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18 Sep 2020

ACT Math: Is It Getting More Difficult?

Since 2016, the ACT Math section has undergone some changes that, indeed, have made the section a bit more difficult. The ACT has introduced a wider variety of advanced math topics since 2016, though it has not increased the emphasis placed on difficult questions. Rather, the ACT rotates these topics among the most challenging math questions that typically show up at the conclusion of the section. The bulk of the content remains the same, but you may run into some questions towards the end of the math section that feel more challenging.

ACT vs. SAT Math 

While the redesigned SAT has narrowed its focus in the math section and tends to include more algebra (accounting for more than 60% of the math sections!), the ACT has moved in the opposite direction by expanding its scope to include a broader variety of advanced topics. For example, over the past several years the ACT has begun including topics like matrix multiplication, conic sections, asymptotes, terminal sides and coterminal angles — the list goes on. 

The range of topics covered by the ACT is looking more and more like that of the SAT Math II Subject Test. The key distinction here, however, is that the ACT is not placing the same degree of emphasis on the hardest math concepts — chances are the advanced topics will show up in small numbers towards the end of the section. 

By pushing the upper limits of math content difficulty, the ACT requires students to achieve a higher level of mastery in advanced math concepts in order to attain top scores. This may be part of a larger scheme to more effectively populate the full score range, with more of a tangible distinction between scores in the 30-36 range. Fewer students with perfect scores allows for a broader range of scaled and raw scores. 

How Useful Is My Calculator? 

Additionally, the ACT writers seem to be crafting problems that render your calculator less useful. By asking more conceptual questions or asking for answers in terms of variables rather than numerical values, the ACT pushes test-takers to more deeply understand the content. The ACT is also directly assessing math vocabulary by asking for the computational definition of independent events in a probability question, for example. Without explicit knowledge of these terms, a student will be less likely to select the correct answer and a calculator will be of no use to you in these cases.

All this is to say: Yes, the ACT is including more difficult concepts in the math section, but not to worry! Every test-taker is experiencing the same increase in difficulty level and scores will be scaled accordingly. For top score hopefuls, mastering the advanced math concepts will be key to working towards that 34, 35, or 36. If math is your strong suit, this may be an opportunity to make your ACT score stand out. If you’re struggling with ACT math content, trying to figure out how to structure your study regimen, looking to take your test scores to the next level, or anything in between, we would be happy to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out! At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

08 Sep 2020

SAT Section 5: What is it?

There is much speculation surrounding the mysterious Section 5 of the SAT. Some students end up taking this fifth 20-minute section while others do not. Additionally, the content covered in this wildcard of a section can vary widely from test to test. Let’s demystify Section 5 by understanding its function, whether you can expect to see a Section 5 on your exam, and how the additional section will (or, more likely, will not) affect your score. 

What is the function of this section? 

Section 5 of the SAT is widely believed to be an experimental section, created as an opportunity for the College Board to pretest content, answer choices, and test question philosophies on a captive audience under test conditions. College Board has been persistently vague about this section, noting in the SAT Advising and Admission Handbook, “To allow for pretesting, some students taking the SAT with no Essay will take a fifth, 20-minute section. Any section of the SAT may contain both operational and pretest items.” 

Operational items are questions that count towards your score. Pretest items, on the other hand, are not scored and do not contribute to your score. College Board has been uncharacteristically opaque about whether or not this section counts towards students’ final scores. 

Will this section affect my score? 

Though the College Board has made it impossible to say with absolute certainty that the experimental Section 5 will not count towards your score, never in the history of the redesigned SAT has a question from anyone’s 5th section appeared in the scored Question-and-Answer Service sections that are sent back to students. All signs indicate that this section is unscored and exists primarily to test out future material. It is likely that the College Board is being vague on this point to ensure that students take the section seriously, in order to obtain the most accurate data possible. If students were certain that the section would not contribute to their scores, they may not give it their all (or skip it completely). 

Will I have to take the additional section? 

A close reading of the Spring and Summer 2019 The SAT and SAT Subject Tests Supervisor Manual reveals, “At some centers, certain administrations will include an additional 20-minute section to be completed by all SAT test takers, including students taking the SAT with Essay.” 

So, while it used to be the case that only students taking the SAT without the Essay could expect to see a Section 5, now those taking the SAT with Essay should not be surprised to encounter the experimental section either. Test takers with extended time, however, will not see a Section 5 on their exams. 

How will this experimental section affect my test prep? 

Showing up on Test Day knowing exactly what to expect is the best way to feel confident going into the SAT (or any exam for that matter). So, expecting to encounter a 20-minute section in Math, Reading, or Writing after the Math with Calculator section or the Essay is a good way to mentally prepare yourself and avoid unwelcome surprises. 

Though it seems unlikely that Section 5 will affect your score, it is not outside the realm of possibility. By continuing with your diligent test prep and taking every single question on your exam seriously, you will be set up for success on the SAT. 

We are always happy to answer questions and provide support for all aspects of the test preparation process. Especially during uncertain times such as these, we are here to help and ensure that your test prep goes as smoothly as possible. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

28 Aug 2020

SAT Test Center Closings

If you are planning to take the SAT in the near future, be sure to keep an eye on the SAT Test Center Closings page on the College Board website. It is important to note that individual test centers decide whether or not to administer the SAT, pending health and safety. College Board notes, “All weekend test centers must adhere to local public health guidelines and follow College Board requirements.” In the rapidly changing landscape of a pandemic, this could mean unexpected test cancellations (even at the very last minute). 

This page will be updated with new information every three hours. We recommend checking the College Board website, your email, as well as your individual test center’s website the night before and morning of your scheduled exam. There is also the possibility of test centers reducing their capacity, in which case test-takers will be notified by email. It is essential that College Board has your correct contact info in the event of a last minute change. You can confirm your contact details here.  

If your test center makes the decision to close, expect to be contacted directly by email or text for more details on the cancellation, reduced capacity, a refund, or a possible location change and makeup date. 

If your test center is closed, you can register for a future test date. 


We understand that the possibility of a last minute change must feel jarring, especially for those who have been preparing diligently for your exams. As we all navigate this unprecedented and unpredictable time, we are here to help. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

26 Aug 2020

International ACT Cancellations for December and February Test Dates

On August 25th, ACT made the official announcement that all international ACT administrations will be cancelled in the months of December 2020 and February 2021 due to the risks posed by COVID-19. ACT cites new testing procedures and safety precautions at the root of the decision, which anticipates complications and school closures due to the upcoming flu season and a potential COVID-19 resurgence. 

Students who were already registered for December and February test dates have been notified of their options, which include placement in an alternate testing date in the 2020-2021 year at no charge or a full refund. 

In the meantime, September and October international administrations will move ahead as planned. 

For those whose study plans have been disrupted by this announcement, coming up with a contingency plan is imperative. You may want to consider the following options.

Plan to test in October: If you are already far along in your test prep and feel ready to test sooner rather than later, consider moving up your test date to October. 

Plan to test in April: If you have not yet started your ACT prep, you may want to wait until the new year before diving into your study regimen. Or, if you have already begun studying, put your studies on pause until January or February in order to avoid burnout. 

Consider the SAT: If taking the ACT in October or April will not suit your needs, you may want to set your sights on the December 5th or March 13th SAT administrations. Though the pacing and structure of the ACT and SAT are different, about 80% of the content overlaps. So, by preparing for the ACT you have already been inadvertently building a foundation of knowledge for the SAT as well. 

If you are seeking more guidance in navigating these recent developments, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are always happy to provide support and answer any questions or concerns.

14 Aug 2020

The PSAT: Why It Matters and Why You Should Prep For It!

While most students are familiar with the SAT, the details of the PSAT often get lost in the assumption that the PSAT is simply a practice SAT test. Indeed, the PSAT is excellent preparation for the SAT, but it is also so much more! Let’s break down what exactly the PSAT is, why it matters, whether or not you should take it, and when (during this unprecedented upcoming school year) you can take it.

What is the PSAT? 

Let’s start with the basics: The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT) — often shortened to PSAT — is a standardized test targeting 10th and 11th graders in the US. The PSAT is, of course, closely tied to the SAT. One of the primary purposes of the PSAT is to prepare students for the SAT by providing a testing experience very similar to that of the SAT in terms of content, structure, and scoring. There are three sections on the PSAT, which mirror the SAT: Reading, Writing, and Math (with Calculator and No Calculator subsections). However, there are a few key differences: 

– The SAT has an optional Essay section, whereas the PSAT does not.

– The PSAT has fewer questions than the SAT. 

– The PSAT is known to be slightly easier than the SAT.

As for the “NMSQT” part of the PSAT/NMSQT, this exam doubles as a qualifying test for the prestigious National Merit Scholarship Program. 

That’s not all, there are other iterations of the PSAT as well. The PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 serve to prepare students for the PSAT/NMSQT and, eventually, the SAT. As the names suggest, the PSAT 10 is geared towards 10th graders and the PSAT 8/9 is offered to 8th and 9th graders. Neither of these tests can qualify students for National Merit, but they do provide excellent opportunities to familiarize yourself with the test before taking the PSAT/NMSQT in 11th grade.

Why does it matter? 

Ultimately, the importance of your PSAT score depends on how you plan to use it: Are you trying to qualify for National Merit? Are you aiming for a high SAT score down the road? 

Each year, the top 1% of 11th-grade PSAT takers become Semifinalists for National Merit scholarships. This group is then narrowed down to approximately 15,000 Finalists. From this pool of Finalists, about 7,500 students nationwide are awarded scholarships of $2,500 a year, which can be renewed each year of college. 

It’s true that colleges will never see your official PSAT scores, but receiving a National Merit Scholarship – or having stellar SAT scores, for that matter – will certainly make you stand out on your college applications. Taking the PSAT is an important step in the process of building a strong application that reflects your academic strengths.

Should you take it? 

If you’re not convinced already: in short, yes you should take the PSAT. There are several pathways for taking the PSAT. For students looking for as much official practice as possible, you can take the PSAT as early as 8th grade. However, a more common option is to take the PSAT 10 once in 10th grade to prepare for taking the PSAT/NMSQT in 11th grade. 

If you’re planning to take the ACT instead of the SAT, you may be wondering if the PSAT could be useful to you. Absolutely! The PSAT is still a great way to get comfortable with the format of these standardized exams. Plus, regardless of whether you’re planning to take the SAT or ACT, your performance on the PSAT can be used to determine which academic areas you should focus on in your test prep. Additionally, a low score on the PSAT will not negatively impact you in any way. Even if the content on the PSAT doesn’t map perfectly onto the ACT, there is a lot of overlap. 

When can you take it? 

You must register for the PSAT at your own school (or a nearby school) and take it on the test date selected by your school. Some schools have all students take the PSAT/NMSQT, so make sure you know whether you need to register for the exam or if your school’s got that covered. As of now, the PSAT/NMSQT 2020 Testing Schedule looks like this: 

– Primary date: Wednesday, October 14, 2020

– Saturday date: Saturday, October 17, 2020

– Alternate test date: Thursday, October 29, 2020

That being said, College Board acknowledges that many schools will be utilizing virtual instruction options and plans will continue to evolve this fall. For schools that are unable to administer the PSAT/NMSQT in October as planned, College Board states they will also offer the PSAT/NMSQT this winter, which will be used for programs administered by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. If this option piques your interest, stay tuned — College Board has promised to send out an email update on the winter PSAT by the end of the month.

Whether it’s the PSAT, SAT, ACT, or any other standardized test, we are here to help you strategize, prepare, and perform your very best on Test Day. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

07 Aug 2020

Training for an Exam: The 7 Day Countdown

When it comes to test prep, it really is a marathon, not a sprint. Any marathoner would be able to give you a detailed breakdown of their routine before a big race. It is equally important to follow a regimented schedule for the 7 days leading up to Test Day. In developing a plan that works best for you, be sure to keep these tips in mind. Your body will thank you and we suspect your exam scores will be the reward! 

Sleep Regulation

Your circadian rhythm, which regulates your sleep-wake cycle, has a huge impact on how you feel both physically and intellectually. Disruption of your circadian rhythm (like pulling an all-nighter, for example) can negatively affect the brain and the body. In order to feel your very best on Test Day, it is crucial to regulate your sleep pattern. 

Start by figuring out when you need to wake up on Test Day. That means factoring in things like: How long does it take to get to my school or testing center? How long will it take to wake up and get out the door? Am I going to shower? How long does it take to prepare breakfast? Am I going to drink coffee? This may sound over the top, but these are all important items to consider. Once you’ve determined when you should wake up on Test Day, try to get a minimum of 8.5 hours of sleep each night (and preferably 9.5) and wake up at that time for the entire week leading up to your exam. 

Nine-and-a-half-hours? Yes! Teenagers need more sleep than adults and the cognitive impairment that results from a lack of sleep mimics the effect of alcohol on reflexes. Sentia’s founder Billy Wheelan maintains that, “a lack of sleep is enemy #1 of academic performance. The most impactful change most teenagers can make in their test prep is to sleep more – and more consistently – every night.”

Whatever you do, do NOT pull an all-nighter. There is plenty of research demonstrating the counterproductivity of sacrificing sleep for studying. In fact, more sleep is strongly correlated with better grades and a higher GPA. Getting enough sleep will not only make you feel better, but will also ensure that your brain is primed to remember the information that you’ve worked so hard to learn. 

Exercise 

No need to train for an actual marathon while studying, but squeezing in a workout each day of the week leading up to your exam can increase your mental processing abilities. Taking up a new, rigorous workout regimen is probably not the best idea. Figure out what feels best for your body — maybe that’s jogging, doing yoga, or going for a swim. 

Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that can sharpen one’s ability to learn and digest information quickly. Exercising may help you clear your mind and alleviate some of that inevitable test anxiety. Plus, when you do sit down to study, and eventually take the exam itself, you will likely feel more focused and energized. 

Diet 

Breakfast, they say, is the most important meal of the day. On Test Day, this is certainly true! A satisfying, filling breakfast can give you ample energy to get through even the longest exams. According to this study on the effects of breakfast on academic performance, eating breakfast has a positive effect on cognitive performance, particularly in the domains of memory and attention.

Of course, memory and attention are crucial to acing your exam. Consider stocking up on good brain foods like whole grains (oatmeal, granola, quinoa, etc.), fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables for the week of your exam (and always!). There is plenty of evidence linking healthy eating habits to strong academic performance, so make sure that you’re fueling your studies with healthy foods, which will ultimately help you succeed on Test Day. 

Stress Management

If you’ve ever taken a major exam (or experienced performance anxiety of any kind), you are probably no stranger to testing anxiety. At Sentia, we teach our Relax, Refresh, Refocus technique to help students solve questions in a state of calm, focused flow from exam start to finish. Some elements you can try on your own include practicing deep breathing between sections, putting your pencil down for mini breaks during the test, and performing shoulder and neck rolls to release upper back tension. Don’t wait for exam day to give them a try. Instead, when you sit down to study during that final week, practice your deep breathing and relaxation techniques. Give yourself time to sit back, stay grounded, and take breaks as needed. 

Yes, testing can feel terrifying. And yes, you may feel like your future hangs in the balance of your exam scores. But, especially if you follow these pro tips, you can succeed. As you sit down to take your exam, focus on feeling confident and at ease — you got this! 

As always, we are here to help with all manner of test prep needs, from content to strategy. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you are seeking additional support. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

13 Jul 2020

What’s Happening on College Campuses this Fall?

As college students anxiously await news from their universities regarding what campus life (or lack thereof) will look like this fall, several schools have come out with announcements about reopening. Realistically, with COVID-19 cases spiking once again, the fall semester remains uncertain. However, several top schools have begun to set a precedent by announcing their plans for partial reopening. Keeping in mind that all plans are subject to change (public health crisis pending), here’s what we know so far as the following schools set a trend for the fall… 

Harvard 

On July 6th, Harvard announced that it will open its dorms to incoming freshmen this fall and ask sophomores, juniors, and seniors to seek approval to return to campus. In addition to freshmen, Harvard will house students who “must be on campus to progress academically,” namely those who do not have adequate resources to study off campus, struggle with housing insecurity, or require access to lab facilities. They have set a 40% upper limit on the percentage of the student body that will be invited back to campus. 

Though some students will be onsite in the fall, all courses will be taught virtually for students both on and off campus. Their rationale for encouraging freshmen to live on campus, despite all classes going virtual, is the potential for building a network of faculty, advisors, and friends that comes with living on campus.

University of Pennsylvania

UPenn, on the other hand, announced on June 25th that they will be inviting all students back to campus in the fall under a hybrid instruction model. Classes are scheduled to begin in person (to the extent possible) on September 1st and end on November 20th. (Classes of less than 25 students will be allowed to meet in person, to be held in larger-than-normal spaces.) The remainder of the semester, as well as final exams, will be conducted remotely. They will also offer the option to access all fall course material remotely if students are unable to return to campus. 

Housing-wise, UPenn will only guarantee housing for first-years, sophomores, and transfer students. These students will be housed in private bedrooms. 

Cornell

Cornell plans to follow UPenn’s lead, announcing on June 30th that they will welcome all students back to its Ithaca campus for the fall semester, blending in-person and online instruction. 

Like UPenn, the in-person semester is set to begin on September 2nd. Students will then return home for Thanksgiving break and finish the term virtually. For those unable to return to Ithaca, Cornell assures students there will be remote learning options available. 

MIT 

On July 7th, MIT released their plan to invite a maximum of 60% of the student body back to campus in the fall, prioritizing seniors and others who require in-person instruction and facilities to complete their coursework. There will be remote instruction available for all students off campus. For students on campus, there will be a combination of online and in-person instruction available. 

Like UPenn and Cornell, MIT classes will begin September 1st and students will depart campus before Thanksgiving. To minimize travel, all undergraduates will continue classes remotely through December. 

Yale

Yale announced on July 1st that they will be welcoming a portion of the student body back to campus in the fall. In each semester, three of the four undergraduate classes will be permitted to live and study on campus, in order to reduce normal density. Seniors and juniors may be on campus for the full year. First-years may study on campus during the fall and sophomores during the spring. Courses will be delivered in a hybrid “residential-remote” format in which professors largely teach online, with in-person instruction in some cases — including discussion sections, lab, and studio courses. 

As colleges piece together creative solutions in response to the current crisis, we anticipate getting more clarity in the coming weeks. Though we are seeing common trends in hybrid learning models and housing availability, each school is taking a slightly different approach to reopening. All of these schools make explicitly clear that students will be held to strict behavioral and testing requirements — presumably social distancing, mask-wearing, and regular COVID testing. 

As always, we are here to help navigate this challenging time. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns. Above all, we hope everyone is staying safe and well!

02 Jul 2020

A Student’s Guide to Avoiding Screen Fatigue

If you’re spending more time than usual looking at your computer screen recently, you are in good company. Whether you’re using online study materials, reading an ebook for pleasure, or working remotely for an internship, it’s likely that you’ve experienced a touch (or more) of screen fatigue. 

What is screen fatigue, you might ask? Symptoms include impaired vision, strained eye muscles, inability to focus your vision, poor posture, headaches, as well as shoulder and neck discomfort. Additionally, there is mounting research indicating that excess blue-light exposure from screens interferes with our ability to set our circadian rhythm, which is essential for restful sleep. (And the importance of restful sleep cannot be overstated.) 

All that is to say, it is important to be intentional about the way we interact with our screens in order to get the most out of our screentime. For students especially, as schools go remote and exams are offered online, the shift from paper-based to computer-based education requires new strategies for effective, meaningful learning. 

We’ve pulled together the following tips for avoiding screen fatigue and setting yourself up for successful online learning… 

1. Curate your physical and virtual spaces 

Your physical environment can play a huge role in your level of focus and motivation. Finding a quiet space away from distractions is an obvious and essential part of curating a space that is conducive to learning. Don’t forget to curate your virtual space as well, by turning your phone on “do not disturb” mode and installing an ad blocker on your web browser.

2. Customize your on-screen experience

Be sure to consider what’s most comfortable for your eyes. Most online reading platforms allow you to increase font size, contrast, and select non-white backgrounds. These are all easy ways to eliminate the need to squint and strain your eye muscles. If you have trouble tracking while you read or you’re simply looking to take your online reading game to the next level, consider checking out BeeLine Reader. This Chrome extension uses an eye-guiding color gradient trick to pull your eyes from one line to the next, which can help increase reading speed and enhance focus. Plus, they’ve launched an initiative to provide free access for university students and K-12 teachers in response to COVID-19!

3. Perfect your lighting

Whether you’re reading a book or a computer monitor, lighting is key. If possible, avoid having a window behind you while looking at your computer screen. This will decrease the glare on your screen and make on-screen reading more enjoyable. Similarly, using a small table lamp, rather than a bright overhead light, may make your online reading experience more pleasant. 

4. Use the 20-20-20 rule 

If you struggle maintaining focus while staring at your screen, the anti-fatigue 20-20-20 technique may come in handy. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away. (Set a timer on your desk to remind you at 20 minute intervals to look away from your screen for 20 seconds. Soon it will become a habit and your eyes will thank you!) 

5. Hydrate 

Hydration, like sleep, often feels like a magic cure-all. In the case of online learning, hydration is essential because eye tissue is predominantly water. So, if you become dehydrated, your eyes will feel extra dry. No matter how absorbed you are in your online course or reading material, don’t forget to drink plenty of water. 

6. Know when to take a break!

We want to support you in meeting all of your academic and test prep goals, but we recognize that an essential part of success is knowing when to take a break. If your schedule allows, try to use your weekends to reduce screen time and spend some time outdoors. Take advantage of whatever hobbies or activities help you feel refreshed and motivated. This positive momentum will carry over to the next time you sit down to tackle an online problem set or reading assignment. 

As new hybrid learning models take shape for the fall semester, we will be brainstorming more strategies for remote learning. So, stay tuned! As always, at Sentia we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

24 Jun 2020

ACT Updates: Additional Fall Test Dates

It’s been an eventful week for the ACT. Yesterday, ACT announced significant changes to the fall testing calendar in the US. They have added an additional test date in September, two additional test dates in October, and ACT has opened up Sunday testing (previously reserved for students with religious conflicts) to all students in both months. In this unprecedented move, ACT has dramatically increased access to testing across the country. In summary: 

September Test Dates: 

Saturday 9/12 

Sunday 9/13 – Now open to ALL students! 

Saturday 9/19 – NEW

October Test Dates: 

Saturday 10/10 – NEW 

Saturday 10/17 – NEW 

Saturday 10/24

Sunday 10/25 – Now open to ALL students! 

In the official announcement, ACT emphasizes their commitment to providing a safe, socially distanced testing experience while maximizing access to in-person testing. Important to note, however, is that not all locations will be offering these new test dates. ACT still has the task of convincing locations to open for testing on a site-by-site basis. In California and New York especially, where state laws limit the number of ACT test dates, there is still uncertainty on how widely available these new test dates will be. We may not know for sure where these test dates are available until registration opens in the last week of July. 

Also, please note: 

The new test dates do not seem to be available to students testing outside of the US. (The ACT did not mention any changes to the international testing calendar.)

There was no mention of how this expansion may affect students with special testing accommodations. 

In other news, on June 18th ACT announced that section retesting — originally planned for this fall — will be delayed until later in 2021 in order to increase testing capacity for those who need to take the full ACT test. Needless to say, testing this fall may look very different from the original plan. 

As always, we are happy to answer any questions, concerns, or provide guidance in adjusting to these recent changes. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us, we are here to help as we all navigate this challenging time.

17 Jun 2020

What to do when your dream school goes test optional…

If you’re in the midst of preparing for college applications, you’re probably already aware that many colleges across the country are switching gears to a “test optional” policy in response to the impact that COVID-19 has had on SAT / ACT scheduling and availability. A handful of schools were already “test blind” — but, please don’t mistake the two! Before you abandon your SAT / ACT study plans, it’s important to understand the difference between “test optional” and “test blind” in order to put together an application that holistically captures who you are as a student and as an individual. 

What’s the difference between “test blind” and “test optional”? 

When schools decide to go test optional, that does not mean that standardized test scores are taken out of the equation entirely — this is only true of test blind schools. Colleges that are test blind will not consider test scores during the admissions process even if a student submits scores. Test optional schools, on the other hand, will absolutely consider your test scores if you choose to submit them. 

If you’re putting together your college list, it’s important to get familiar with each school’s specific policy on submitting test scores because there are several variations on the test optional theme. Some schools are requiring additional short-answer questions or submission of an analytical paper in place of SAT / ACT scores. Others have decided to waive testing requirements only for students who meet a minimum GPA. Also important to note, some test optional schools may still require test scores for out-of-state students, international students, or students applying for certain scholarships. Be sure to read the fine print! Here you will find a list of all the colleges and universities that have opted to go test optional. 

What does this mean going forward?

Zooming out from the chaos of the past several months, a trend towards more flexibility within standardized testing requirements was set into motion several years before the onset of the pandemic. The barriers posed by COVID-19 have certainly fast-tracked the shift to test optional, but it’s likely that even as the world settles back into some version of “normal,” SAT / ACT requirements will continue to change or simply never return to pre-COVID policies. Some schools are running an experimental pilot program to evaluate the effectiveness of test optional, while other schools are announcing a full transition to test optional. Many, of course, do plan to return to relying on test scores once testing scheduling and availability normalize. The outcome of this nationwide experiment — the success of incoming freshmen in the fall of 2021 — will inform admissions policies for years to come. 

So, should I still plan to take the SAT or ACT? 

Though the test optional surge may feel like a relief, in reality many of the schools that typically require SAT / ACT scores will likely still expect to receive scores from students who do have access to testing. Plus, strong scores will only strengthen your application and could be essential in making you stand out among your peers. Considering that many other application components, such as extracurriculars, work opportunities, and class grades, have been interrupted, the SAT or ACT could be an excellent opportunity to set yourself apart academically. 

Keep in mind that admissions officers will only spend a few minutes looking at your file during the initial review period. During this initial review, they are forced to make quick decisions, drawing conclusions about who you are from the materials that you provide in your application. Strong test scores can play a huge part in further solidifying your impression as a viable applicant whose profile aligns with pre-COVID admissions standards. So if you believe test scores could elevate your overall application, we highly recommend sticking to your original study plan and using this time to demonstrate your continued commitment and ability to succeed even in such tumultuous times. 


If you’d like more individualized guidance on how to achieve scores that will make your applications shine, we are here to help. Above all else, we hope you are staying safe and well. As always, at Sentia we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!