top of page

Beyond the Bubble Sheet: Navigating the New Era of SAT & ACT

Are you confused about the ever evolving state of standardized testing and the college admissions world? Are you pondering the SAT or ACT, curious about the digital SAT, or wondering if these tests still matter? Let's debunk some myths, explore key differences, and prepare your teen for success.

Every year, Garrett Educational Consulting hosts a standardized testing webinar for its clients during their sophomore year to introduce testing, answer questions, and prepare students to begin the process in their junior year. Check out some of our conversations below and download some of the resources provided to our students to help with navigating the digital SAT and the ACT. Then, keep reading to view our FAQs all about standardized testing.

Standardized Testing Webinar - January 7, 2024

Downloadable Resources

FAQs on Standardized Testing

Q: Should We Plan to Take Standardized Tests?

A: Absolutely! Here's why:

  1. Don't Prematurely Discard Options: you may think that you are going to apply to only test optional schools, but what happens if you discover the perfect school later in the game and they require testing? The Class of 2024 has seen a record number of deferrals; what if that trend continues, and a school you thought was a safe bet defers you, and you feel like you need to put in another application or two? You limit your options if you have no test scores at all!

  2. Competitive Edge: A strong score can enhance your application, showcasing your academic readiness and setting you apart in a crowded field.

  3. Scholarships and Merit Aid: While schools may not require testing for admission, test scores could help influence merit aid decisions for those schools.

Q: Aren't all of the popular Southeastern Schools Test Optional?

A: No! And the ones that are may not stay that way

  1. University of Tennessee and Georgia Public Schools: These schools have become extremely popular and competitive over the last several years, and both require testing. So, if you want to be qualified to apply to these schools, you will need to submit scores.

  2. Squishy Test Optional Schools: Some schools, while they remain officially test optional, have adjusted how they look at submitted testing since 2020, and it is becoming more evident that testing is potentially playing a part in decision making. One of the biggest examples of this has been Auburn, which started out test optional and has evolved to its current status of "test preferred." If you check out Auburn's website, they currently state that they are test optional only for students who have a 3.6 GPA AND are unable to secure a test score; all others should submit testing. Auburn's data from the last couple of years supports that they may have been using testing in decision making as it has been reported that 90% of the admitted class in 2023 submitted test scores.

  3. Changing Landscapes: Keep an eye on trends. The UNC system, currently, is test optional but is on a year-to-year policy. For the class of 2024, UNC did not announce their testing policy until late into their junior year, which would have left many who had not taken a test counting on UNC to be test-optional scrambling had the system gone back to testing. There are thoughts that the UNC system might reinstate testing requirements. Staying prepared keeps all doors open.

Q: But the Ivies are all test optional, right? 

A: No! Both MIT and Georgetown require testing. Georgetown actually requires you to submit all scores from all tests you have taken (so there is some strategy with test taking there). There is some question as to whether other Ivies will begin to go back to requiring testing with their applications. Again, at the end of the day, why prematurely limit your options by assuming the test optional schools will remain that way?

Q: Should I select the schools that I am going to submit scores to when I am registering for the SAT or ACT? It is free if I do it then.

A: If you can, it is best not to have your scores sent in this way. It's not an all or nothing approach: Merely taking a test doesn't mean that schools have access to your scores. Garrett Educational Consulting recommends that their clients refrain from having scores submitted to schools when signing up to take the SAT or ACT. While it may be free to do it at that time, you lose control over the decision making on submitting those tests. Katie Garrett, Founder of Garrett Educational Consulting, says, "I tell my students that we will make the decision school by school as to whether to submit tests. We may submit to 4 of their 6 schools if, based on the admissions trend that we are seeing, that makes the most sense." You will have to pay to send your scores to schools if you wait, however, then you are in the driver's seat and can make the best decision on sending scores on a school by school basis. At the end of the day though, if you have standardized test scores you have another arrow in your quiver to use in the admissions process, whether you choose to use it or not is your choice.

Q: What's the Difference Between the SAT and ACT?

A: Though similar in purpose, they differ subtly:

  1. Content Focus: The SAT emphasizes reasoning and problem-solving, while the ACT includes a broader content range, including a science section.

  2. Scoring and Structure: Both have distinct scoring systems and section structures. Understanding these can help tailor your preparation.

  3. Style and Pace: The SAT offers more time per question, ideal for thoughtful analyzers. The ACT's faster pace suits quick thinkers and processors.

Q: What About the New Digital SAT?

A: The digital SAT is a game-changer:

  1. Format: Expect a shorter test duration with more adaptive questions.

  2. Experience: This format aims for a more personalized and efficient testing experience.

  3. Preparation: Adapting to this format requires a slightly different prep strategy, focusing more on comfort with digital interfaces and adaptive thinking.

Q: Which Test Should I Take? 

A: That really depends on your knowledge base (particularly in math), comfort level with the science section of the ACT, and your comfort with the pace of the test, among other things. Both tests are accepted at all schools, so ultimately, you only need to prep for and take one or the other. Katie says, "I have my students do diagnostic testing, a full digital SAT, and an ACT. That way, we can see how a student performs overall and within each section and make a better, informed decision about which test a student should prep for." If you don't have the option of taking a diagnostic test pay attention when taking the PSAT and the Pre-ACT - as their names imply, they are versions of the SAT and ACT test given to students earlier in high school. The layout of the test and pace will be similar so a student can determine which they might be more comfortable with.

If you are using the PSAT and Pre-ACT as a guide, Katie has this advice: "Some students are going to have a clear winner between the two tests, but for those that don't, think about how you felt during the test and which one was better suited to your learning and testing style."

Remember, families, standardized testing is just one piece of the college admissions puzzle. There are multiple factors that go into a college admissions decision - GPA, course rigor, extracurriculars, etc so make sure to keep your eye on the ball and don't fixate too much on any one piece of the puzzle.

Follow us for more insights, and consider signing up for our monthly newsletter for exclusive tips and updates. Let's make college dreams a reality!


Garrett Educational Consulting provides comprehensive counseling for college and boarding school admissions as well as academic advisement. Click HERE to learn about our services.

bottom of page