Blog

19 Jan 2021

College Board Ends the SAT Subject Tests

***This post reflects recently announced news and will be updated as more information becomes available.***

Today, College Board announced that it is eliminating the SAT Subject Test program. At Sentia, we had our suspicions that this change might be imminent; in the past several days our students have had difficulty registering for these exams on College Board’s website. In a closed webinar scheduled for today, we anticipate that the College Board CEO will deliver more details on the change. 

Additionally, the Essay section of the SAT will be eliminated. This change will be less profound for our students as most colleges have de-emphasized the importance of the Writing sections of both the ACT and SAT. Indeed, we anticipate that ACT will follow suit and likely eliminate their essay component in the coming 18 months. 

SAT Subject Tests have long been an important component of many of Sentia’s students’ application portfolios. While their demise – and the sudden rollout of these changes – will be distressing to some students, there remain several other means by which students who aspire to attend competitive colleges can stand out.

SAT and ACT scores will begin to hold more weight in the admissions process. With exceptional tutoring and sufficient tutorial planning, this change will allow our students to spend their preparation time focusing on one exam, rather than splitting time in the spring of Junior year between the ACT or SAT and two to three Subject Tests.

Grades, of course, become even more important when other components of an application dossier are eliminated. For most students, that means that judicious and appropriate academic support is more important than ever. Our teachers and academic mentors are well-equipped to ethically and efficiently ensure Sentia’s students are fully prepared to excel in their assessments – quizzes, exams, papers, projects, and take-home tests. 

What other ways can students stand out? At Sentia, we have long taken an approach that emphasizes academic mentorship, not just tutoring. After all, our motto is: At Sentia, we don’t just tutor; we’ll be with you every step of the way™. Our students work with their Sentia mentors to perform independent research papers ready for peer review, build inventions that win science competitions, start volunteer programs that transform lives, and learn curricula that far surpasses what’s offered at their schools. 


FAQs:

So, I can’t take Subject Tests?

Right. All Subject Tests (with the exception of the May and June 2021 administrations for international students) have been canceled. Students in the U.S. who registered for the May and/or June 2021 Subject Tests will automatically receive a refund. If you’d like to arrange for your fee to be credited towards a future SAT administration, you can contact College Board Customer Service at +1 (212) 713-7789 or sat@info.collegeboard.org

My dream school still says it highly recommends two Subject Tests. Wait, Georgetown still says it wants three!

Believe it or not, our friends at admissions offices at top colleges weren’t all given a heads up on this change. Students in the class of 2022 are likely to receive confusing information for a while. Will the tests you’ve already taken this year be evaluated as part of the admissions process? How about that Bio score from freshman year? The short answer is: we don’t know yet. Your scores may still be a part of your application or schools may go “test blind” on Subject Tests (meaning they will not look at them, even if submitted).

My child is homeschooled. Help!

Our homeschooled students who work with Sentia academic mentors and tutors will likely not welcome this news. SAT Subject Tests have long been a way for homeschooled students to stand out and demonstrate a wide range of deep knowledge. If your child is homeschooled, contact us so we can collaborate on a plan to ensure your child remains competitive in the admissions processes at top colleges and universities. 

My child goes to school in the United States and is applying to Oxford and Cambridge. What do I do?

Many students applying to schools abroad have used Subject Tests to meet application requirements. Some schools, such as Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh, have long preferred AP exams to demonstrate knowledge. We anticipate that AP exams will become even more important – and perhaps required – in these admissions processes. If you aren’t currently planning to take AP exams, contact Sentia. We will likely need to revise your strategy.

My school doesn’t offer AP exams though. What do I do?

College Board’s elimination of the SAT Subject Tests will allow College Board to assign greater resources to its Common Core planning and thus its AP curriculum. For students whose schools do not offer most – or any – AP exams, this change is challenging. We regularly assist our students in registering for AP exams not offered at their schools as well as mentorship to supplement their in-class learning with the material necessary to excel on those exams. We anticipate that in the absence of Subject Tests, greater emphasis will be placed on finding ways for U.S. students to take AP exams. At Sentia, we are committed to working closely with our students to ensure AP exam access and comprehensive preparation. The deadline to register for a May exam has been pushed back to March 12th. Please contact us ASAP so we can help outline a plan for any student who would like to pivot from Subject Tests to AP exams. 

AP exams have, in fact, been on the rise as Subject Tests have become less widely used. We’ve seen this trend strengthen over the past 20 years. Take a look for yourself:

This focus on AP exams is the most notable change, perhaps more so than the elimination of a test that only the most competitive students completed. College Board will create (and, yes, sell) more AP exams than ever before. These exams will likely become vastly more important in the college admissions process and yet they are not offered at many high schools throughout the United States or globally. Our students who attend elite boarding and day schools that do not operate on the Common Core curriculum will need to find new and creative ways to demonstrate their knowledge. 

Do I need to take the SAT Essay if I’m signed up for the essay component? Should I skip the essay part? 

We do not anticipate the essay component will be a relevant factor in admissions decisions going forward. If you’d like to adjust your reservation to SAT without Essay, you should contact College Board to do so. 

Rest assured that we will work collaboratively with your family to ensure this testing disruption does not leave your child at a disadvantage. At Sentia, we remain as committed as ever to assisting our students and families in navigating the dynamic and ever-changing world of learning and testing. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns; we welcome the opportunity to provide your family with the individualized, professional guidance and support you’ll need in the wake of this change.

13 Jan 2021

ACT Computer-Based Test, US Rollout

We hope everyone is staying safe, healthy, and enjoying the start of the new year! 

To bring everyone up-to-date on a bit of exciting news in the test prep world, the launch of the computer-based version of the ACT in the US is fast-approaching. Amidst the COVID crisis, computer-based testing has gained popularity and is quickly becoming the norm. Historically, ACT has been a trail-blazer in the transition to computer-based testing. In 2018, ACT transitioned international students from paper to computer-based tests (CBT). Now, the ACT CBT rollout in the US is imminent. We’d like to provide some information about how this changes the game for ACT test-takers and tips for ensuring a smooth transition to the CBT. 

Mastery of both content and format are crucial to success on the ACT. While the content and structure of the computer-based ACT will remain the same as the traditional paper version, familiarity with the new digital format will be essential before Test Day. 

Most notably, perhaps, is the introduction of several on-screen tools including a highlighter, answer eliminator (to cross out answers), answer masker (to hide answer choices in order to avoid distractions), line reader (to focus on a single line and block out surrounding lines), and magnifier (to enlarge part of a graph or image). Though students taking the CBT will not be able take notes directly on the test booklet, as is the case with the paper test, they will be provided with a separate whiteboard at the test center for notetaking and scratch work. Additionally, students taking the CBT will only see one question per page, which will make it slightly more challenging for students to answer questions out of order and make quick guesses at the end of a section.

We are confident that all of our ACT tutors are well-equipped to incorporate CBT strategies into their students’ test prep. We will continue to keep everyone updated as ACT provides a clearer timeline for the CBT rollout in the US. 

In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions or concerns regarding test prep, academic support, or anything in between. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

31 Dec 2020

OMG I forgot to waive my FERPA rights… What now?

In short: don’t freak out. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how important it is to waive your FERPA rights on the Common App. While it’s true — understanding the FERPA waiver is an important part of the admissions process — forgetting to sign away your FERPA rights, we believe, is not an irreparable mistake. We’ve spoken with admissions representatives at several top-tier colleges on the matter and here’s what we’ve discovered… 

What is FERPA? 

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that gives parents the right to access their children’s education records, seek to have the records amended, and have some control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the education records. Once a student turns 18 years old, or pursues postsecondary education at any age, these FERPA rights are transferred from the parents to the student. So, if you are in the process of applying to colleges, understanding and (most likely) waiving your FERPA rights is your responsibility! 

FERPA is relevant to the college admissions process because your education records will include your application to the college where you eventually enroll. More specifically, FERPA gives you the right to review confidential letters of recommendation that were provided with your application after you enroll. You read that correctly: this is all a matter of whether you will be able to access your application materials after you’re already enrolled at a college. 

A common misconception is that not waiving your FERPA rights means you will be able to review your letters of recommendation before submitting your application. This is not the case! Whether or not you get to look at your letters of recommendation before they are submitted is entirely between you and your recommenders. It is within their rights to share a letter of recommendation with the student privately if they so desire. However, in the academic world, recommendation letters tend to be kept confidential. Under no circumstances would it be appropriate to ask your recommender to read their letter.

What are the benefits of waiving my FERPA rights?

Admissions officers give the most weight to letters of recommendation that provide an honest and qualified assessment of the applicant. Failure to waive your FERPA rights could subtly signal to your recommenders or to the admissions officers that you don’t trust your recommender to write a strong and compelling letter for you. In the worst case scenario, the letter might be written in a less candid manner and interpreted as less genuine by the admissions team. In short, if a recommender knows that the student might read their letter at some point down the road, it may result in a more generic, less powerful letter. 

That being said, as long as you’re thoughtful and intentional about choosing recommenders who are supportive mentors and know you well, you can likely rest assured that your recommenders only intend to support you by helping you get into college. Letters of recommendation are an integral part of an applicant’s profile. Waiving your FERPA rights is just one more step you can take to ensure that your recommendations are strong and candid. 

What should I do if I forgot to waive my FERPA rights?

First of all, stay calm. We have spoken with admissions representatives at a variety of top-tier schools who understand that students may at some point decide that they would like to waive their FERPA rights, even if they did not do so initially. Several of the admissions officers said that if a student would like to update their FERPA waiver status, they can simply send an email to the admissions office stating that they would like to waive their FERPA rights. Other reps indicated that emailing a digitally signed copy of the Common App’s Teacher Evaluation Form, where a student can check the “I waive my right to review all recommendations and supporting documents submitted by me or on my behalf” box, would suffice in updating that student’s FERPA status. 

At several other colleges, admissions reps were adamant that a student’s FERPA status does not impact their consideration of that student’s application, highlighting that the decision to waive (or not waive) FERPA rights is entirely between the student and their recommenders.

In summary: Don’t hesitate to call admissions offices directly! Be sure to get the scoop on how the FERPA waiver impacts the admissions process at each of the schools on your list. In general, if you make it known to an admissions team that you have no intention of gaining access to your application materials (primarily letters of recommendation) at any point during or after the admissions process, it is highly likely that they will have a protocol for allowing you to amend your FERPA status. 

If you ever find yourself in this situation, we hope you find this information helpful and stress-relieving. Here at Sentia, we wish everyone a warm, safe, and healthy holiday season and a very Happy New Year! As always, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

09 Dec 2020

ACT Writing: To Take or Not To Take?

As more and more students opt to take the ACT, the “ACT Plus Writing” has become a well-known alternative to the “SAT With Essay.” But, we think the ACT Writing Test is still shrouded in a bit of mystery. Who requires ACT Writing and how heavily weighted is it when in the hands of a college admissions committee? Here, we will break down what exactly is the ACT Writing Test, which schools require it (hint: very few), and how to decide whether you should take it. Read on!

What is the ACT Writing Test? 

The ACT Writing Test is an optional 40-minute essay section that students can take immediately after completing the other sections of the ACT. It’s available to test-takers on all national ACT testing dates in the United States. It costs an additional $16. It’s important to note that you cannot take the ACT Writing Test on its own; you can only take it after completing the full ACT exam. 

The Writing Test is designed to measure the writing skills that are typically taught in high school English classes and, supposedly, indicate how you might perform in an entry-level composition class in college. 

The Writing Test is evaluated by two graders who each score your essay on a scale of 1-6 in four domains, giving scores out of 12 for each domain. Your score is then calculated by averaging those four domain scores, producing a total ACT Writing score from 2-12. Next, the ACT combines your essay score with your English and Reading sections score and averages them to give you an English Language Arts (ELA) subscore between 1 and 36. Though the Writing Test does provide additional information about your writing ability (under very specific, somewhat stressful conditions), your ACT Writing score is not factored into your composite ACT score. 

Which schools require ACT Writing?  

In recent years, many schools that previously required ACT Writing have decided to make the section optional. Some schools have even made the decision to stop reviewing the Writing score altogether, even if students do take it and submit their score. 

Perhaps surprisingly, most top schools do not require ACT Writing! Many top-tier colleges including Harvard, Yale, Duke, Princeton, and Brown have all stopped requiring ACT writing over the past several years. In fact, none of the Ivy League schools require ACT Writing currently. As of Fall 2020, only 12 schools in the US still require the ACT with Writing.

There are several schools that still recommend, but do not require, ACT Writing. Yale, Tulane, Amherst, University of Michigan, Middlebury, and Lehigh all fall under this category.

Should I take it? 

So, it seems as though very few programs — and no highly selective programs — are actually requiring ACT Writing these days. What does this mean for test-takers debating whether or not to take the ACT Writing Test? While most schools no longer require ACT Writing, it’s still recommended for many schools if you can do well on it. 

It is essential to understand the testing requirements and preferences of the programs to which you are applying. If any of the schools on your list require the ACT Plus Writing (or make clear that they strongly recommend it), the decision has been made for you: take it! If not, the bottom line is this: a strong Writing score will almost always elevate your application. The ACT Writing Test can be an excellent way to showcase your stellar writing skills and give you an edge in the college admissions process!

If you are seeking support in preparing for the ACT Writing Test, or any other exam for that matter, we would be delighted to help. We wish everyone a happy finals season! As always, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

19 Nov 2020

Update on At-Home SAT / ACT Testing

Since the spring, there has been much speculation surrounding the launch of online versions of the SAT and ACT. With last-minute test center closings and the public health risks associated with in-person testing, at-home SAT / ACT alternatives would be a welcome relief to many. Many graduate school entrance exams, including the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT, successfully transitioned to an online, at-home format back in March. This transition did not come without its challenges. Proctoring, in particular, poses a unique challenge and has sparked significant public debate about the ethics and efficacy of automated proctoring services that are garnering more and more users during the pandemic. While many argue that web-based proctoring services are invasive and stress-inducing for test-takers, the College Board and ACT grapple with how to create accessible, cheat-proof, and glitch-free versions of their respective exams. 

As things stand now, ACT has indicated that students in the US can expect the release of an online ACT in late 2020 (any day now!) or early 2021. (The release seems unlikely before 2021). This version of the ACT is expected to look like the computer-based ACT that is currently offered to international students. The College Board, on the other hand, has not released any concrete information about when an online SAT might be available to the masses. They have cited internet access concerns as a central reason for the delayed rollout. For both exams, the technology requirements remain unknown. Unequal access to the technology required to take an online exam at home compounds the myriad of obstacles in making at-home SAT and ACT testing an equitable reality. 

As we all await official updates from the College Board and ACT, we’ve outlined a couple possibilities that have been raised:

Live proctoring – ACT and College Board both acknowledge that at-home testing will require proctoring on an unprecedented scale. ACT has been transparent about looking at several options, including the possibility of live proctoring for each full-length exam. This would require a webcam on each student for the duration of the exam. The College Board has not provided further details on how they plan to proctor at-home exams. 

Provisional score reports – The ACT has come forth with another option that would require students to take both an unproctored full-length exam and a shorter, live-proctored exam. With this option, students would receive a “provisional score report” for the full-length exam. In order to verify their provisional score, they would then take the short, proctored exam and the scores from each exam would be compared in order to eliminate or identify incongruencies in exam performance. It’s possible that this approach would inadvertently increase testing anxiety without providing a reliable means of verifying students’ skills. 

Perhaps, as at-home COVID testing becomes a more widespread reality, so too will at-home SAT and ACT testing. As always, we will stay up-to-date on the latest testing news as the pandemic progresses. Please stay tuned and don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’re seeking additional support. We are always happy to help; we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

11 Nov 2020

Qualifying for National Merit Without the PSAT

Unfortunately, many high school freshmen, sophomores, and juniors have been unable to take the PSAT this fall due to COVID-19-related cancellations. Some school systems have rescheduled the PSAT for January, but the trajectory of the pandemic remains uncertain, as does whether or not virus levels will be low enough to administer the PSAT in schools this winter. If you missed our post on why the PSAT matters and why you should prep for it, you can check it out here. Most importantly, the PSAT is not only an opportunity to prepare for the SAT, it also gives 11th graders the chance to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. The PSAT/NMSQT (“National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test”) — the PSAT for 11th graders — is the first step in the National Merit Scholarship Competition, in which millions of students across the country compete for 8,800 prestigious scholarships. As one might imagine, being a National Merit semifinalist, finalist, or recipient looks excellent on a college application. 

So, for juniors who are concerned about missing out on their opportunity to qualify for one of these coveted scholarships, not to worry! The National Merit Scholarship Competition has devised an alternate entry route. We will break it down for you. 

NOTE: The alternate entry route was not created in response to COVID-19. For several years now, students who can’t take the PSAT for a number of reasons including family emergencies, illness, or inclement weather have had the option of using official SAT scores for the competition. 

How do I use the alternate entry route? 

While juniors who take the PSAT are automatically entered into the National Merit Scholarship Competition, you must complete a separate, short application if you’re planning to use the alternate entry route. You can complete the application here, on the National Merit Scholarship Corporation’s website. If you choose to submit SAT scores instead of PSAT scores, you must have all your testing done by April 1st, 2021. 

That being said, some schools have postponed their PSAT date, with hopes of a winter or spring administration. If you decide to apply using SAT scores, but end up having the opportunity to take the PSAT after all, the National Merit Scholarship Foundation will automatically use your PSAT score instead of any SAT scores you may have submitted already. 

How does scoring work if I submit SAT scores?

Eligibility for a National Merit Scholarship is typically determined by the PSAT NMSC selection index score, which is calculated by doubling the sum of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math section scores. Every state has a certain number of semifinalist slots to fill with students with the highest index scores. Those students can then choose to compete for finalist status. 

If you decide to submit SAT scores instead, your selection index will be calculated the same way using your Reading, Writing and Language, and Math SAT scores. The SAT and PSAT are, of course, slightly different. So, if you take both exams, your indexes for each are bound to vary. Given that the PSAT is shorter and considered less challenging than the SAT, it is in every junior’s best interest to take the PSAT if at all possible. 

We recognize that many students are encountering unforeseen challenges right now, between remote learning, testing disruptions, and overarching public health concerns. We want to help support you or your child this academic year. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

03 Nov 2020

Getting Involved From a Distance

Though many students may want to give back to their communities in this time of tremendous need, finding volunteer opportunities while remaining socially distant is not always easy. With many community service organizations on pause or switching gears in response to the pandemic, some students may be struggling to remain engaged in volunteer efforts while also staying safe. If you’ve been previously involved with an organization with a mission that you’re passionate about, we suggest reaching out to them to see if there are any remote volunteer positions available. Many groups have created new remote or socially distanced opportunities for involvement, so definitely tap into those pre-existing relationships. Who knows? They might need help with a weekly newsletter or content creation for their website. If you’re looking for new ways to get involved, we have plenty of ideas — read on! 

Become a Tutor

If you’re a student experiencing remote learning, you probably understand this reality all too well: Online school is challenging. There are plenty of kids out there who are looking for support in making the most of their remote learning. For those of you who enjoy working with children, virtual tutoring can be an excellent way to support young students and share your knowledge. There are many platforms out there for remote tutoring. Generally, virtual tutors are paired with a student or group of students who they meet with weekly to work on a specific subject. If you’re interested in learning more, check out these organizations as a jumping-off point: TeensGive, UPchieve, and GO Project.

Pen Pal Opportunities

Social isolation is pervasive among the elderly even in the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. If you’re looking to make a difference in the lives of others while flexing your written language skills, you might enjoy getting matched with a pen pal. There are several programs that match volunteers with seniors citizens for letter exchanges and updates. Here are a few good places to start your pen pal search: Adopt a Senior, Friends for Life, Pandemic Pen Pals. Or, if you’re interested in connecting with seniors in your local community, consider reaching out to a local nursing home to see if they’re open to pairing you with a pen pal. This could be a meaningful opportunity to forge a relationship with someone with very different life experiences than your own. Oftentimes, those are the most interesting and fruitful friendships! 

Use Your Language Skills 

If you speak a foreign language, there are many virtual options for volunteering your language skills. Bilingual students may want to consider tutoring virtually, as discussed above. In the world of translation, there are plenty of opportunities for students with sufficient fluency in another language. Translators Without Borders recruits volunteers who want to translate texts into different languages for various NGOs and nonprofits. This organization recognizes that the dissemination of reliable COVID-19 information (in as many different languages as is necessary) is absolutely essential to slowing the spread of COVID-19. TED translators is another great opportunity. These translators volunteer to subtitle global TED Talks, enabling their ideas to reach a broader audience by transcending language barriers. 

Check Out VolunteerMatch

Back in May, we proposed several ideas for how to have a productive summer in 2020. Of course, volunteering was high on our list. If you haven’t already checked out VolunteerMatch, now might be a great time to do so. Here, you can search for local volunteer opportunities. Plus, they even have a COVID-19 Resource Hub, where you can explore a directory of COVID-related and remote volunteer opportunities. 

We hope you find some inspiration in these suggestions and we encourage you to seek out involvement in whatever areas are most exciting to you! Despite the unprecedented circumstances, we want to make sure you feel supported and engaged in whatever you are doing during these challenging times. We’d be happy to help brainstorm more personalized suggestions. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

28 Oct 2020

Understanding Your SAT / ACT Scores

If you’ve recently taken the SAT or ACT, more likely than not you are anxiously awaiting your score report. Your score report will provide a lot of useful information about your exam performance, but interpreting SAT or ACT scores is not as easy as one might think. For those of you just embarking on your test prep journey, understanding how the scoring works for your exam of choice is essential to planning your test prep most effectively. 

It’s important to understand that scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the specific exam that you took, recognizing that difficulty level may vary slightly from one version of the test to the next. ACT and College Board start by calculating your raw score for each section, which is simply the number of questions you answered correctly. The raw score is then converted into a scaled score. Both College Board and ACT utilize a process they refer to as “equating” when converting raw scores to scaled scores. College Board explains, “Equating makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date… it’s important that the score a student receives on the SAT means the same regardless of when the student took the test. This ensures that there’s no advantage to taking the SAT during one administration versus another.” 

Contrary to popular belief, the SAT and ACT are not “graded on a curve” in the traditional sense. The process of equating ensures that a student’s score is based only on how they performed on test day and is never affected by another test-taker’s performance, according to College Board and ACT.

Scaled Scores on the ACT 

For the ACT, scaled scores are reported as a number out of 36. You will get a scaled score out of 36 for each of the four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Your composite score is the average of those four scaled scores. In other words, ACT adds up all four scaled scores and then divides that value by four. 

Scaled Scores on the SAT

College Board calculates verbal section scores differently than the math sections. You will receive scaled scores out of 40 for the reading and writing sections of the SAT. Your reading and writing scaled scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you a scaled verbal score out of 800. 

Your raw scores for the two math sections (No Calculator and Calculator) are added together, giving your final math raw score. This combined raw math score is converted directly to a scaled score out of 800. 

Your scaled verbal and math scores are then added together to give you a total score out of 1600.

ACT Percentiles

Your percentile rank, distinct from your scaled scores, represents the percentage of students whose score is equal to or lower than yours. If you are in the 80th percentile, for example, this means that 80% of test-takers earned scores that were equivalent to or below your score. 

On the ACT, you’ll receive two separate percentiles: a US Rank and a State Rank. Simply put, these ranks represent the percentages of recent high school graduates in the US and recent graduates in your state who took the ACT and earned scores equal to or lower than yours.

For more information on scoring, you can check out the ACT website

SAT Percentiles

Two percentiles will show up on your SAT score report. The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile indicates where you stand compared to all 11th and 12th grade students in the US, including those who did not even take the SAT. The SAT User Percentile indicates how you scored compared to students in the past three graduating classes who took the current SAT during high school. 

College Board provides a detailed breakdown of the SAT Score Report. You can check it out here.

As you can see, there is no “passing” or “failing” when it comes to the SAT or ACT. However, it is essential to understand how you will be scored on these tests in order to make an informed decision about which exam will play to your strengths and how to construct a test prep plan that addresses your weaknesses. If you are seeking guidance in this process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

23 Oct 2020

Life Beyond COVID: ISEE vs. SSAT

Though COVID has put our lives on hold in many ways, for families and students who are interested in the private school application process, it may be time to think about standardized testing. Most private, independent, and boarding schools require either the Independent School Entrance Exam (ISEE) or the Secondary School Admissions Exam (SSAT). While these two exams are similar in many ways, there are a few key differences that students and their families should keep in mind when deciding which one to take. 

What testing levels are available for the ISEE and SSAT?

For both exams, there are several levels available that correspond with the age and grade level of the test-taker. The ISEE offers four categories: 

– Primary Level (for students applying to grades 2-4)

– Lower Level (for students applying to grades 5-6)

– Middle Level (for students applying to grades 7-8)

– Upper Level (for students applying to grades 9-12)

The SSAT, on the other hand, offers three categories:

– Elementary Level (for students applying to grades 4-5) 

– Middle Level (for students applying to grades 6-8) 

– Upper Level (for students applying to grades 9-12)

What is the format of each exam? 

Both exams are composed of five sections that assess students’ verbal, reading, quantitative, and writing skills. The ISEE includes 4 section scores: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, mathematics, and reading comprehension. 

The SSAT consists of just three scores: verbal, reading, and quantitative. Both exams also include an unscored writing sample, which is sent to schools along with the score report and considered as part of each student’s application. 

How are the ISEE and SSAT scored? 

One important difference to note is that the Middle and Upper Level SSAT have a quarter point penalty for each incorrect answer. In contrast, The ISEE does not have a guessing penalty. Additionally, the SSAT score is converted to (and reported as) a percentile score, while the ISEE is scored on a standard nine-point scale (1 being the lowest and 9 being the highest score). 

How are these exams administered? 

Both the ISEE and SSAT can be administered on a computer or as a paper-based exam. The digital version of both exams — a more attractive option in the pandemic landscape — can be taken at home or at a testing center. The paper-based version may be taken at school or at a testing center. 

The ISEE may be taken up to three times, once during the fall, winter, and spring/summer testing seasons. The SSAT, on the other hand, can be taken a maximum of eight times and the SSAT can be taken at home no more than 5 times. 

So, should I take the ISEE or SSAT? 

Answering this question requires research into the admissions requirements of the school(s) that you or your child are most interested in attending. Some schools prefer one exam over the other, while some accept both. In which case, taking a practice exam for both tests and comparing your scores would be a good way to assess which exam best caters to your strengths as a student. 

We understand that applying to private and independent schools can be an overwhelming process even in the best of times — let alone during a pandemic, when all aspects of in-person and remote learning are in flux. We are always happy to provide support, from exam selection to test prep to ongoing academic support. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

16 Oct 2020

The State of ACT / SAT Testing Amidst COVID

As COVID cases spike once again in the US, the ACT and College Board continue to adapt to the ever-evolving situation. This means more test cancellations and general unrest surrounding SAT and ACT administrations. Back in late September, of the 334,000 students registered to take the SAT, about 183,000 of those students were unable to test. Of the 363,000 registered to take the SAT or SAT Subject Tests in early October, 154,000 were unable to do so due to test center cancellations. We expect the gap between the number of test registrations and tests successfully taken to continue to widen as we move into late October. 

If you are planning to test in the near future, it is more important than ever to stay up to date on cancellations in your area and we want to help you do that. Read on for a few ways to stay up to date on cancellations for the SAT and ACT. 

SAT Cancellations

As we noted in a blog post back in August, the College Board continues to reiterate that individual test centers decide whether or not to administer the SAT, pending local public health guidelines, which could mean unexpected test cancellations right up until test day. 

College Board suggests that students frequently check their email as well as the test center closure page before and on test day to confirm their center is in fact open. College Board notes, “Test centers may have closed or rescheduled to a makeup date at the last minute even if there is still an active admission ticket. If this happens, students will be notified that they shouldn’t report to their test center, and they’ll receive a follow up notification after the test day to confirm whether a makeup is available or if they will receive a refund.”

ACT Cancellations

Similarly, the ACT acknowledges “continued limitations in test center capacity and inevitable cancellations” throughout the remainder of 2020-2021 test dates. Decisions to close test centers are made on a site-by-site basis by test center staff following CDC and local public health guidelines. 

If you are registered for an ACT test date, you can expect regular email updates from ACT Monday through Friday by 6pm CT regarding your registration. In addition to checking your email, be sure to check this list of cancelled test centers frequently. Scroll to the bottom of this list to find information regarding Rescheduled October National ACT Test Centers.

In short, test cancellations are skyrocketing as COVID cases continue to climb. We understand how unsettling this must be for those of you preparing to take the SAT / ACT and want to support you in your test preparation, even (and especially) amidst growing uncertainty. As always, we are here to help. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!