Summer Clubhouse

Standardized Testing

The PSAT/NMSQT

The PSAT/NMSQT is the Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. All sophomores and juniors at Hewitt are registered by the school to sit for this practice exam on the nationally-designated date in October. The PSAT mirrors the SAT Reasoning test and is comprised of three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing (just the multiple choice portion, not the actual essay). Actual total testing time is approximately two and a half hours. A calculator is permitted for the math section. The test is scored on a scale of 20 to 80 points for each section with the highest total point score being 240. Nationally, average scores for all sections hover around 50. Scores under 50 will be below average, while scores above 50 will be above average.

SOPHOMORES take the PSAT for practice; their score reports and actual test booklets are mailed home once reports are received by Hewitt in the first weeks of December, before winter break. Studies show that students’ SAT Reasoning scores improve as their performance in the curriculum progresses, by using the PSAT to build familiarity with the test and by taking time to read the details and suggestions outlined in the individual PSAT score report.

JUNIORS take the PSAT/NMSQT as another round of practice for the SAT Reasoning test and as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (hence, the NMSQT). Juniors may qualify by reaching a selection index (CR score + math score + writing score = selection index) in the 99th percentile, which varies from state to state (typically 217+ in New York state) and slightly from one year to the next. In order to be commended or recognized as a semifinalist and compete for finalist status, a student must meet the eligibility requirements set by the College Board and for the State of New York. In addition to referencing http://www.collegeplanningsimplified.com/NationalMerit.html Hewitt students and families can learn more about standardized testing by attending College Guidance’s program to help students and parents interpret the individual score report in a productive manner that informs each student’s approach to standardized testing.

Students with learning differences documented by educational testing or families wondering what such testing entails should contact Jackie Murray in the Learning Center, ext. 618: jmurray@hewittschool.org for information about applying for testing accommodations/extended time with the College Board or with the ACT (separate process). Such applications must be completed and filed well in advance of testing dates, are accompanied by the educational report on file with the Learning Center, and typically take six weeks for response. Please read Applying for Accommodation section below. Students granted accommodation by the College Board will receive an SSD number required as part of their online test registration for SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests and as part of Hewitt’s registering the student for any applicable AP Exams.  Application for accommodations for the ACT is a separate process, also orchestrated with the guidance of Ms. Murray.


SAT Reasoning Test

The SAT Reasoning Test (sometimes referred to as the SAT I) is the Scholastic Assessment Test, which mirrors the PSAT’s three sections: critical reading, math and writing. For more information on this test, students can stop by the College Guidance Office or visit: http://www.collegeboard.com. Registration for this test is the responsibility of the student and ideally done online at the above URL. Each student’s personal account will keep an online record of a student’s test scores, and the College Board site provides other helpful information, including national test dates and registration deadlines. Students need to keep username and password info in a safe/central place, as this is personal information known only to you.  The SAT is offered seven times each year in the months of October, November, December, January, March, May and June. Hewitt is not a testing site for the SAT.

In proportion with the PSAT, each section of the SAT Reasoning Test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 with total of 2400 possible points. The average for each section is about 500 (the middle of the 200 to 800 scale) to make it easier to understand. The writing section, added to the SAT Reasoning Test in March of 2005, is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 but includes separate scores for the multiple choice and written essay components. All essays are scored by two independent readers, each grading on a scale of 0-6, so the highest possible essay score is 12 points. Given the infancy of the Writing section (relative to Critical Reading and Math), most colleges will tell you that they look first at the original 1600 set (Critical Reading and Math) and lean more on the multiple choice aspect of the Writing section than on essay grades, which tend to fluctuate.  So, yes, the Writing section counts; there is just less historical data for comparison.


The ACT

The American College Test (ACT), includes four curriculum-based sections that measure a student’s educational development in English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. The test is scored on a 1 to 36 scale for each section and a composite score, or average, is given on the same scale. This test grew up in the Midwest; whereas the SAT grew up on the coasts. The ACT enjoys the same national recognition among college admissions officers and its Writing section is much older than the writing section of the SAT Reasoning Test. Students are given the option to take the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing; we recommend that students choose ACT Plus Writing. Colleges will accept either the SAT Reasoning score or the ACT composite; there is an established Concordance Table admission officers use to compare these two scores.  Some schools (i.e. Duke, at this writing) will consider the ACT Plus Writing composite as an alternative to a student’s submission of both the SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject Test scores, which is another great reason to try this test on for size. Hewitt is not a testing site for the ACT.

Some students will find the ACT Plus Writing more user friendly; others will reach a barrier with the SAT Reasoning Test that they somehow break by taking the ACT Plus Writing, which is why we strongly encourage students to consider taking the full-length practice ACT PLUS WRITING offered at Hewitt in December (the PLAN is to the ACT as the PSAT is to the SAT Reasoning Tests) to see which test treats them better.  The ACT is offered in September, October, December, February, April, and June each year.  More information, test dates and registration deadlines can be found online at www.actstudent.org or in the College Guidance Office. Students are encouraged to discuss testing intentions with College Guidance and to bring all questions to the College Office.

SAT Subject Tests

The SAT Subject tests (formerly called Achievement Tests or the SAT II) measure a student’s knowledge and skills in a particular subject and her ability to apply that knowledge in a one-hour standardized test. Most subject tests are one-hour multiple choice. Languages are offered with listening on the November date only and generally favor independent school students like you, who have acquired language in a college prep setting that adheres to the target language. All SAT Subject tests are scored on the same 200 to 800 scale as the SAT Reasoning, and the average scores vary by subject. For a sample questions from each test and more information and to see which subjects are limited to certain dates, please visit the College Guidance Office or www.collegeboard.com.  Students register for these tests in the same way they register for the SAT Reasoning. Students may register for the SAT Subject Tests in October, November, December, January, May or June, and can take up to three Subject Tests on a single test date but only one if it is language with listening on a single date. SAT Subject Tests are not offered in March, and your transcript/curriculum should direct your choice of tests. It is recommended that students take an SAT Subject test, once they have finished strong in the related course and only if they feel confident about their knowledge of that particular subject. Very few sophomores and some juniors will take SAT Subject Tests in May or June, on the heels of sitting for an Advanced Placement exam or finishing a course that leads naturally into a test. For example, students enrolled in Honors U.S. History at Hewitt are given the option of attending morning sessions in spring semester to prepare for the Subject Test in U.S. History.  Students performing well in Honors Pre-Calculus should speak with their teacher to inquire about taking the Math Level 2.

If you are succeeding in this course, you may want to consider this SAT Subject Test

AP Biology Biology-M
Honors U.S. History U.S. History
Honors Pre-Calculus Math, Level II
Level IV Language or Native Speaker Language w/listening in November

A vast majority of colleges and universities do not require SAT Subject Tests.  Among the most highly selective schools that do require Subject Tests are a number of schools (i.e. Yale, Duke) that accept the ACT Plus Writing instead of both the SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject tests. That said, students should not feel as though they need to test out of every subject with the College Board and are advised to go to their strengths and to read the various requirements from school to school, beginning with the most selective colleges of interest.  Sometimes testing requirements can vary from program to program within a school, so aspiring engineers or combined medical program applicants especially are encouraged to read the fine print on each college’s web site.


How many times can I take the SAT Reasoning, Subjects, ACT and how do colleges view my scores?

Students may elect to take SAT Reasoning more than once.  It is more typical for a score to improve between spring of junior year and fall of senior year than for us to see measurable improvement from one month to the next. In other words, we do not subscribe to the notion that the one who tests most scores the highest, even with last year’s reintroduction of Score Choice. On average, students take the SAT Reasoning Test a couple of times between spring of junior year and fall of senior year.  It is rare for a student to finish all testing in spring of junior year.

Colleges review standardized test scores in different ways. Most private colleges will take the highest critical reading, highest math score, and highest writing score from the sittings reported and combine them for the best possible total score (what some refer to as ‘super scoring’). Some public universities, like the University of California system, take the highest total from any one sitting. Like the UC system, some of the most highly selective colleges and universities will still ask that students report all scores (including Stanford, Columbia, Penn, Cornell at this writing).

To determine how many times you should take the SAT Reasoning, you should consider the range of scores found at each of the colleges where you hope to apply, how these colleges identify your best scores, how happy you are with your scores, and what you believe might actually improve by retaking the test. Blanket advice and recommendations do not serve the personal needs of each student, which are our greatest concern.  College guidance is a great resource in helping you make testing decisions that suit you and reminding you to view your scores as an aspect with less impact than all the hype and conversation would lead you to believe.

The College Board will send a copy of your score report to Hewitt when you enter our school code on your registration and on your answer sheet on test day: 333815.  Students registering with the NCAA Clearinghouse should use a free score report and enter ‘9999’ as a reporting score, so that the NCAA has the set of scores they need to deem a recruit eligible for competition. The score report arrives weeks after your scores are released online to you, so remember: as test takers, you are the first to see your scores and fully in charge of whether and with whom you share them.  Scores are your personal information.

Standardized test prep courses, tutoring – are they necessary?

All standardized tests are written to measure a student’s general knowledge of a particular subject or subject area. It has been found that the more familiar a student is with the format of the test and the type of questions asked, the better the student will perform on these tests. Therefore, it is not a necessity for a student to take a prep course or to hire a tutor. Students can often accomplish the same level of preparation by investing time with a variety of guidebooks and by taking practice tests; these resources are available online and in the College Guidance Office for your use.

If a student does feel the need to take a preparatory course or hire a tutor, it is important that the course or tutoring not conflict with the student’s academic performance, which always comes first. The transcript is the most accurate predictor of performance as admissions officers consider applicants and should never be compromised by standardized test prep.


Score Choice

The College Board reintroduced Score Choice in fall of 2009, by which students can choose individual Subject Tests and choose which date(s) of the SAT Reasoning Test to report to colleges. College Board says that this option puts students in charge of their own information; we cannot caution you enough to resist the urge to test more because of it.  When presented with a cumulative score report, colleges always choose the scores that put the student in the most positive light.

It is important to know that many colleges and universities are not subscribing to the Score Choice option, requiring students to sign documentation confirming that all their SAT test scores are included in the application or simply not giving students the option to choose scores once they have chosen to send a score report to the school. The UC system, the largest early subscribers to the SAT Reasoning and Subject Tests, deems score choice unnecessary, as their computer does what all colleges and university admissions officers have always done: reviews all the scores an applicant submits and chooses the scores that put the applicant in the best light. They are, after all, ‘admission’ committees, not ‘looking for reasons to deny’ committees. It is impossible to know which schools will ask you to empty your pockets when it comes to score reporting, so suffice it to say: a score achieved after testing two times looks different from (more authentic than) the score reached on the fourth, fifth or sixth test administration.

Standardized testing is an unavoidable part of college admissions, though, not as driving a factor in admissions as all the hype and tutoring industry would have you believe.  A growing number of colleges and universities (over 750 at last count) have become “test-optional” (see www.fairtest.org to learn more and to see a comprehensive listing; you may be surprised by how many of these schools are familiar to you). There is a lucrative industry thriving on the fears and insecurities of young people faced with these tests. The goal in the college office is to help you separate the hype and mania from what is best for you, and to help you plan an effective, individualized path through testing that will leave you in command of your schedule and priorities.

Students are encouraged to take both an ACT PLUS WRITING and an SAT Reasoning Test, and some of you will be encouraged also to take SAT Subject Tests, depending on the content of your transcript, your performance in particular courses known to prepare students for given Subject Tests, and the requirements of colleges of interest to you. We recommend that students look closely at the detail provided in the practice ACT PLUS WRITING and PSAT score reports and consult with the college office as they determine testing plans for spring of junior year.  Students can then decide which test treats them better.  Some students will make this determination after taking a practice ACT in sophomore year and comparing the results to the PSAT taken in fall of sophomore and junior years and consulting the concordance table. Hewitt registers all sophomores and juniors for the PSAT, and we host the practice ACT on a designated Saturday in February for sophomores, which is open to juniors warming up for April. Students eventually will establish their own logins and register themselves for the ACT at www.actstudent.org or for the SAT at www.collegeboard.com.

Experience tells us that the largest bump in any test score typically happens between spring of junior year and fall of senior year. Testing beyond a second time on any of these tests rarely produces a score increase to justify a long-term investment in test prep, and research suggests that overtesting actually puts undue stress on students who experience first-hand the law of diminishing returns. It is understandable that students want to ‘get testing over with’ before senior year, but this goal should be balanced with the fact that the ACT PLUS WRITING and SAT Reasoning Test are written to measure what a student knows by spring of junior year. It is our belief that rushing to test is a bad move, which can discourage a student unnecessarily. Each student needs to own her individualized testing plan instead of following the herd to test prep, which is why the college office is always happy to provide the individualized guidance you need.


Advanced Placement Examinations

Advanced Placement (AP) examinations are tests taken on established national test dates each May at the conclusion of Advanced Placement courses.  Hewitt students earn recommendation to AP (and/or honors) courses based on their performance in the prerequisite course(s) and by departmental recommendations. All students enrolled in AP courses will sit for the related AP exam in May, and Hewitt takes care of registering students and arranging for these exams.

Advanced Placement courses serve a curriculum established and audited by the College Board. The AP exams are scored on a scale of one to five, with 3 considered a passing grade and 5 being the highest score. Often, students can gain advanced standing or credit at the college level by scoring 3+, but these credits and placements vary from college to college. A growing number of colleges and universities are accepting only scores of 4 or 5 for college credit and placement. For specific information on how a college will regard AP course work and what AP exam scores will influence placement or be accepted for credit, please refer to the college’s web site.


The TOEFL and TWE

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) evaluates the English proficiency of students whose native language is not English. The test is offered in a computer-based format to measure the student’s ability to understand North American English. Students who have learned English within the past five years or have been educated in American schools for three years or less are encouraged to sit for the TOEFL. Colleges will evaluate the TOEFL score as context for the critical reading and writing sections of the SAT Reasoning Test. The TOEFL is offered more frequently than either the SAT or the ACT, and registration information is available at www.toefl.org.

The Test of Written English (TWE) is administered as part of the TOEFL at the August, October, December, February, and May administrations. Students taking this test will write a short essay to demonstrate their ability to write in English. Some institutions use the TWE in addition to the TOEFL scores to help evaluate English proficiency. It is recommended that a student ask the college specifically if they need this test in addition to the TOEFL, as the TOEFL typically will suffice.


Testing Calendar Guide

The dates below are offered for informational purposes only. Students are encouraged to see a College Counselor to develop a standardized testing plan suitable to their individual needs and commitments.

Freshman Year
The only standardized testing during the freshman year would be SAT Subjects in June for those very rare occasions where a student is accelerated in math or in a second language she plans to leave.

Sophomore Year
October – PSAT/NMSQT as an intro/practice for the SAT Reasoning Test, taken at Hewitt.
December – PLAN, Practice ACT Plus Writing, taken at Hewitt.

May or June – SAT Subject test(s) as directed by course work, i.e. Honors U.S. History. Foreign Language level IV, or accelerated Math as advised.

Junior Year
PSAT/NMSQT in October, to practice and as qualifying test for National Merit Scholarship consideration

Practice ACT plus writing, optional in December.

SAT Reasoning Test can be taken in March, May or June

ACT Plus Writing can be taken in February, April or June

AP exams for students enrolled in AP course(s) occur for two weeks in May, designated by the College Board as national testing dates. The school registers all Hewitt students enrolled in AP courses.

SAT Subject Tests are offered in May and in June; a maximum of 3 subjects can be taken in one sitting. Recommendations are led by each student’s academic program.

Senior Year
September, October or December – ACT Plus Writing, if necessary, OR
October, November, December – SAT Reasoning or SAT Subject(s), if necessary
May – AP exams for students enrolled in AP course(s); students are registered by Hewitt


Applying for Accommodations

As referenced above, students can apply for special testing accommodations if they have two sources: current, independent testing evaluation (within the past three years) and documentation of accommodations granted them here at school to confirm a learning difference and the need for special accommodations. Your report from an independent education consultant must include an evaluation based on test results from diagnostic testing they administered and must be dated within the past three years.

If a student has registered for the PSAT with extended time in the junior year (this must be completed no later than spring of the sophomore year), a letter qualifying the student for extended time on SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject tests will be mailed to the student from the Educational Testing Services. The original letter will be mailed to each student, and a copy will be sent to Hewitt SSD Coordinator to become part of the student’s Hewitt record.  Students must include a copy of this letter (if registering by mail), and cite the personal SSD code in online registration, in order to test with special accommodations. Special accommodations normally suggest a student is allotted time and a half; in some cases, students qualify for extended breaks, a large-print test booklet, or are permitted to use a computer for the writing section.  Hewitt can provide a test reader on those rare occasions when a student’s accommodation calls for one in extended time PSAT or SAT testing.  Given the restraints of a small faculty and space constraints during a typical school day, however, Hewitt cannot provide a test reader for AP exams.

A separate application must be completed for students seeking extended time for the ACT Plus Writing, including the registration form for a particular ACT test date. Interested students should be advised that the ACT organization can prove more discretionary in their review of extended time requests and often denies requests, even when Hewitt recommends extended time, documentation is provided, and accommodation has been granted for College Board tests based on this same documentation.

Students are responsible for registering for their standardized test, with the exception of the PSAT and AP exams, which Hewitt handles.  When it comes time to apply for college, students also are responsible for sending score reports directly from the College Board and/or the ACT to their colleges.  It is worth noting that scores achieved in tests taken with accommodation look the same as those for tests taken under standard conditions, so a student testing with accommodation has the option of letting a college know about a learning difference, or not.  In any case, this is a conversation to be had with College Guidance, who will always recommend that students consider the learning resource and support services available on the college campuses to which they are applying.