FVHS students study for the SAT. (Photo by Alexander Tran)

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How to navigate taking the SAT and ACT

Here’s a guide to deciding whether or not taking the SAT and ACT is right for you.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/btnguyen151/" target="_self">Brandon Nguyen (Student FVHS)</a>

Brandon Nguyen (Student FVHS)

February 17, 2022
Deciding to take the SAT and ACT can be awfully confusing for students. Information is spread from ear to ear about which schools are test optional, how much a college cares if you take standardized testing, what score you should send and more.
Both are nationally recognized standardized tests, but have recently been caught up in a debate of whether colleges should continue considering them or not. With online SAT and ACT testing during school shutdowns from the coronavirus pandemic, resource disparities among communities have been highlighted causing much consideration on how to best assess applicants. Here’s a guide to deciding whether or not taking the SAT and ACT is right for you.

First, three essential terms

Students will usually find on their college applications or through navigating the college website three terms regarding the SAT and ACT.

The first term is test-optional. Test-optional schools will allow students to choose whether or not they want to send their scores. Students won’t be at a disadvantage, whether or not they send in their scores. However, sending in SAT and ACT scores may strengthen an application and give a competitive edge. Not sending in a score may mean the applicant has to focus on other parts of their application more.

The second term is test-flexible. Test-flexible colleges are colleges that allow an applicant to submit the SAT or ACT, or other tests in their place. Other tests that can take the place of the SAT or ACT are Advanced Placement scores, an International Baccalaureate exam and more.

The third term is test-blind schools. Test-blind schools don’t consider any standardized testing scores, regardless if an applicant sends them in.

Aiming for UCs?

Those who are aiming for schools within the University of California system should not worry about taking the SAT and ACT because they are test blind. For the previous 2021 and 2022 admission cycles, the UCs were test-optional, but will be test-blind for all the upcoming years.

“The student should consider whether the schools they are applying to are requiring either test,” Fountain Valley High School college and career advisor Chloe Orel said. “The University of California system permanently removed the test requirement and thousands of other universities have followed suit or postponed the test requirement for the next few graduating classes.”

The effort was spearheaded by former UC President Janet Napolitano who based her decision making on data that SAT tests were disproportionately representing students who had access to more resources such as personalized tutors and money.

The Cal States

The California State University system is also going test-blind following the 2022 admissions cycle. The Cal State Board of Trustees voted in March 2021, reasoning over concerns of bias regarding race, income and the level of education an applicant’s parents had.

They are also pursuing more equitable methods to determine an applicant’s strengths — taking more consideration in grade point averages (GPA) and high school course load.

How about Ivy Leagues? 

Many of the nation’s top colleges are going test-optional including the prestigious Ivy League colleges. Each Ivy League school has different criteria for why they decided to go test-optional, but mainly to allow for students with less resources for the SAT and ACT to still apply.

However, student-athletes and transfers are still expected to take the SAT and ACT. Notably, Harvard has stated that it won’t require SAT or ACT scores through 2026, which could lead the nationwide movement to do away with standardized testing.

Out-of-state colleges

Out-of-state colleges are a subjective term, but for Barons, it will mean colleges outside of California. It may be worth taking the SAT and ACT for colleges out of state because many still have SAT and ACT requirements. Furthermore, many are test-optional, meaning that a SAT or ACT score could strengthen an application.

There are also colleges that guarantee admissions if an applicant reaches a high enough SAT or ACT score. For example, Arizona State University will guarantee admission to non-Arizona residents who get above a 1180 on the SAT, 24 on the ACT, above a 3.0 GPA and some standard curriculum requirements.

SAT going digital? 

With less students taking standardized tests, the College Board is looking to make the SAT more attractive. By 2024, the SAT will be digital with students on laptops or desktops. However, students will still take these tests in a high school classroom with a proctor.

Another change that will be implemented by 2024 is a shorter testing time. The new SAT will be cut to only two hours instead of three. Furthermore, going digital allows College Board to create a variety of questions of the same concept to distribute to each individual.

The test will also adapt section by section to probe on students’ strengths and weaknesses. In the beginning of the test, everyone will have the same basic level of questions. However, after that, the computer will calculate how much you got wrong and right, and switch out the next section for something harder or easier.

For example, if you got all the algebra questions correct, but are weaker on pre-calculus, you may get more pre-calculus questions thrown at you.  In the reading section, instead of a typical five questions per passage, it will be shortened to around one or two. Furthermore, it is expected math word problems will be more concise and straightforward.

In the reading section, instead of a typical five questions per passage, it will be shortened to around one or two.

Student responses

Junior Tracy Nguyen recently took the SAT and felt that taking the ACT as well would be overwhelming.

“I took the SAT several months ago. I am not taking the ACT because I feel it would be too stressful to worry about both tests,” Tracy Nguyen said. “I studied every day for about 30 minutes until the test day. I’m happy with my score, and my advice to other students is to take lots of practice tests.”

Junior Nylah Mirshafiei said that she was taking the SAT to expand her options.

“I’m taking the SAT because some of the out-of-state schools are still accepting them. I’m also planning to apply to two Ivy League schools and I think it’ll increase my chances,” Mirshafiei said. “The challenges were just the subject matter and trying to make time to study for it.”

Junior Faith Nguyen agreed with Mirshafiei and advised other students to ensure they have enough time to study for the SAT.

“I’m taking the SAT just in case. I am open to going to a private college. The main thing I struggled with is time endurance,” Faith Nguyen said. “I think I am only going to take it twice and I encourage other students to study early.”

Sophomore Phoebe Do said she was planning to take the SAT during her junior year and planned to study for it over the summer.

“I will say that picking a good workbook is hard because there are so many options. I am planning on applying to UCs, Cal States and private schools,” Do said. “I plan to take each one at least twice and to spend long hours studying during the summer because I’ll have lots of freedom.”

Junior Valeria Euan said that she was not going to take any standardized tests because she felt their value was degrading.

“I personally do not find taking these exams necessary as they are becoming an outdated process. I would rather focus my time on my grades rather than a test score that seems to lose relevance every year,” Euan said.

If you’re on the edge

Ultimately, taking the SAT and ACT won’t hurt you. However, students may be concerned about appropriating a portion of their time to studying for standardized tests, while balancing school and personal life.

It’s important to consider a plethora of options such as taking only one of the two standardized tests, either the SAT or ACT. Important factors to consider when choosing a test could include whether a student prefers more algebra or trigonometry, whether a reading section is in chronological order and much more.

But the biggest determining factor will be what college students are aiming for and how the totality of the current high school application looks.

“Before working at Fountain Valley I was an Admissions Counselor at two different universities. Academics are important but not everything,” Orel said. “Most universities review holistically, meaning they take into account the students’ academics, extracurricular interests, talents, personality and look at the student as a whole.”

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