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Definitions: Standardized Testing Terms

Standardized Testing:


The PSAT is a “practice” SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test. It is usually taken in 10th and/or 11th grade. In 10th grade, view it as an anxiety free chance to take a test whose results don’t matter but gets you used to sitting down and filling out bubbles. Familiarity with the tests and getting used to them is essential for many students to do well. Families should review the scores in 10th grade and see which areas: Critical Reading, Math, or Writing Skills the student does well on and which could perhaps use some brushing up.

For 11th graders who do well on standardized testing, did well on the PSAT in 10th grade, or haven’t taken the PSAT, taking the PSAT in 11th grade will qualify them for the NMSQT aka National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test. The National Merit Scholarship is very competitive, but well-worth the effort as it mean scholarship money as well as additional glowing items to put on your application. Around 3% of test takers qualify, but only .01% actually qualify for the scholarship itself.


The SAT or Scholastic Aptitude Test is supposed to test the ability to use critical thinking and reasoning. It is not based on what you learned in high school but how you use your native intelligence to solve problems. It covers reading, math, writing, and vocabulary. The current SAT has a diabolical vocabulary list of words for the modern scholar. In Spring 2016, the College Board is rolling out the New SAT. They are dropping the erudite verbiage (vocab) and changing the test so that less time needs to be spent figuring out what the actual question is. It tests English, Math, and Reading skills. Currently it has a perfect score of 2400, in the spring it will have a high score of 1600. It also has an optional essay and no penalty for guessing or deduction for wrong answers. There are free SAT practice opportunities on Kahn Academy and other sites. There are 7 test dates during the school year.

General advice is to take the SAT in the spring or winter of the 11th grade or junior year. That way the student has another opportunity to take the test in the beginning of the senior year. Note students may be eligible for college merit scholarships based on their testing scores.


In the spirit of changing names to confuse people, the ACT Plan is sometimes called the the ACT ASPIRE. In either case it is a practice ACT. Students usually take it in 10th or 11th grade as a run up to taking the ACT.


The ACT is more popular in the mid-western United States, but is becoming more popular elsewhere. The ACT purports to test the math, analytical reading, scientific reasoning, grammar and usage, and writing (optional essay) skills that are taught in high school. It is a content, instead of, reasoning based test. There has never been a penalty for wrong answers, and the questions tend to be relatively straightforward. Some students do markedly better on one test than the other. It advised to take both tests to see which suits the student more. There are free and low cost test preparation options on the internet. , There are 6 testing dates during the year.

Note students may be eligible for college merit scholarships based on their testing scores.


SAT Subject tests are available 6 times a year. It is a one hour test in a variety of subjects in math, foreign language, science, history, and literature. If a student has done particularly well or really likes a certain subject like Chemistry or World History, the student can sign up to take the subject test. It is usually given at the same time as the SAT and is best taken at or near the end of the class. Many colleges have dropped their requirements for Subject tests. But even if they are not required, they do show an objective measure of mastery of a subject.

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