Board, more than 90 percent of colleges and universities in the United States offer college credit or advanced placement depending on AP scores.

For now and for the foreseeable future, these tests are useful and potentially valuable.   Students who are motivated to prepare for and take these tests, can benefit by gaining merit scholarships, college and program admissions, college credits, and appropriate course placements.

Ferah Aziz is a college coach with launchphase2. Visit or call 720-340-8111 to learn more about coaching for college bound students, and success coaching for college students. P. Carol Jones is the author of “Toward College Success: Is Your Teenager Ready, Willing, and Able.” Visit to read excerpts and to follow her blog.