Ask Test Masters – Ivy League Admission

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Ask Test Masters is a free service offered by the college admission experts at Test Masters. Reader PCSkater has a question regarding the impact a few bad grades might have on his chances of being admitted to an Ivy League school. He writes,

“My average in math in grade 10 was very low, as in 70%. This year (grade 11) I am in CST, aka the low math class. Also, I had a 78% in history one year. Not my finest grades. I have mid 80’s and 90’s in all other subjects, and a lot of extracurricular activities that I have been a member of for all my years in high school thus far; I play the violin, figure skate, and am an intense alpine ski racer. Do I have any chance of getting in to an ivy? If next year (grade 12) I get mid-high 90’s in all my classes, will it make up for the math fallout? I would appreciate any advice!”

Dear PCSkater,

Already notoriously difficult to get into, last year Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown all listed acceptance rates of less than ten percent, while Harvard and Yale posted acceptance rates of around five percent (incidentally making Harvard’s acceptance rate for the fall of 2013 the lowest recorded acceptance rate in history). The fact is, today, Ivy League schools are more difficult to get into than ever before.

When it comes to the Ivy League, you must be a near perfect student, with stellar SAT/ACT/SAT II exam scores, in addition to being an active and successful participant in extracurricular activities, in order to have even a chance at admission.

It is true, to a certain degree, that you can offset a less than perfect transcript with excellent standardized test scores; however, this applies more to general admissions than it does to admissions at an Ivy League school. Candidly, everyone with a chance of being admitted to an Ivy League school will have amazing standardized test scores so you will not be able to distinguish yourself from other applicants that way.

The short answer to your question is it is highly unlikely even a perfect GPA your senior year will be enough to overcome bad marks in previous years, specifically in regards to admission to an Ivy League school.

Before you get down on yourself, read this article. In the linked article, College Compass writer Calvin explains that you do not need to attend any Ivy League school to get a competitive, high-quality education. Oftentimes, the honors program at your state or city college serves just as well. I highly recommend you read that article.

All this is not to say that you have no chance whatsoever of being admitted to an Ivy League school; it’s just important that you manage your expectations and be cognizant of the obstacles you will have to overcome in order to be admitted.

I know this is probably not what you wanted to hear, but I hope this information helps!


Ask Test Masters: Apply to a Military Academy

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Ask Test Masters is a very popular service offered by the college admission and test experts at Test Masters. If you have a question about the college admission process, or about any of the myriad tests you’ll have to take as you navigate the process, ask the experts at Test Masters! This week, reader Matthew asks about applying to U.S. military academies. He asks,

“Military Academies. One of the hardest schools to get into and one of the most physically and mentally demanding application processes, including a congressional appointment among other things. Tips on getting a good start/upper hand? Thanks.”

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the steps you should take to make yourself a viable candidate to a military academy are very similar to those you would take for any other top-tier university or Ivy League school. As far as the initial and basic application process is concerned, applying for one is nearly identical to applying for the other. To make yourself a competitive applicant, you should:

Have a good GPA & Class Rank.

This is particularly challenging if you attend a competitive high school where a good GPA doesn’t necessarily translate into an extremely high class rank. If you’re not in the top ten percent, get there. If you need advice on how to study and prepare, this article might help.

Take ALL the standardized tests.

The military is very fond of standardized tests. Though many tests will not be required for you to be considered for admission, by submitting a variety of exams you will separate yourself from other competitive applicants by showing forethought and initiative (two things the military values … in potential officer candidates, at least). You should consider preparing for and taking all of the following tests:

  • SAT
  • ACT
  • SAT II – Math
  • SAT II – Physics
  • SAT II – ??? (whichever Subject Test you feel you will do well on and best rounds out your application)

A note on SAT Subject Tests – most students make the mistake of waiting until their junior or senior year to take SAT Subject Tests; our recommendation is take the SAT Subject Test immediately after completing the corresponding high school class for that subject. For example, many students will wait until senior year to take the SAT II Chemistry test; this doesn’t make sense as most students take chemistry their sophomore year of high school. Take SAT Subject Tests while the material is still fresh! Also, by taking the SAT Subject Tests early, you ensure that these scores will be on your application.

Be involved in extracurricular organizations, particularly athletics and leadership.

Military Leadership
Leadership is obviously a highly prized commodity in the military.

Did you know that every cadet (or midshipman, or whatever) at a military institute is required to participate in a varsity sport at that institution? This means that it’s not enough to be athletic, but you should also be a demonstrably good team member or leader. The best way to provide evidence of this is to secure a leadership role with one of your school’s sports teams, preferably the same sport you intend to play at the collegiate level. If you’re unable to secure the title of Captain on your sports team, consider joining clubs or organizations that practically translate to a career in the military: Math Club, Engineering Society, JROTC, etc. These sorts of clubs will look good on your application, and it should be less difficult to obtain a leadership role in one or more of them. As mentioned in other posts about extracurricular activities, remember to value quality over quantity; try not to spread yourself too thin when deciding what clubs to join.

Congressional Seal
Click here to find out who your Representative is!

Obtaining a Congressional Recommendation may pose a bit of a challenge. The problem is that you can only seek a Congressional Recommendation from one of two sources, either a Senator or Representative (to be clear, the Representative must be whoever represents your district). This is a difficult and competitive part of the process; Senators and Representatives can only recommend a limited number of applicants per year, and they obviously only want to recommend individuals with a good chance of being accepted. Our best advice here is to write a convincing essay or statement and be sure to apply for a recommendation from both state Senators and your district Representative. Also, so you are aware, though you should put your best effort into any request for a Congressional Recommendation, you are more likely to receive one from your Representative than Senator. Fewer people are eligible to apply for a recommendation from your district rep than your Senator, therefore it is less competitive.

Pararescue Training Exercise
Click this picture to be linked to a great article about passing military academy fitness tests.

As this is not an appropriate forum for strength and conditioning tips, we will limit our advice to passing your Physical Aptitude Test to two-parts. First, you should be able to ask any of your physical education instructors to proctor your test, so ask one that likes you! If you have a two-going-on-three year grudge against the high school gym class teacher (for whatever inane reason teachers and students sometimes don’t get along), then don’t put your college hopes in his or her hands! If you are applying to a military academy, you are probably involved in some kind of sport. Ask your coach, or whoever else you are sure will test you fairly, to proctor your physical aptitude test. Second, be able to do push-ups, a lot of them, very quickly.

JFK also said, “Democracy and defense are not substitutes for one another. Either alone will fail.”

Our last significant piece of advice has to do with your Interview and Personal Statement. Be cognizant of exactly what you are asking for and the larger implications of attending a service academy. What I really want to convey here is that West Point, Annapolis, Air Force and the Citadel are not looking for people who feel like spending a few years in the military after graduation is a fair trade for a free education. These institutions are looking for career soldiers; they are looking for the leaders of tomorrow’s military. You need to understand the commitment you are endeavoring to take on. If you don’t, you won’t be accepted. It’s as simple as that. This may a bit heavy handed, but consider the famous words of JFK, who said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” I’m not saying you should wrap yourself in an American flag for your interview, just bear in mind that the military professionals who will ultimately review your application need to be firmly convinced that, if accepted, you are going to be fully committed.

That’s it for this week! If you have any more questions about this or other parts of the college admission process, please feel free to comment, or just Ask Test Masters!

Ask Test Masters: Getting into Columbia

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Reader Kayla asks,

“Hi, so I have been reading your articles and I was starting to panic. My freshmen year didn’t go that well and I have just started getting more involved with extracurricular activities this year, as a sophomore. I am on my school’s rowing team and I am in the orchestra. I was in my school’s musical last year and I plan to do that all four years of high school. I take orchestra during lunch so that I can have room for two other electives (French and theater). I am taking two honors classes (H) English and (H) Biology and I am planning on taking at least 2 AP classes next year. I also do community service inside and outside of school. Will this be enough? Columbia is my dream school and I really want to get in… What do I need to do to increase my chances of getting in?”

Dear Kayla,

As you probably know, Columbia has one of the lowest admission rates in the country (6.89% for the Class of 2017). Almost every student who applies to Columbia College is going to have fantastic credentials: straight A’s (with a challenging course load), amazing standardized test scores (middle 50% of admitted students score between a 2150 and 2320 on the SAT), and a very high class rank (over 90% of students admitted as members of the Class of 2017 were in the top 10% of their graduating high school class).

This means, first and foremost, if you are lacking in any of the areas mentioned above, you can most increase your chances of being accepted into Columbia by prioritizing them.  If you struggled your freshman year, then your priority should be to improve your cumulative GPA and to rise higher in your class rank.

To be clear, the credentials mentioned above are not prerequisites to being accepted into Columbia. Like many top tier universities, Columbia has adopted a holistic admissions process, which essentially means that every candidate is evaluated within the context of who that candidate is as a person (family history, education background, financial situation, etc.) and what kind of impact that candidate may have on campus.  That said, these “fantastic credentials” are strong indicators of a student’s likelihood to succeed at a school like Columbia.

Extracurricular activities also play a big role in the college admission process. The most important thing to remember is universities like Columbia value quality over quantity. Calvin puts it extremely well in this article, saying “With extracurriculars, less is actually more.” This means that when you participate in extracurriculars your goal should be to produce something tangible or quantifiable (which is more difficult to accomplish if your attention is split between a dozen different activities).  Basically…

  • You’re on the rowing team? That’s fantastic; take them to State!
  • Vous êtes dans le Club de Français? Très bien! Maintenant, écoutez-moi. Gagnez une trophée!
  • You’re in your high school musical? Great, but are you the lead in your high school musical?

Kayla, by taking an active interest in your education you have already taken the first step to getting into your dream school. It also seems like you have a pretty good idea of what you need to accomplish in order to be a viable candidate for a school like Columbia. The best advice we can give you is two-fold:

1) As mentioned above, prioritize your grades and class rank; without them no amount of extracurricular recognition will improve your chances of admission.

2) Commit to the extracurricular activities you’ve already joined. Stick to it and eventually you will be recognized and rewarded for your hard work.

Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any more questions by commenting, or you can always just Ask Test Masters again!


Ask Test Masters – Should I Just Give Up Hope?

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Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

Reader Malik asks,

“I took my SAT and ACT and my scores were far from the best (1500 and 22). I want to get a really good score, my dream school is actually Carnegie Mellon but I do not meet their test requirements. I’m planning on retaking the test but I doubt that I will get a great score. I have a 3.8 GPA and I’m fairly active. Please tell me, do I have any chance at all at getting into a real good school. Should I just give up hope?”

Dear Malik,

Having an excellent GPA goes a long way towards making you a viable and competitive applicant for most major universities, but it is simply not enough when it comes to top-tier schools like Carnegie Mellon. The fact of the matter is that every other student with a chance of being admitted to a school like this will have a similar GPA and an excellent SAT or ACT score.

Does this mean you have no chance of getting into a good school or your dream school? Should you abandon hope and resign yourself to a mediocre college education and experience? Read carefully- Absolutely Not!

First of all, depending on what part of the country you’re from and what high school you go to, your GPA should put you at the very least in the top 15-20% of graduating students. This gives you a leg up on most of your peers, and some schools may be willing to accept you on that basis alone.

Second, in case you didn’t know, the advent of Score Choice allows students to pick and choose which SAT scores they send in for college admissions. Don’t like your 1500? Don’t send it in. Learn about Score Choice and utilize it when you send your scores in.

Third, it is more common than you think for honor students to perform poorly, or at least not meet/exceed their expectations, on standardized tests. In most cases this is simply a result of lacking familiarity with the exams or the strategies associated with the exams, or from suffering test anxiety (which is a very real thing). Whether you are unfamiliar with the exam or a nervous test-taker, the good news is that both of those issues can be easily resolved with a little hard work. If you are serious about getting into Carnegie Mellon, take practice tests and seek professional exam preparation.

With regard to seeking help preparing for these tests- studies show that without preparation students rarely show any improvement of significance from their first exam to their second or third. It’s like anything else: you’re not going to improve unless you work at it!

Also, if you are having difficulty with your test scores, be sure to emphasize and work on other aspects of your application (job, recommendations, volunteer work, extracurricular activities, etc.).

Don’t give up on your dreams just because you hit a little road block; yes, you have a long way to go, but that’s what life is all about. I’m sure you will be surprised at how far a little bit of effort can carry you.

Let us know if you have any other questions! 

See more Ask Test Masters questions here; who knows, your questions about college might have already been answered.

Ask Test Masters – Extracurricular Activities & National Merit

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Ask Test Masters is a free service offered by the experts at Test Masters. Sally recently asked us what factors (aside from scores) influence the final decisions when it comes to qualifying for National Merit and what the types of extracurricular activities are best to win one of the coveted National Merit Scholarships. Sally wrote,

“What determines the final decisions for National Merit besides scores? What types of extracurricular activities?”

Dear Sally,

Outside of the mandatory qualifications to advance, extracurricular activities play a huge role in determining who wins a National Merit Scholarship (not as much as grades, but a significant role nonetheless).

For extracurricular activities, the most important rule to keep in mind is quality over quantity. It is much better in the eyes of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation (and college admission officers!) to be deeply involved, and recognized for your deep involvement, in two or three clubs, organizations, or charities than to be spread out over a half dozen lesser commitments. Not to be too on the nose about it, but “Quality” in this context means obtaining a leadership position and being able to quantify your successes as a leader; for example, being Captain of your high school’s Math Club and helping them win 3rd place at a state or national competition, or being Secretary of your high school’s Et Cetera Charity Foundation and raising X amount of dollars at Y function. Also, being recognized or awarded for your accomplishments (by your school, the local news, or any other legitimate agency) is a BIG plus too.

There’s no magic formula when it comes to picking the right extracurricular, but there are some dos and don’ts. Remember that, ideally, your activities should indicate a wide range of interests; beware of coming off as one-dimensional. This does not mean it’s not okay to have one main focus and other more peripheral activities; just remember to engage in those peripheral activities! Certainly, the extracurricular you choose to participate in should be interesting and rewarding to you, but try to branch out when you can (who knows, you just might enjoy the new experiences). For example, if you are an athlete, try to compete academically (academic decathlon, debate, quiz team); or, if you are president of the Science Club, think of signing up for a school play.

Hope this answered your question! Let us know if you have any specific questions about your current extracurricular activities; we’re more than happy to help!

Ask-Test-MastersTest Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful SAT & PSAT preparatory course in the country; every Test Masters SAT course comes with a 300 point Score Increase Guarantee. Learn more about the Test Masters SAT course here.


Ask Test Masters: Do the ACT Science and Writing Sections Really Matter?

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!Reader Maria asks, “How much do the ACT Science and Writing sections matter?”

Dear Maria,

Because the ACT Writing section is optional and the ACT Science section doesn’t actually test your knowledge of science (instead testing you on your reading comprehension and your ability to interpret charts and graphs), it’s easy to understand why you might wonder whether they matter. Trust us, they do.

Unlike the ACT Writing test, the ACT Science section is not an optional part of the ACT exam. Even if you are applying to a liberal arts university, or for a liberal arts program, scoring poorly on the ACT Science will lower your Composite Score and reduce your chances of being accepted to your university of choice. Also, an ideal college applicant should be able to demonstrate academic versatility, which can be accomplished by scoring well on both the English and Reading, and Math and Science sections of the ACT.

Electing to take the ACT Writing section will result in two additional scores, your Writing Subscore and your Combined English/Writing score. The Writing section is graded on a scale of 2-12; the grade you receive on this scale is your Writing Subscore. The Combined English/Writing score is generated using a formula that weighs your English-section score as two-thirds and the Writing section as one-third; the Combined English/Writing score is then reported on a scale of 1-36. Your Combined English/Writing score and Writing Subscore do not affect your Composite Score.

So, to your question, does the Writing section matter? The short answer is yes. Almost every university or college you apply to will require you to submit a writing sample of some kind (in addition to your admission essay and/or personal statement); many, in fact, will require you to take the Writing test. Even if your university of choice does not require you to submit a graded writing sample, taking the Writing test will separate you from applicants who have not (in much the same way as taking an SAT Subject Test does), and thus increase your chances of being accepted. Either way, it is in your best interest to take the ACT Writing test.

In conclusion, both the ACT Science and ACT Writing sections matter, a lot!

Hope this helps!

Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!
Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful ACT preparatory course available; every ACT course, whether it is online, classroom, or one-on-one, comes with a 4 point Score Increase Guarantee. Learn more about the Test Masters ACT Course here.

Ask Test Masters: Study Tips

Ask Test Masters is a great, free service that allows you to ask the experts at Test Masters all of your test prep and college admissions questions. If you have a question, send it to us – chances are other people are wondering the same thing. Reader Alyssa asked:

“Hi, I’m currently taking 4 honors classes my sophomore year. I find it very hard to give each honors class the same attention, which causes some of my grades to be low. I thought maybe I wasn’t studying correctly. Could you give some tips on how to study better? Thanks.”

Dear Alyssa,

There are a number of ways you might make your study sessions more effective.

The first step is to make sure you are not studying in an environment that is easily distracting. Avoid study habits that might lead to casual distractions, like studying with the TV on, or with friends who don’t take academics as seriously as you. Even using your computer can lead to procrastination; it’s very easy to go from “American History” to “American Idol” if you are using Google search. Essentially, you want to be comfortable, but not comfortable to the point of distraction. For example, if you’re studying at home you may find it more effective to study at the kitchen table than your bedroom.

Your choice of HOW to study can be just as important as your choice of where to study! After you have decided on an appropriate location to study, perhaps your school or local library, you should start focusing on what methods you will use to study. Everybody learns differently, some people are visual learners, others learn better verbally, and others find written repetition to be the most effective means of memorization. Some people learn best by incorporating various elements of all three styles. The important thing is to figure out what works best for you!

If you are a visual learner, then you should try making flashcards; they can be used for so much more than vocabulary! Make a set of flashcards for each distinct topic in a specific subject and separate your various sets with rubberbands. This is a great long-term strategy for several reasons: not only will you have effectively prepared for your upcoming tests, but by the end of the year you will have a complete set of carefully crafted cards, separated by section and topic, for the final!

If you are a verbal learner, then you might want to consider organizing a study group (just make sure not to invite anybody over who won’t take the topic as seriously as you). A study group made up of the right people can be a powerful learning tool; a collaborative group of peers gives you the opportunity to both learn and teach. A college instructor of mine insistently advocated this approach, professing “You cannot truly understand a subject until you can explain it to another person!”

Repetition has long been held to be one of the most effective means of memorization. Can’t remember something? Write it down a thousand times in a row and you will! Though this method of learning is certainly effective, it is not necessarily efficient. This method is best used as a long-term approach rather than as a last minute effort to study before an exam. The danger of studying this way is that you can spend hours and hours recopying notes or textbook passages, redrawing important diagrams and charts, and still only cover a fraction of the material you need to in order to perform well on an exam.

These study strategies employ a variety of different tactics and features, but they share one common theme: TIME MANAGEMENT! In order to successfully execute these strategies, and any other study strategy, you must carefully manage your time. One colleague (Ivy League graduate & overachiever extraordinaire) suggests prioritizing classes: “Some classes may not be as intensive as others; if you can you should try studying for your more difficult classes in your easier classes. You have to manage your time if you want to succeed with an all-honors schedule. Study during lunch. Study on the bus. Study on a school night. The fact is, if you have any free time at all then you are not managing your time properly. At least, that was my experience taking all AP/IB classes plus orchestra and swim team.” Though I would never encourage you to slouch in one class to succeed in another, the sage advice my associate offers is very pertinent. You are going to have to commit in order to rise up to the challenge of an overwhelming academic schedule; this means dedication and sacrifice. Carefully plan your day, week, and even semester in advance; establish a routine that works for you, and you will get the results you’re looking for.

Another point of advice is to make sure you are not taking on more than you can handle. A full semester of honors classes is great, but only when you are getting decent grades. Don’t sacrifice your GPA or class ranking in an effort to make your transcript stand out; don’t take more honors classes than you can handle. The perfect schedule should challenge you, but it should be a challenge you are capable of meeting.

Hope this helps!

Remember, the experts at Test Masters are masters in all tests! If you need help studying, with homework assignments, or are preparing for an important quiz or test, our tutors are available year-round to help!

Ask Test Masters: Early Graduation & International Studies

Ask Test Masters is a great, free service that allows you to ask the experts at Test Masters all of your test prep and college admissions questions. If you have a question, send it to us – chances are other people are wondering the same thing. Reader Partha asked:

“I will be graduating from school at the age of 16 as I am on the fast trek program of the school and I have done my grade 7 & 8  + 9 & 10 together. Will my young age be a problem in university admission? I checked with many university and they are of the opinion that we do not discriminate any one on age/sex/race religion etc. However, I need your opinion. I am Indian and studying with AP program school in Bangkok Thailand.

My next question is: is it better to do more AP subjects or better to do AP International diploma? My school is not offering AP English & French, which is required to get the AP diploma (the two languages I know), but my school is offering Biology/U.S History? government?Chemistry – I wish to take business subject as major – I already cleared AP World History and AP Micro Economics – currently I am in 11th grade and doing AP Calculus BC and Macro Economics. Please advise in my final year what I should do – 2 Languages or 2 Science us history – what is acceptable more in IVY and other high ranked colleges and universities?”

Dear Parth,

First of all, congratulations on completing your lower education curriculum so quickly!

The Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment provides that every person is entitled to equal protection under the law.

To answer your first question: in the United States it is illegal to discriminate against a qualified candidate based on race, age, gender, religion, etc. In the context of an admission decision, you will not suffer because you are younger than other applicants. In fact, most if not all the universities you apply to will be duly impressed with your academic achievements. That being said, there are a number of other factors you should consider before deciding where and when to pursue a higher education.

Though your age might be an advantage when it comes to admissions, it might be a disadvantage in a larger context. The most important obstacles you encounter at the university level occur in the classroom; however, you should understand that not all the challenges you face in college will be academic. This is especially true for an early graduate, and doubly so for an international student. Our main concern is that you would suffer due to your cultural and real-world inexperience.

There is a financial challenge to consider as well; again, this is especially true for international students. A full scholarship might not be entirely out of the question for a student of your caliber; however, there are areas of financial costs associated with a higher education beside just tuition. These include things like books and fees (the costs of college other than tuition), room and board (where will you stay?), living expenses (what will you eat?), as well as other more superfluous costs, like entertainment costs (will you be able to afford to go to the movies?).

Your involvement with AP programs is excellent! Earning as many college credits as possible is something we absolutely encourage! Our advice is you should continue to

College Board, the same company that administers the SAT, is also responsible for initiating the Advanced Placement program.

pursue college credit, either through online courses, which many American universities offer, or through additional AP classes. We feel this option could potentially answer most if not all of our concerns. Not only would this allow you to shorten your time spent at an undergraduate institution, which would greatly reduce the cost associated with attending it, but it would also give you time to mature, which might lead to an easier transition period when you do eventually start taking classes in the US. In addition to continuing to earn college credit, you could spend this time creating a nest egg for financial security. Also, if you wait until your 18th birthday it might be easier for you to not just find a job but to learn to juggle the dual responsibilities of simultaneously working and going to school should you need to.

Talk to your parents! They might actually be able to help!

If waiting is not an option and finances are not a problem, then our advice is simple: TALK TO YOUR PARENTS! Is there a chance either your mom or dad could travel and live overseas with you, at least for your first year? This would certainly ease the cultural transition of living in a new country; it would also give you a chance to “learn the ropes” of living alone before you actually have to. Either way, hopefully your parents can give you valuable insight and advice on what is best for you going forward. In a worst case scenario, you can always apply to your school of choice this year and (if accepted) defer attending for a year.

As for your second question: which AP courses should you take? The answer, of course, is it depends. If you are determined to apply to an Ivy League undergraduate business school, you should certainly prioritize AP Math and Language classes. These classes would demonstrate to admissions officers not just a capacity to succeed in the numbers-oriented world of business, but also an ability to communicate that success across any potential language boundaries. Unfortunately, it appears from your email that your school is not offering AP English or French, which are the two languages you would be most comfortable taking at the AP level. If this is the case, our advice is to NOT sign up for an advanced language class if you are not comfortable with the subject. Do NOT sacrifice your GPA and a high class ranking in an effort to impress a university admissions officer; signing up for an AP class you are not comfortable with could potentially backfire!

If AP Language is not an option and you have already taken the most advanced AP/BC Math class your school offers, then you will need to decide between taking a social science class (like History) or a physical science class (like Biology). Our advice is relatively straightforward: most Ivy League schools will require applicants take at least one, probably two SAT Subject Tests. You should take the AP class most closely associated with the SAT Subject Test you are planning on taking. If you are planning on taking a SAT Biology Subject Test, take AP Biology; if you are planning on taking the SAT History Subject Test, take AP History. However, you should remember: the greater range you demonstrate as an applicant, the more likely you are to be accepted. (Hint: why not take one Social Science and one Physical Science?)

There is one caveat you should be aware of when it comes to taking SAT Subject Tests: most Ivy League schools ask students whose first language is not English to take their SAT Subject Tests in a subject other than their native language. For example, the webpage listing the requirements for undergraduate applicants to Harvard University cautions, “Candidates whose first language is not English should ordinarily not use a Subject Test in their first language to meet the two Subject Tests requirement.” This means, for example, if you are a native French speaker you should NOT take the SAT French Subject Test.

Hope this helps!

If you need any more help with the SAT or SAT Subject Tests, the experts at Test Masters are available year-round for all your testing needs!

Ask Test Masters: SAT Score Choice

Ask us anything!

Ask Test Masters is a great, free service that allows you to ask the experts at Test Masters all of your test prep and college admissions questions. If you have a question, send it to us – chances are other people are wondering the same thing. Reader Alissa asked:

“I have heard there was a new “law” so to speak that keeps the amount of times students have taken the SAT confidential. This will give students more of a hold on the scores they receive and the power to send the score they wish to be sent to colleges out without letting them know how many times a student has taken it. If, then, it is true, would it not matter how many times you take it?”

While no new legislation has been passed with regard to the SAT, the College Board, the corporation that creates and administers the SAT exam, changed its score reporting policy back in 2009 by introducing the Score Choice option for test takers (another very helpful website is Before 2009, any college that a student applied to would receive the scores from every SAT exam that that student had ever taken, the good with the bad. Now, you have the power to choose which scores you send to colleges. This means that if you do really badly one time, then Harvard will never have to know about it.

While this might sound great, there are a few caveats. For instance, you cannot choose to withhold individual sections of a particular test. This means that if you take the test and do really well on the Reading and Writing sections but terribly on the Math section, you will not be able to withhold only the Math section: you must send the scores for either the whole test or none of it. Considering that most colleges only consider your best scores from each section anyway, you might as well submit the scores from that test, warts and all, unless you can replicate or surpass your Reading and Writing scores while bringing up your Math score on a subsequent test.

College Board is the corporation that is responsible for the SAT exam.

With this in mind, the main advantage of Score Choice is that it allows you to take the test as many times as you want and only send your best scores. It is important to note, however, that some colleges have rejected Score Choice (Cornell, Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale, for example), and still require students to submit all of their scores. There is however, no way for these schools to know if you actually send all of the scores or not. You can be dishonest, take the test 10 times, and only send your two best scores, and there will be no way for Yale to know about it. You might feel a bit slimy about lying, though.

Would you really want to take the test 10 times anyway, though? Each test costs money, and by waiting to see your scores before you send them you waive the opportunity to send four score reports for free. Instead of taking the real test a gazillion times, it might be wiser to just prepare and practice and then take the real test, say, twice. At Test Masters, we offer a service called Exam Club that allows students access to 42 real past SAT Exams that they can take in a proctored setting (yes, some students take all 42). Additionally, after taking an exam, they can then choose to go over their results with a professional SAT expert (like me). However you choose to do it, it’s definitely wiser to make all your mistakes before you take the SAT for real, and if you practice until you consistently get the scores you want, you can feel confident on test day that you’ll perform just as well.

Hope this answers all your questions, Alissa, and until next time, happy studying!

Ask Test Masters: First Generation College Students

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You ask and we anbooks and college stuffswer! Do you have question about college admissions, applications, entrance exams, or anything pertaining to college preparation? Drop us a line at Ask Test Masters, and we will answer your question in an upcoming post!
Question: “I am a junior at a high school in Texas. I am the first generation in my family to attend High School in America, and honestly it’s been quite the journey. However to fully understand where i’m coming from let me go back a bit. I have mainly lived and attended school in New Delhi, Toronto, London, New York and Texas. I have attended three different high schools over the span of three years. Now school counselors mean well, however they aren’t always used to the different school systems, and I have been victim to the carelessness in handling of my academics. It is definitely my mistake also, but my family and I didn’t know better, and we didn’t have any friends necessarily who were experienced and could guide us. (The advice we received often harmed more than repair.) Despite all of these changes for me (socially, academically, environmentally) I really did try my best and have a pretty decent school record- AP classes and clubs and honors. However preparing for college is a daunting task for me. I do not know where to start, what to see, whether i’m aiming too high and where I need to work to get into the colleges I want (Stanford, Colombia, NYU, UTofA, UCLA, Cornell). The counselors try to help, but do not really know where to begin to explain to someone like me how things work. So I was wondering if you could give some advice centered on people who are in this alone, who are the eldest sibling in a first generation family, who have high goals and well-intended-but-unhelpful guidance. Thank you for your time. Oh! Also, Testmasters is amazing and I hope to do well with it’s tutoring on the March 10th SATs.” – P.

Answer: First, we are glad you are planning to use Test Masters to help you prepare for the SAT. They really do have a great program to increase your entrance exam scores.

P, you brought up a number of important issues:
–       The role of counselors
–       First Generation College Students
–       How to know what tier schools to target and aim for
–       Understanding the basics of the college app process
–       How to go it alone – preparing without much assistance
–       The information gap in the college process

Thanks for writing us and illustrating that every high school student encounters a number of struggles and roadblocks during their college application journey. I could write a book, literally, to address all of these issues, so I will only be able to touch the tip of the iceberg in this post. I’ll do my best to cover all of these topics in depth over the next few months!

Most importantly, though, don’t feel alone! I am a (half) First Generation College student myself. My dad went to college, but the process and college game has radically changed since his time. On my mom’s side of the family (extended family included), I was the first person to go to college.

If you don’t have older siblings or close family members who have recently gone through the college process, it’s easy to feel dazed and confused. There is a wealth of information on the internet but sorting through the good and bad information can be confusing. (Believe it or not, not everyone with a domain name is an expert!)

High school counselors can be great resources, but admissions assistance is not the main responsibility of public school counselors. Many school counselors deal with 600-800+ students, so their main tasks include crisis management, behavior issues, and scheduling. They often don’t have the time to become admissions specialists.

Some families (who can afford $$$) work with independent college consultants who walk the students through every step of the application process. Depending on the company, you may get top-notch help, but plan to spend several thousand dollars.

For students navigating the process on their own, established companies like Test Masters and College Board offer a wealth of information and guidance.

Helpful Posts: Check out our post on the Basic Steps of the College Admissions Process. It provides a brief outline of steps to help you get started in the right direction.