Learn How to Hone & Grade Your College Readiness

What It Takes To Get Into College

The metrics associated with college admissions are drawn from standardized aptitude tests such as the SAT, ACT, and PSAT. But the components of those tests can be sliced up into reading, writing and math. Despite the reported emphasis on No Child Left Behind and a commitment to boosting the academic function of American school children the statistics continue to show an alarming lack of academic aptitude in the basic skills. How can students make sure the shortcomings of public education don’t hold them back at college?

My lack of academic preparation left me quite underrated when I took my SATs. In fact, I ultimately chose to go to community college, take a two-year degree program that prepared me to transfer into a four-year college as a junior. Had I had the maturity and wherewithal to want to go to a four-year college straight out of high school I certainly could have found the resources to beef up my reading, writing and math skills, or those that mattered when I got the SAT.

Resources for Test Information and Study Guides

Before I go on I have to say that one of the most comprehensive information and test preparation sources is the College Board website. Students may register for tests, access online prep sources, take sample tests, find out how tests are scored and register for access to comprehensive college planning resources and scholarship databases.

PSAT: Preparation for the SAT

A measure of a student’s critical collegiate skills may be gleaned through the PSAT. High school juniors take the test early in the year. The primary purpose is to take a practice run at the SAT, but advisors suggest preparation for the PSAT is essential. The test is broken into the three skills categories and each section has a time limit. The test includes multiple choice questions in reading that test for both comprehension and reasoning; math multiple choice cover algebra, geometry and statistics, among others; and writing questions test for grammar, and structure and restructure of sentences and paragraphs. Each section of the test is scored separately. This makes it reasonable to make improvements where necessary.

The PSAT also automatically qualifies students for National Merit Scholarship consideration. Essentially the top scores automatically win National Merit Scholarships.

SAT: Most Widely Accepted Test

The SAT is synonymous with college admissions. In the U.S. there are millions of students that apply to colleges each year. What kind of metric would you suggest to establish admissions criteria that distilled a student’s critical skills? The College Board has made significant changes to the SAT in the last two decades. In fact the SATs have been in existence in some form since the early 1900s. Today’s SAT ideally provides an overall score designed to assess a student’s critical reading, writing and math skills. The scores are then used as part of the admissions criteria for most four-year colleges and universities. Students that perform poorly on the SATs, like myself, often must attend community college, where SAT scores are not a consideration.

The SAT consists of a 70-minute critical reading section; 70-minute math section and a 60-minute writing section. Each of these is subdivided into two sections each. Most of the answers are in the form of multiple choice; part of the math section asks for “student generated” answers and half of the writing section is an essay. SATs are offered at various times throughout the school year and from beginning to end take anywhere from 4 to 5 hours to administer and complete.

The SAT Subject Tests provide yet another more specialized tool required by some colleges. The tests subdivided into history, science or English, among others. Each is a standalone test and is further used as assessment of a student’s aptitude in a subject area. It is up to the college to which you are applying to designate which if any of these tests is required.

ACT: Favored Above the SAT By Some Colleges

For the most part the SAT is accepted far and wide. However, some regions of the country are more inclined to offer high school students the SAT alter-ego, the ACT. The ACT includes the skills of math, reading and writing, and adds skills in science to its exam. The test consists of a 45-minute section on English skills that prompts the students for multiple choice answers based on prose passages. Skills required include grammar and structure. A 60-minute section on math covers algebra, geometry and trigonometry skills; a 35-minute reading section that assesses comprehension when presented with prose passages; a 35-minute section that covers science skills such as those related to data analysis and experimental hypotheses; and, finally a 30-minute essay that not only assesses grammar and structure, but also the writer’s ability to make an argument and think critically.

College Prep Begins Early

Based on the competitive nature of the college admissions process today it seems necessary to expect that high school students must go into the PSAT with a large measure of skills preparation already behind them. According to the College Board the surest way to make sure your reading, writing and math skills are right on is to make sure your college prep is a consideration throughout your educational life. Students that make the skills a regular part of their lives will have most of the battle won. Read and study.

For students intent on being ultra-prepared for their standardized tests as well as taking on the admissions powers that be, high school AP courses provide an advanced challenge. In fact most college admissions counselors are impressed by the AP courses, they indicate a superior level of motivation and skill. AP classes are offered in many of the major subjects.

When Skills Are Not Up to Snuff

More and more high school students are ill-prepared. The factors are varied and range from lack of motivation and maturity, to general educational malaise. How do you fix poor skills in the ninth inning?

My skills were irreparable, but that also indicated a real need for remedial help. I also required special guidance to build good study and time management habits, something I never would have received at a four-year college. An increasing number of education experts are vocalizing the “I’m Ok, You’re Ok” mantra in the case of students like myself: those that really must consider an alternative. Not every student is suited to an academic life; and thankfully there are options, students may go to a community college or pursue a technical or professional degree that may track them for increasingly well-paying jobs.

For students hell-bent on improving their Three R’s in time for college many guidance counselors can suggest tutors, study groups.