203: What You Need to Know About Standardized Tests and Mistakes to Avoid

 testing anxiety

show notes

This is Ethan Sawyer (aka College Essay Guy) and my goal is to bring more ease, joy and purpose into the college application process. Welcome to the College Essay Guy podcast where it is my job to interview the most brilliant minds in the college admissions world, to analyze their genius, and then break it down for you into a series of practical, actionable steps that you can take whether you're applying to college yourself or helping someone else apply.

This episode is the third and final part in this miniseries on standardized tests. Part One was on test optional schools and the test optional movement, Part Two was on how to reduce testing anxiety and this episode is basically on everything else. My guest, Adam Ingersoll, has spent more than 25 years working in SAT and ACT prep for more than 100,000 students and he’s seen it all. In this episode you’ll hear Adam’s take on:

  • What’s a “good” score?
  • How much do SAT scores matter?
  • Do students even need standardized tests?
  • When should students take the test?
  • What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?
  • Do students need the optional essay?
  • The most important things to know about subject tests
  • A few words about the PSAT
  • Important notes for students with learning differences
  • How students should define success in college admissions testing

And all that in a breezy 45 minutes. Let’s get to it.

PLAY-BY-PLAY

1:51 Who is Adam Ingersoll?
2:38 Adam talks about what it was like to be on the USC basketball team
4:07 How Adam got into test prep
6:36 Are standardized tests evil?
8:32 What’s a good score?
11:41 How much do SAT scores matter?
14:28 Do students even need standardized tests?
16:54 When should students take the test?
21:10 What’s the difference between the SAT and the ACT?
25:03 Do students need the optional essay?
27:03 How many times should students retake standardized tests?
29:56 What the highest number of times you’ve ever heard of a student taking the SAT or ACT?
31:35 Does Adam enjoy taking the SAT?
34:02 The most important things to know about subject tests
36:22 A few words about the PSAT
37:35 Important notes for students with learning differences
38:26 Compass Prep’s guide to testing accommodations
41:22 How students should define success in college admissions testing
43:56 Show and Tell
46:50 Adam makes a confession

RELATED LINKS

Here are some of the most common standardized test questions asked and answered:

  1. What’s a good score at XYZ College?
  2. Do I even need the tests? What’s test-optional all about?
  3. When should I take the tests?
  4. How do I know which test - SAT or ACT - is best for me?
  5. What’s the difference between the SAT and ACT anyway?
  6. What about the SAT and ACT have an optional essay--do I need that?
  7. How many times should I take the test, will colleges see all my scores, and does that even matter?
  8. What about Subject Tests? Who needs them, which ones should I take and when, and what’s considered a good score?
  9. What is the relevance of the PSAT? How does National Merit work?
  10. Tell me about accommodations for students with learning differences.

The Most Awesome Test Prep Resource I (Ethan) Have Seen:

Guide to College Admission Testing - What is it? The Guide is a nearly 100 page resource addressing every question imaginable about college admission testing.

What can students do with the guide?

  • It’s really helpful both broadly and narrowly.
  • Reading it cover to cover will provide a complete perspective on what these tests are all about, how they are actually used by colleges, what scores do and don’t say about a student’s ability, and what a reasonable and successful approach to test prep looks like. And you’ll know how to use it as a resource when specific questions come up along the way
  • Specifically, the college admission testing world is full of lists. There are many finicky questions that tie back to testing policies and how scores are reported and used. Testing requirements, restrictions, and rules vary widely from college to college. The Guide and companion resources on our website keep track of every detail.