Category: Student Area

The College Board recently announced its 2014-2015 test dates and if you are planning to take the October SAT, you may want to register HERE as soon as possible since October is the most popular test date.

If you are going to be a senior this fall, you really want that October date. Yes, November will still get you scores in time for most early admission deadlines. But you need to consider two things – how much more relaxed you will be if you get it out of the way earlier in your senior year and how bad it will be if you bank everything on November and then some life event prevents you from taking that November test. Use your summer to prepare, take it in October and be done with it!

If you are going to be a junior this fall and are wisely looking to take your first SATs as a junior so you can either get them out of the way, or can focus more effectively on an impressive retake, I recommend registering for the January or March test dates. Why not May you say? Even if an emergency interfered, I would still have June to fall back on. Well, I have known a lot of juniors to end up having urgent reasons why they couldn’t make their May test and then couldn’t make the June either. You’ll have finals coming up, all kinds of sport and team seasons ending, emotional partings with graduating seniors, etc etc. Just knock out your first run at the test in January or March and get it out of the way.

2014-2015 SAT test dates:
October 11, 2014 (September 12 registration deadline)
November 8, 2014 (October 9 registration deadline)
December 6, 2014 (November 6 registration deadline)
January 24, 2015 (December 29 registration deadline)
March 14, 2015 (February 13 registration deadline)
May 2, 2015 (April 6 registration deadline)
June 6, 2015 (May 8 registration deadline)

2014-2015 ACT test dates:

September 13, 2014 (August 8 registration deadline)
October 25, 2014 (September 19 registration deadline)
December 13, 2014 (November 7 registration deadline)
February 7, 2015 (January 9 registration deadline) *
April 18, 2015 (March 13 registration deadline)
June 13, 2015 (May 8 registration deadline)

* The February ACT is not available in New York state.

My original sources for the test date schedules are from the official SAT and ACT websites, and there are very nice calendar formats HERE and HERE from the always helpful The rest of the information and advice is purely my own.

Many guidance counselors and teachers push for as many AP courses as the student can possibly bear, and many parents happily back up this plan, believing that they are securing college admissions for their child. It’s important to understand why that can really hurt them.

When colleges look at your child’s application, they will look first at the unweighted gpa and SAT or ACT scores. That unweighted gpa/ test score combo needs to be in a range of interest to them before they will look at the rest of the details – so if the gpa has dropped too low as a result of taking too many incredibly hard classes, colleges will never see what the classes were and say “oh, well that’s ok then, they took very hard classes”. They will just move on to the next application. Any course a student gets a C in does more damage to their gpa than the class is worth. Colleges aren’t interested in knowing how many hard classes your child can take and scrape by in – they would rather see how many they can handle effectively while keeping their entire gpa, and the rest of their activities, in balance. Even if they look at the details of your child’s transcript, it still hurts them to have many AP classes and a less than notable gpa. They will assume one of two things is true – that your child is being madly pushed along by you and will collapse when trying to function independently at college, or that your child madly pushes themselves valuing class status over realism and will sign up for the hardest possible courses in college even if they cannot handle them. What they want is a student who is goal-oriented but has a realistic understanding of their abilities, limits and time restraints – a student who will be able to make consistent practical choices that allow for a smooth college experience and a timely graduation.

My general guideline is that they should not take more than 1 as a sophomore and not more than 2 as a junior, unless they are truly both naturally skilled and highly motivated in all the AP subjects they will be taking. Senior year APs are the most over-rated of all; colleges won’t have a final grade or an AP score while looking at an application, so it cannot possibly help with admissions. The ONLY reason to ever take a senior AP class is because you very realistically expect your child to earn college credit with the scores, without it taking up so much energy that other things slide, and they have such a great gpa that a small tumble won’t hurt them if the class gets rougher than anticipated.

Here are some warning signs to watch for. If the grade slips to a B in a math or science AP, or a C in any other AP, get your child whatever help they need to bring up the grade immediately. If they aren’t studying enough but are capable of doing the material, get involved and help make sure that studying happens consistently. If they are studying a lot and it isn’t enough, or have trouble with the material, get them a tutor. Four hours a week with a tutor may help them more than 16 hours of independent studying if they feel lost and it can free up some time for their other classes, activities and relaxation. If their grade is solidly in the A/B range but they feel nervous about the actual exam, get some released versions of their tests from the college board at this link Have them practice during winter break, and then again during spring break. Doing well on the actual test is essential – do not even send AP scores below a 3. Yes, even if they got an A in the class. As a parent you may think sending a low score is okay if it has a letter grade of A to go with it. From the college’s point of view though, an A and a 1 or a 2 means one of a few things – that your kid’s school hands out As like candy (which undermines their entire gpa) or that your kid’s school has very poorly equipped AP teachers (which makes their school look less impressive).

If you live in Maryland (or are considering colleges in Maryland) please feel free to contact me for more information on college admissions and requirements. You can also use this chart to get a good idea what gpa and test scores different MD colleges are looking for.

Student Questions

This area is for questions from my spring 2013 students. You can post your questions directly, ask me in class, or email them to me.

Q: I get frustrated by my SAT math score. I am in AP Calc with a B+ and don’t understand why my SAT score is so low.

A: If you are in AP Calc now, you are actually rustier on many skills being tested than someone currently in Geometry or Algebra II would be. So if it is a skills issue, you probably just need to refresh on some basics that feel ‘beneath’ you. If, however, it is the style of the SAT math, the decoding of the problems and the setups, you may want to consider taking the ACT instead. The math level, while it does run to a higher range, is much more direct and may work better for you.

Q: Should I take as many AP classes as I can next year? I will be a senior.

A: Absolutely not. Neither the grades nor the exam scores will be back in time to help you with any college applications. The only possible benefit is scoring well enough on the exam to earn some college credits, so the only AP courses worth taking as a senior are those in subjects you already excel in and enjoy enough that you will be able to make yourself prep seriously for the exam.

Q: I am worried about being nervous for the test and I am wondering if taking something would actually relax me so I can do better.

A: Terrible idea. Leaving aside any ethical considerations, taking/doing something to relax will cause
– reduced reasoning
– reduced time management
– inflated perception of how you are doing that will cause you to answer ones you should leave blank, hurting your score even more
-wear off, which will distract you
-cause you to be even more distracted by random feelings about hunger, tiredness, noise, bathroom needs, etc
There are tests or situations where hypothetically it could help, but the SAT is not one of them.


This chart should give you a good idea what to expect if you apply to various Maryland colleges. The data is all from the college board, but the interpretation and advice are based on my own opinions. It is certainly *possible* that you will get accepted even if this chart tells you your odds aren’t good; this chart is meant to show you when you can expect a yes. A word of warning about extracurriculars and other application strengtheners – it is true that they can help you but it is a good idea to understand how and when they help you. They will NOT compensate for a low combination of test scores and gpa unless you literally spend a summer planting food in 3rd world villages or have a parent who built a library for the school. What they will do is help you stand out from a nearly identical test score and gpa student with less impressive ECs on their app. If your main criteria aren’t in place, extras won’t save you. Also worth noting – accomplishing significant positions in a few ECs looks much better than having marginal involvement in 20. You want to look like someone who cared about the things they got involved in.

Schools in italics are using just math + reading, not all three scores.

College Name Applying with a GPA focus Applying with an SAT score focus
Bowie State U. * 1350+ w/ GPA 3.5+ 1800+ w/ GPA -2.5
Capitol Coll** 900+  ** 1150+  **
Coppin State U. * 800+ w/ 3.0+ 1000+ w/-2.5
Frostburg State U. 1300+ w/ GPA 3.5+ 1600+ w/ GPA -3.0
Goucher College 1520+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1800+ w/ GPA -3.0
Hood College 1450+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1800+ w/ GPA -3.0
Johns Hopkins U. 1950+ w/ GPA 3.9+ 2250+ w/ GPA 3.25-3.5
Loyola U. MD 1100+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1300+ w/-3.25
MD Inst Coll Art* 1570+ * 1900+ *
McDaniel College 1000+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1220+ w/-3.25
Morgan State 1220+ w/ GPA 3.0+ 1500+ w/-2.5
Mount St. Mary’s 1250+ w/ GPA 3.5+ 1600+ w/ GPA -3.0
Notre Dame U. 900+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1150+ w/-3.0
Salisbury U. 1600+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1820+ w/ GPA -3.25
St. John’s College * 1200+ * 1400+ *
St. Mary’s College 1650+ w/ GPA 3.6+ 2000+ w/ GPA -3.1
Stevenson U. 1300+ w/ GPA 3.75+ 1620+ w/ GPA -3.25
Towson U. 1500+ w/ GPA 3.8+ 1760+ w/ GPA -3.25
U.S. Naval Acad* 1200+ w/ GPA 3.9+ * 1400+ w/ GPA 3.0-3.5 *
U. of Baltimore 1250+ w/ GPA 3.5+ 1570+ w/ GPA -2.9
U MD, Balt. Co. 1650+ w/ GPA 3.8+ 1950+ w/ GPA -3.5
U MD, Coll Park 1200+ w/ GPA 3.9+ 1400+ w/ GPA 3.2-3.6
U MD, Eastern S. 1150+ w/ GPA 3.4+ 1450+ w/ GPA -2.9
Washington Coll 1600+ w/ GPA 3.8+ 1860+ w/ GPA -3.5

* – indicates that college didn’t provide a normal amount of statistical detail to the college board.
** – indicates that a college provided almost NO statistical detail to the college board.

University of Maryland, Baltimore (NOT the same as University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and Washington Adventist University did not provide enough information to form even a vague guess.

Schools like Johns Hopkins University and United States Naval Academy that show an actual GPA range in the “Applying with an SAT score focus” column have such a strong GPA focus that it is unlikely that even a perfect SAT score would balance out a GPA below that range.

St. John’s College was the only college at the time I made this that listed Racial/Ethnic Status as a top priority in their decision-making. That probably means they *really* need to diversify. So if you are a minority, they may be highly motivated and flexible to get you in.

Despite all the SAT vs ACT pages, it remains one of the most FAQ. The short answer is if you like Superman better, go ACT. If you like Batman better, go SAT. Ok, I am (mostly) kidding. There is no short answer; you’ll need to do a little research. The table provides a quick overview. The text below it is for students who know the basic differences, but still feel unsure which will be better for them.

English, Reading, Math and Science Writing, Reading and Math
Essay is optional * Essay is mandatory
No penalty for wrong answers 1/4 point penalty for wrong answers
Higher level math but straighforward More conceptual math
Passage types are in predictable order Passage types are not in a set order
Slightly higher time pressure Slightly lower time pressure
Fewer, longer sections Several shorter sections
Colleges may focus on composite score Colleges may focus on area scores

* – ACT essay is optional, however some specific schools do require it. You should go HERE find out if the colleges you are applying to require it BEFORE you take the ACT.

ACT – If you are especially good at math and science, and specifically weak in reading and writing, you may want to go for the ACT – you can excel at 2 out of 4 instead of 1 in 3. The ACT essay topics are often easier to write about, and more latitude is given to the student in how to respond to the prompt.

SAT – If you are especially good at reading and writing, and specifically weak in math you may want to go for the SAT – you can excel at 2 out of 3 instead of 2 in 4. The SAT essay topics are a little dry, and there are stricter guidelines for responding to the prompt.

The best possible way to be sure, though, is to go ahead and try taking a practice test for each one. Many schools offer practice tests. If your school doesn’t, you can find an online or downloadable test, or buy The Real ACT Prep Guide and The Official SAT Study Guide both of which contain actual previous tests. If your ACT score is higher, or the two are about the same but your lower ACT area scores are in things you feel sure you can improve in, go for the ACT. If your SAT score is higher, or the two are about the same but you aren’t sure how much you can improve in the weaker areas, go for the SAT.

Common statements you’ve probably seen that I disagree with:

  • “The SAT has much more vocabulary.” This seems true on the surface, because the SAT has sentence completion questions. But the ACT requires a strong vocabulary to perform well on the Reading, and even on some of the English and Science.

  • “The ACT Math is harder.” This also seems true on the surface, because it does go up to a higher level of math. However, the ACT math questions are more straightforward – SAT math questions are much more conceptual. On the ACT, you may well hit problems you don’t know what to do with – and you’ll probably know that. On the SAT, you are far more likely to think you have correct answers only to realise later you forgot to consider some element of the problem.

  • “Everyone who is good at science should take the ACT instead of the SAT”. Again, seems true on the surface. I know I keep saying that, but so many misconceptions become popular precisely because they are believable on their face. ACT science is not about remembering and using all the detailed equations, terms and processes you learned in your science classes. It is about applying logical, scientific thinking. You won’t need to remember the atomic weight of Ag, or what Ag stands for. If you did well in forensics, psychology or sociology and have a good sense of what goes into a solid experimental design and how to read data, you can do VERY well on the science section even if you didn’t do great in biology, chemistry or physics.

   So why are Superman and Batman in here? Superman is very strong, honest and direct. He also runs around saving the world. So I associate him with the ACT – it tests to a higher level, in a straightforward way, and covers more area. Batman, however, well… World’s Greatest Detective. He patrols a smaller area, but more than makes up for not being superhuman by using his intellect to think things through and make them work to his advantage. If you want something you can punch through, go ACT. If you want something you can out-think, go SAT.

  You’re worried about the essay on your upcoming SATs. Maybe you haven’t done well with class essays. Maybe you write great essays, but only when you have plenty of time to do them right. Maybe you’re worried about being able to come up with great examples, or using enough high level vocabulary words. I hope that I can reassure you that the SAT essay isn’t as big of a deal as you think it is.

   First and foremost, understand this. Your essay is not being judged primarily on what is great about it. It is being judged primarily on what is wrong with it. This is not the time to take risks trying to really wow anyone (save that for your college app essay!). This is the time to crank out a solid, well-structured essay and make sure you doublecheck for things like grammar errors and redundancy (if your essay prompt was about whether or not we need to be competitive to succeed, make sure you didn’t use the word competitive 18 times). And always keep in mind that the essay is only worth about 30% of your writing score – most of your score comes from the multiple choice. You *could* bomb the essay completely and still get an above average score on the writing overall if you did well on the MC questions.

   Commit to a position. You are going to want to waffle, because they ask questions where both sides have obvious merit and darnit, you want them to know you are smart enough to realise that! DON’T. It’s a trap. The assignment is to pick a side and defend it – just do it. You don’t even have to pick the side you agree with personally. If the other POV seems easier to write about quickly, do that.

   Using higher level vocab words is a good idea, but only use ones you are completely sure you are using correctly. If you feel uncertain, stick with a medium level word you feel more confident about. Ex: You’d like to use the word sanguine. You know it means something like confident, optimistic or comfortable. So you write “I felt sanguine the next day.” But sanguine isn’t generally used without referencing what you feel sanguine about. If you know that, make sure you apply it and write a sentence like “I felt sanguine about taking my SATs.” If you don’t, you are better off saying “I felt optimistic the next day”.

   Don’t get too stressed about coming up with 3 great supports (don’t get me wrong, if you can do it, go for it!). The college board has provided examples of essays in the 10-12 range that didn’t have 5 paragraphs and 3 supports. But there is a balance of quantity and quality – if you are going to use 2, make sure those 2 are the crown jewels of examples.

Is that all there is to it? Not by a long shot. This entry isn’t about all the wonderful things you can do to really master the SAT essay. But I do hope it has been enough to show you that you don’t need to panic 😉