Ask Test Masters

Ask Test MastersDo you have questions about the college admissions process, entrance exams, or preparing for college?  Then “Ask Test Masters!” Send us a note with your question, and we’ll answer it in an upcoming blog post!

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  1. Hi! I just started Sophomore year a week ago, and in Freshman year, I decided that popularity was more important than grades, and kind of screwed up. A lot. Although I took all advanced classes, I ended up with a B in 4 of them. Right now, my rank, (according to freshman year) is 179/1568, and my GPA is a 3.9. I have straightened up again, and realized what is more important to me, and decided that I will “get my shit together” as they say. In Sophomore/Junior/Senior year, I am again, taking all advanced classes, going the full AP route, and my goal is to become in top 10 in class rank, and get accepted to Eastman. Would it be possible, if I did very well starting now, to get into the top 10? I am planning on doing everything to get into National Merit, get 5’s on all my AP exams, and do well on the SAT/SAT subject tests. I do extracurriculars/volunteering with the thing I enjoy most–piano, which breaches another subject. I want to major piano, and in order to do so, I need a scholarship. I am competing at Eastman University’s competition soon, and if I get into the top 3 placings, I get a full 4 year tuition. If I get that tuition, could I still apply to another university, such as Juilliard or NYU? Please help me out! Thanks!

    1. Hannah,

      First, a 3.9 GPA is very good, as is a class ranking just outside the top 10%. You might not be as badly positioned as you think. That said, there is certainly room for improvement; however, provided you excel going forward, you should be just as qualified as any other applicant to a top 10 university.

      In regards to your upcoming competition – that is very exciting! Good luck! Personally, if you are offered a full tuition to Eastman – take it. Eastman School of Music is one of the best undergraduate colleges of its kind in the country. If you are really interested in other schools though – you are not obligated to accept a scholarship simply because it is offered to you. You should be free to pursue other options should you want to. Whether the scholarship is applicable to other universities depends entirely on the nature of the scholarship and competition – my recommendation would be to go to the competition webpage and read the fine details for more information on this.

      Hope this helps!

  2. Hello, I am a freshman in high school and am taking the most rigorous courses my high school currently offers (2 AP, the rest Honors) and am doing Robotics as an extracurricular activity and plan to do others like National Honor Socitiey and Debate. However i have previously played lacrosse before and was wondering whether sports or clubs look better on a college application. I am worried that if i do lacrosse i will become overloaded. Also lacrosse will force me to quit robotics as they are at the same time. I appreciate any advice, thanks!

    1. Zach,

      Admissions officers prize versatile, balanced, competitive applicants. You should keep this in mind as you outline the next several years of your academic and extracurricular life. That said, the extracurricular that will most benefit your application is the one that you will excel at – if you feel like you are more likely to succeed or win recognition as a participant on a robotics team, then you should seriously consider pursuing that activity. As always, though, our recommendation is that you pursue the extracurricular that you feel you will most enjoy!

      Hope this helps!

  3. Hi!

    I am from Malaysia and currently 17. Obviously, I will be applying as an international student.

    First, a bit of back story.
    I study in a top private school, regarded as the best in my fairly large city, but my grades are really subpar, some are bad even. How much drag do you think bad high school grades are to Ivy League admissions? Or to “Near Ivy League” schools? This has been worrying me for a long time and I don’t know who to consult, so I really hope you can help!

    1. Lee,

      Grades are the most important aspect of your application to any university, and they are particularly important for admission to the Ivy League, or similarly competitive schools. You can work to offset poor grades with extracurriculars, recommendations, and high standardized test scores, but the unfortunate fact is that even being exceptional in these other areas of your application will not really “replace” the poor grades on your transcript.

      Two things:

      First, it’s important to realize that you can only control so much. You cannot go back in time and change your performance in the classes which you earned a subpar grade. Rather, what you can do is control your performance in your current and future classes. Do the best you can going forward!

      Second, in the same vein, it’s important that you have realistic expectations about your higher education options. If your dream is to attend an Ivy League or similarly competitive school, then I definitely encourage you to apply. However, it is important that you manage your expectations, and that your expectations correspond to your circumstances. Your path to the Ivy League might not be through the traditional route. If you are serious about your colleges of choice, keep in mind that you can always transfer schools as a freshman or sophomore.

      Hope this helps!

  4. Hi College Compass,

    I am a sophomore in high school, and for quite a while my goal was to get into Harvard for my undergraduate years. I recently switched schools, and things are SO much tougher than it was in my previous school. I think I might (hopefully not) receive two B’s (Pre-AP English and French) for my first term. A school year in Canada is divided into three terms. I was wondering, if I make up for these scores in 2nd and 3rd term by earning A’s, would this make it up? My other classes is ranging in about 95%. I had a 96% average in my previous school. The current school that I go to is very competitive and top of my province, and placed top 25 in Canada as well.


    1. Brad,

      A couple of B’s will not necessarily ruin your chances of admission to a prestigious university; however, the higher your GPA the better your chances of admission. If given the opportunity to explain these B’s you should do so in a way that doesn’t make you sound like you are making excuses – you might say something along the lines of, “Although, my initial experience after transferring was surprising for the challenge my new school represented, I feel as if this challenge only served to make me a more complete student.” You can also demonstrate your expertise in a topic (i.e. “makeup” for these grades) by taking and submitting good SAT Subject Tests in these topics. To be honest though, it might be in your best interests to not even attempt to explain a couple of B’s in your application essay – as I said, two B’s won’t ruin your chances of admission, and you do not want to waste valuable space on your essay explaining something that does not require broaching.

      Hope this helps!

  5. Dear test masters,
    This blog was very helpful and has helped motivate me. I’m a freshman in high school, and my goal is to attend (and play basketball at) an Ivy League school. I took the practice SAT on the College Board website and scored just over1600. I have already stared many extracurricular activities at my school. I am part of a volunteer group called Build On (in which there may be a volunteer trip abroad), a member of YAG (youth and government), one of our “student leaders” (there is no class pres. yet), and I will be strong part of the basketball team for the next 4 years. There are also a few more I plan to take part in. However, my school is not very competitive and only has 3 AP classes. So far I have a 4.0 which is the max and I am ranked very high (not sure exactly), but is there anything else I can do. Should I take local college courses? In 8th grade I took honors Alg. 1 but I am taking it again now, so should I request to take Alg. 2 and geometry next semester? What should I focus on studying outside of schools (and for how long per day), and are there any clubs or groups I should join? I have already studied most of the free practice questions on, so are there any other sites with free questions? In general, what else should I do this year and beyond? Thank you very much!

    1. S,

      A score of 1600 is very good for a student your age! Keep in mind the national average for upperclassmen is right around 1500, so you are scoring well for your age group. One thing to note, though, is that the SAT is changing, so the exam that you take for the purpose of college admission will be different than the SAT as it exists today. You can learn more about the new SAT at It sounds like you are targeting the right mix of activities to excel at: athletics, volunteer work, and a specific leadership activity; you want to be careful not to overburden yourself with responsibilities and obligations, and keep in mind that admission officers value quality over quantity, but as you progress through high school you should also consider joining academic honor societies (like NHS, for example).

      If you feel like you can balance all of your other responsibilities and take college level courses, then I would say go for it! BUT, remember that you should NEVER sacrifice your GPA for extracurriculars. Your GPA is the single most important part of your application; without a competitive GPA no amount of extracurriculars can guarantee you admission to a top college. You should also keep in mind that even without access to AP classes you can still take AP exams. Learn more about how to here. You can also demonstrate knowledge and competency in a subject by taking SAT Subject Tests. One word of advice on Subject Tests: most students wait until their Junior or Senior year to begin taking SAT Subject Tests; we recommend that students take SAT Subject Tests immediately after completing the most advanced course in that topic they will take in high school – if your most advanced Physics or Chemistry (or American History or US History, etc.) class will be taken as a sophomore, then take the corresponding SAT Subject Test at the end of the school year.

      Although I can’t really recommend free additional resources beyond what you are probably already familiar with, one low-cost option for students simply looking for extra practice is to purchase the Official SAT Study Guide as well as the Test Masters SAT Official Study Guide Complete Solutions books. The Official Study Guide contains 10 full length SAT exams, and the Complete Solutions manual contains detailed solutions to every question in the Official Study Guide. These books are inexpensive means of gaining valuable practice material.

      Hope this helps!

  6. Can one B in one semester of your freshman year act as a hindrance to being accepted at an ivy? (B was in unweighted Honors Geometry with a VERY difficult teacher) Also, I am very good at piano. How can I apply my skill towards volunteer work and leadership? Most of all, what should I do now as an ambitious freshman with goals to attend a prestigious school such as Johns Hopkins and/or William and Mary? I’m really stressing about my future and getting that B was very discouraging. However, I cannot let that one B in one semester make me quit. What should I start with now as a Freshman?

    1. Noa,

      No, one B will not ruin your chances of admission to an Ivy. Although, if you are serious about admission to a top 10 school, it is extremely important going forward that you maintain a competitive GPA.

      There are any number of activities that would allow you to combine your passion for music with volunteering. A couple of examples off the top of my head might be volunteering to regularly play at a retirement facility or teaching piano to low-income households/schools. I would recommend checking with your high school counselor or local volunteer associations – even if there is no event or activity that could obviously benefit from a pro bono pianist, leaders in these organizations will probably be more than happy to help you think of some way you might give back to your community while utilizing your skill as a musician. Also, by affiliating yourself with an organization you give yourself the opportunity to earn tangible accolades (in the form of certificates or awards) or positions.

      Hope this helps!

  7. Hello! I read your blog post regarding extracurriculars and after scouring the site, I greatly value your advice like no other college admissions blog. I apologize if this takes a bit long! Currently, I am a high school sophomore and am in the top 10(ranks) of my class, ranking #5 out of around 700 students. I think I have a 4.0 gpa; I usually get 95’s and above in all my classes. I’ve been a volunteer at my local library since freshman year, and am about to start tutoring there as I really love that place. I’ve also been volunteering in the summer at a local community storehouse but can’t say much because I was overworked and under-treated. I was in marching band as a freshman and this year. Overall I’m not worried about athletics(I’m just not a sports person) or volunteering extracurriculars; it’s the “creative” side I doubt.
    These are the extracurriculars I do: band, Future Business Leaders of America, Youth and Government, Academic Decathlon, Green Chord, Spanish club, and Student Council, and a couple more I think but don’t really do anything in for me to even recognize it as one.
    However, FBLA and band are my two main activities. FBLA, getting deeper into involvement, is the thing I’m really into. Here are my accomplishments in this club: as a freshman, I made 1st at a regional competition, which allowed me to advance to state where I placed 3rd, which allowed me to go to Nashville, TN for nationals, in which I didn’t place in but it was the best experience of my life; I served as a “voting delegate” for my school, which is a big thing in FBLA world; my school district awarded me for making nationals; I’m currently my school’s secretary of the club and I’m running for Area officer, with hopes of becoming local chapter president as well as State secretary my senior year(maybe I’ll run for national office but probs not); and I’m working towards these awards in which there are 4 levels and ive done the first, as well as the community service awards, which I’ve completed a level. Basically, I really love FBLA and everything it stands for.
    In band, I’m a good player in the SECOND top band(which bums me out everyday), and I want to run for a position. I say this is one of my biggest involvements because it takes up so much of my time. I’m Spanish club president as a sophomore, which is kind of its first year bc they did nothing last year and I’m frustrated because it seems like I’m the only one committed but nothing happens because no one else, not even the other officers or advisor, seems to want to nurture it into a prosperous club.
    I’ve been involved with Y&G since freshman year, but not as much as FBLA(nothing compares), but I really do love this club and want to be more involved and become a committee chair but a big event which hindered those plans was that I chose FBLA over the Y&G state conference. Green chord is just a program where u turn in hours to get a chord for graduation plus my mom said it looks good for college, so. But i really love the volunteering part.
    My big dilemma with all these details is that there’s a lot I love, but not enough recognition(a lot to say? I don’t know how to word it) yet. I can only say lotsa things about FBLA. Is it okay to start clubs junior year, like I really want to be a part of math honor society but can’t be because I’m not in PreCal yet? That’s my biggest fear: “Oh, she didn’t start her freshman year, she only did it as a junior and senior, she’s not committed to it at all if it’s only been 2 years.”

    this was very long and I apologize. Using the details I typed out, my biggest questions are:

    1) Do I find another thing to be as involved in as FBLA bc i know 2 or 4 is the limit(or it seems like), or is this just this ONE thing okay to ivy leagues?

    2) if so, does it still look okay if I start it my junior year bc the school doesn’t allow u to join earlier (aka Math honor society)?

    4)Is it okay to quit the clubs I joined freshman year, and mindlessly continued sophomore year(as that shows lack of commitment)?

    3) Am I going down the right path?? What more is there I should do??

    I ask a lot about commitment bc i was once told, and it haunts me day and night, that big universities are really big on commitment bc it shows u wont drop out of their college then become successful(e.g. mark zuckerburg), as they want a lot of successful ppl to carry out their name when they do something big like, “Bob Jones, discovers new breathable planet, Harvard graduate,” to even further their glory.

    Can I ask that you respond privately to my email?

    Thank you so much and I’m sorry for the length but if you respond, once again, words won’t be able to describe my gratefulness.

    1. Janine,

      1) It sounds like FBLA and Band are activities that you care a lot about and have taken leadership roles in, this is very important to colleges, and it’s good that you’ve chosen activities you really care about.
      2) Yes, it is ok to start clubs junior year. There are plenty of clubs (like Math honors society) that are not available until junior year, and colleges know that.
      3) Yes, quit what you don’t have time for. Don’t drop EVERYTHING, but interests change, time commitments to things your more passionate about change, and so things you care less about will naturally fade away. Colleges know that if you were in too many things, you probably weren’t really that committed to any of them. When you go on interviews, do you want them to ask you questions about clubs you only really pay dues to? NO!
      4) Yes, you’re doing well! One can never really predict exactly what an Ivy League school will say because while your resume and grades are very impressive, so are those of other applicants.
      Be careful in your essay! It is a common trend among students as involved as you that they end up writing an essay that actually says very little about who they are. This is a huge mistake. Work with one of your English teachers or someone you trust to make sure that your essay is well-written and an accurate reflection of who you are and what you’re looking for.

      Hopefully this helps!

  8. Hi College Compass,

    Do ivies look at grades more competitively for intl students? I am a grade 9 student in Vancouver, Canada, and I want to get into an Ivy (preferably Harvard or Yale). I am not considering the IB program, and the AP courses offered at my school are limited although my grades are pretty good (97 in math, 88 in science last term but this can go up, avg of 85 in humanities the past two terms but this can also go up, 94 in french last term [will take from grades 8-12]). I am confident that I can keep a high GPA, hopefully a 4.0 but a 3.8/9 at the very least throughout high school.

    I also have a question about courses i take on-timetable that may be considered ECs by american schools: music, etc.? I get a mark for courses like concert band, jazz, and choir on my report card; do i count them as ECs? and on my app, should i list the awards my ensemble has won (instead of just individual accolades)?

    also, how do my extra curriculars look:
    – concert band at school for [projected] 5 years (should i say i played first clarinet?)
    – jazz band at school for [projected] 5 years
    – concert choir at school for [projected] 4 years
    – volleyball on school team for [projected] 5 years
    – track & field athlete on school team for [projected] 5 years (1 year of sprints/relays and 5 of javelin (placed 3rd in cities for bantam/grade 8 girls’ javelin last year))
    – 2nd second language: Chinese school (by the time i graduate, i will have finished grades K-11)
    – [by the time i graduate] Girl Guide for 11 years (organized numerous events for younger girls and in the community) (I am looking to receive my Canada Cord, the highest award for girls of my age range in Girl guides, later this year)
    – regular volunteering at my school library (~1 hour/week)
    – completed RCM Level 10 piano (in 2 years, if that makes a difference to them because most people take much longer)
    – monthly piano playing at a seniors’ home (started in gr 6 and looking to continue it until gr 12 so ~6 years)
    – will probably also have some job experience by grade 12


    1. Flora,

      International applicants are expected to meet the same application standards as domestic applicants. Indeed, international applicants go through the exact same application aprocess as domestic applicants; their status as international applicants is not taken into account except in some cases where an applicant must demonstrate proficiency in English (by taking the TOEFL or a similar test). To answer your specific questions:

      – A GPA of 3.8/9 is consistent with students regularly admitted to the Ivy Leagues.
      – Many U.S. schools assign grades to students who participate in choir, orchestra, band, etc. as extracurricular activities. This is not uncommon at all. You should count these activities as extracurriculars. Yes, you should list all of the awards that you won, just clearly note which were won individually and which were won as an ensemble.
      – Your extracurriculars look solid! Keep up the good work!

  9. Okay, so I wrote my message on the spaces above, but I’m going to also put it here for a reply like the comments above the reply box!

    Hey, I’m currently a sophomore in high school. My high school is small to the point that AP courses are not offered. However, the school does offer college courses from a nearby university. The school also allows dual enrollment to a local community college during senior year. I’m trying to take all the college courses offered (so far, 96+ on all marking periods of the college courses – the highest in my entire class). I’m also going to dual enroll into the community college.
    1. Will my chances of being accepted into an Ivy League school be affected because my school doesn’t offer AP courses?
    2. Are the college courses increasing my chances of getting accepted into an Ivy League school?
    3. Is dual enrolling going to help increase my chances of getting accepted into an Ivy League school?
    I have received one 97 for my GPA throughout last year and this year (one marking period with a 97 GPA). The rest of my GPA’s are 98-99. Now, I have received two 94’s for this marking period (but my GPA still remains a 98).
    4. What are 97-99 GPA’s considered in the 4.0 system (we don’t use that system)?
    5. Since I have received two 94’s, will it REALLY affect my chances of being accepted?
    6. Are the 94’s still considered A’s? We don’t use the letter system, so I have no idea.
    I’m the highest rank (in terms of GPA) in my entire school. However, I rank 1 out of about 400-420 students.
    7. Will being the highest rank, of my school, out of only 420 students increase my chances of being accepted?
    Clubs at my school are so limited, so I try to start as much as possible. Here are my current list of extracurricular activities since freshman year :
    ‌• Chess club (since freshman year)
    ‌• Mousetrap car club (since sophomore year – I proposed this club to my teacher and we only started the club this year, I believe we’re going to do this club until I graduate)
    ‌• As crazy as it may seem, my friends and I are starting up an esports club with the approval of a teacher (this club will hopefully continue even after I graduate)
    ‌• Table top club (since sophomore year)
    8. Should I do more extracurricular activities or dedicate myself to those clubs?
    9. Should I add some middle school extracurricular activities (chess club since 8th grade in that case and I was a part of the National Junior Honor Society – it’s unfortunate that my school doesn’t have the National Honor Society)

    I have a lot of questions because I am awfully worried about my future. Maybe had I known a little more about my school, I would have selected another high school. However, I do love my school. Since it is a small high school, you can build a relationship with your teacher. I have really supportive teachers!

    Thank you in advance!

    1. 1. The truth? Possibly, but you can’t really change that. For the most part though, colleges realize this is an issue for some students, but they still want to see that you’ve taken the most rigorous and advanced courses you were offered. Also, technically you don’t have to take an AP class to take an AP test. Students can and have studied for AP tests independently, but this requires a lot of hard work and planning where and how you’ll take the test.
      2.&3. Some colleges won’t accept this as college credit, but that’s something you’d have to find out on a school-by-school basis. When I was in high school, all the kids who were serious about the GPA game avoided those classes because on our weighted system you took a GPA hit, but it doesn’t sound like you’ll have that problem. In lieu of AP classes, however, at least these courses show you’re willing to take more advanced classes.
      4. There are many variations in how GPA is calculated, but on the most basic scales, anything that correlates to an A in the course (usually between 90 and 100) correlates to 4 GPA points. Bs earn 3 points, Cs 2, Ds 1, and then the mean average of these points is calculated. Sounds like at any normal school you’d have a 4.0.
      5.&6. Again there are variations, but I know of no school where a 94 isn’t an A. The most common cut-offs are usually 90 or 93. So, no to 5….
      7. I’m not sure if you mean there are 420 students total at your school or in your graduating class, but either way being valedictorian is never a bad thing (unless your whole admissions essay is about how you were valedictorian).
      8. Dedicate yourself to the clubs you genuinely have an interest in so that you can take on a leadership position. Starting a club is also good because it shows you’re willing to create opportunities. However, you definitely will need some volunteer work, and it probably wouldn’t hurt to join whatever honors societies become available to you.
      9. No. There are very few things from middle school that might impact admissions, such as being a state champion in something or becoming an Eagle Scout; most middle school activities should stay in middle school.

  10. Help!
    Ok here’s my question, as a junior this past school year, I really messed up. I attended a very rigorous school, and even though I knew I could handle the work, I didn’t. My mom tried to get me to do what I was suppose to do, but didn’t listen. So now I got kicked out, and my mom is thinking about making me repeat the 11th grade. My gpa in the school went to a 1.8, whereas my overall gpa was a 2.9. This was my first year in that school but unless you maintain a 2.5 you can not return. On top of that I never took the SAT/ACT because I wouldn’t focus and my mom felt it would have been a waste of money. So here’s my question, if I redo the 11th grade, take the SAT, and bring my gpa up how will that look to any college admission board. Also, when I was suppose to sign up for extra activities I didn’t. I failed two classes, and just passed everything else.

    I want to go to the School of Arts for a Bachelor in Graphic and Game Design. I also want to get my MFA in Writing afterward. Should I convince my mom to let me go to another school for 12th grade, or should I redo the 11th grade and finish out my 12th grade in my previous school? She feels that if I go to the 12th grade, I’ll be rushing to catch up on getting ready for college.

    What do you think?

    1. Joshua,

      In all honesty – you would probably be better served by repeating the 11th grade. Depending on your school’s policy, this could impact your transcript in different way. Most schools will not just simply replace your last year’s grades with this year’s; however, private schools typically have their own unique policy as to how retaking a class will impact your previous grades. Setting your college applications and high school transcript momentarily aside, retaking the 11th grade courses will probably serve your better from Human Capital perspective. This means that you will, over the course of college and ultimately your lifetime, be better served via the knowledge you gain from applying yourself in these classes.

      Depending on the circumstances and your school’s policies in regards to a ‘redo’ year, it is hard to make any more specific recommendations. Keep in mind though, one bad school year does not mean that your life is ruined. You can probably still get into a less competitive four year university; or, otherwise, you can always take the two-year CC or JCC route and then transfer to a more competitive school. This is a very common strategy for many reasons (the cost of college being big one). In the context of an application to graduate school, what will matter most are the grades you receive as an undergraduate, regardless of whether or not two years worth of your college transcript was earned at a CC.

      Hope this helps!

  11. Dear TestMasters,
    I am going to be a junior in high school in a few weeks and started wondering if I will be accepted into college I want with my credentials. Since the new SAT is taking effect in March 2016 I plan to take both current and new version of the test. After taking the testmasters SAT course my last test score was about 1800. Though I am not fully satisfied with my score as of yet and plan to get it to at least 1950+ there is not a whole lot time left. Using the exam club I plan to get some more practice and experience in answering SAT type questions to improve overall score. As of now, I would like to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas (Austin) and wanted to know if I am up-to par with the standards. I will be the president of Spanish club in the 2015-2016 school year as well as I will be taking part in few other clubs like Service for humanity, student council and if possible, honor societies. Also I have been part of my school tennis team for 2 years now and plan to do it for the next two as well. My gpa is approximately 3.5 (ranked in top 25%) and for my junior year I am taking about 5-6 AP classes as well and plan to take the AP tests. Furthermore, I am involved in Boy Scouts and soon will be achieve my Eagle scout award. Am I on the right track and what can I do to improve? This has been worrying me for a while now, I would really appreciate some knowledgeable advice that I can follow. Thank you.

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