Prepping for the SAT and ACT- a Q&A with Kathleen Odell

By Sofia Jones

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Photo by Roshni Jariwala

Junior year is the year when most students take their standardized tests – the PSAT, ACT, SAT, and SAT Subject tests. The results of these tests will be considered by colleges in their admission process – hence the stakes are high. I interviewed Kathleen Odell, our college counselor at d.tech, to see if she had some helpful tips on prepping for the SAT and ACT.

Q: What are some strategies to maximize performance before the test?

My advice is that students take the PSAT, which we will offer for free in October. [Students] have an account on Collegeboard, and I recommend that they make an account on Khan Academy. That’s free and they can link the two, which basically will give Khan Academy permission to…create a customized test prep plan for you and it’s all free. There are always books and then there are always private classes. You really want to make sure you’ve covered most of Algebra 3-4 before you’re taking the SAT. I tend to encourage kids to take [the test] once without a lot of test prep, see how you do, but give yourself time to be able to do some serious test prep if you need it until you take it a second time. Now the ACT is the same kind of thing, except for they don’t have Khan Academy. So you can pay, and they will do something similar with Kaplan Online but it costs money. Or you can do any one of the test prep companies and any one of the test prep books.

Q: What would a test prep plan look like?

It all depends. I tend to think that kids should just plan to do it regularly, and you can decide how many days a week that means. Maybe it’s 30 minutes / 4 days a week, 30 minutes / 5 days a week…It can vary. Just steadily [work] through it.

Q: How many times would you recommend to take the tests?

Juniors take the PSAT in October of their Junior year.  We are also hoping to be able to offer a “mock ACT” to juniors next year.  Usually students take the SAT or ACT twice – sometimes three times. After you take the test, it takes a month to get your result. There’s multiple options in the fall to take it, [as well as in] August, October, and November.

Q: What is your experience with taking the ACT or SAT? What are some takeaways?

My main takeaway, is that you adequately prepare without killing yourself, because at the end of the day, you’re more than a standardized test. My second takeaway is make sure you get plenty of rest the night before, and you bring a water bottle and you’re hydrated and ready to go, because it’s a grueling test. The last thing is, let’s say you’re a really strong student and you just don’t test well, some kids don’t…So you’re a straight-A in high school but your test scores just really aren’t reflective, there’s now over 900 colleges and universities in the United States that allow you to apply and get an admission without even showing a test score. Those are called “test-optional” schools. You could find a school that would be a good fit for you.

Q: On the topic of subject tests, would you recommend to take them?

It depends. Most colleges and universities do not require subject tests. That having been said, engineering is an area where it may be required or highly recommended to take the Math subject test. So it depends on what you want to major in and where you want to apply. Some highly selective colleges do require that you take two subject tests…I would basically say, “Start with yourself, what you’re interested in, figure out where you want to apply that is a good fit, and we’ll look at whether they’re needed or not.”

Q: How should it be planned out alongside the standard ACT and SAT?

Subject tests are offered by Collegeboard. So you would take it on an SAT test date, and you can take up to three in one sitting. For example, you could take the SAT in June, and the subject test in August. Then you take the SAT again in October. That would be a path where you’re getting all of them in.

Helpful Links for More Info:

SAT vs. ACT Chart Comparison by Princeton Review

Kathleen Odell’s SAT Subject Test Slideshow

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