Understanding Standardized Testing

What is standardized testing and why is it important?

Standardized testing is a way of testing the knowledge of students from all over in a consistent way. Different types of standardized tests are the SAT, ACT, AP tests, IB tests, SAT Subject Tests (AKA SAT IIs), and the TOEFL.


Which standardized tests do you need to take?

First and foremost, it is important to check the websites of the schools you are applying to and see if the school has any specific requirements; for example, Georgetown University asks for the submission of an ACT or SAT score, and does not require, but recommends submission of three subject or AP tests, whereas UChicago will accept any score, but does not require their submission on an application. 



The truth of the matter regarding whether one should take the SAT or the ACT primarily revolves around whether a certain school you are applying to has a preference for one over the other, but for the majority of schools, both are accepted and treated equally. The SAT has math, evidence-based reading, and writing with an optional essay. The ACT has English, mathematics, reading, science, and an optional writing test. The ACT is 3 hours and 40 minutes including the optional essay, and the SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes; thus, the ACT allows a fewer amount of time per question compared to the SAT. The ACT also offers a science section. In terms of the essays, the majority of schools do not require the essay, but make sure to check out your application requirements to decide if you want to take it or not. If you are not sure which test you should take, try taking a practice test of each type and see which one you like better! 


AP, IB, and SAT IIs, and TOEFL

Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests are taken at the end of the school year after taking an AP or IB course throughout the year. The majority of schools do not require these tests, but they are a strong supplement to a student’s applications. 

SAT IIs, or SAT Subject Tests, are a lesser used form of standardized testing nowadays, and are structured very similarly to AP tests in that they test your knowledge from a subject in a different form than an AP test. AP tests tend to be a little bit more difficult and focus on the content from a specific AP class, whereas SAT IIs tend to be a little more broad and cater to a general high school education. Make sure to check out which schools ask for or recommend AP and SAT IIs.

The TOEFL, or the Test of English as a Foreign Language, is a test that some schools will recommend or require from students whose first language is not English. The TOEFL tests one’s reading, listening, speaking and writing of the English language. If English is your first language, or if you are a citizen of the country the school you’re applying to is in, you likely will not need this test, but it is a good idea to check out the website of the schools to double check. 


What about test optional schools?

Some schools describe themselves as test optional, in which students are not required to submit test scores with their application. This scares some students–test scores seem like such a big deal in the college process! If a school claims to be test optional, that means that not submitting your test scores with your application cannot hurt your chances at getting accepted. If you know that your test scores are within the range of typically accepted scores at a test optional school, feel free to include them in your application!

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