Standardized Testing: A Glossary
Standardized tests are a confusing thing! Sometimes it feels like you need a statistician just to figure out what your score really means. Below is a list of terms related to standardized testing that we’ve defined for you in order to make understanding the college process just a little bit easier. Still have questions? Ask us on Tumblr!
Accommodations Students with documented physical or learning disabilities may be entitled to accommodations on their standardized tests. Accommodations could include large print testing, a scribe, or extended time, among others.
ACT is a standardized test administered by American College Testing Inc. that aims to measure achievement in English, science, mathematics, reading, and writing. Students can earn up to 36 points. Many colleges require either the ACT or the SAT for admission, though some do not.
Advanced Placement Exams, also called AP Exams, are the culminating exams of year- or semester-long Advanced Placement courses, though students who have not taken approved AP courses may choose to take the exams. The College Board publishes 34 tests each year in a variety of subjects. Students can earn scores of 1–5. Most colleges and universities will grant college credit to students who earn scores of 4 or 5 on a particular exam.
College Readiness Benchmarks Students who earn at least an 18 in English, a 22 in mathematics, a 21 in reading, and a 24 in science on the ACT have at least a 50% chance of earning Bs or better in their courses freshman year. The ACT terms these scores benchmarks.
Guessing Penalty is the 1/4 point deduction from the raw score that the College Board takes for every wrong answer on the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. Correct answers earn students one point and blank answers earn students 0 points. The purpose of the guessing penalty is to prevent students from earning undeserved points from randomly filling in bubbles. The ACT does not employ a guessing penalty.
National Achievement Scholarship Program is a scholarship competition funded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation for Black and African-American students. Eligible students who meet certain criteria for their state are eligible to compete for the scholarship. Around 800 students win one-time $2,500 scholarships that can be used at almost any college. In addition, scholars are eligible to receive numerous other scholarships at various institutions across the country.
National Hispanic Recognition Program was initiated by the College Board in 1983 to recognize outstanding Hispanic and Latino students. Approximately 5,000 students are recognized each year. While recognition does not confer a monetary benefit, recognition allows students to qualify for scholarships at various institutions across the country.
National Merit Scholarship Program is a scholarship competition funded by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Students who score in the top 2% in their respective states on the PSAT are named semi-finalists. Semi-finalists then must submit additional materials like additional standardized test scores, essays, and transcripts. 8,000 students are eventually named scholars and earn one-time $2,500 scholarships to most any college. Scholars become eligible to receive numerous other scholarships at various institutions across the country.
PLAN is a preliminary ACT test that is generally administered to high school sophomores. The test predicts future ACT scores and serves as a tool to help students guide their preparation for the ACT. Students can earn up to 32 points.
PSAT/NMSQT This stands for the Preliminary SAT and National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. High school, and even some middle school, students take this test to prepare for the SAT. Students can earn between 20 and 80 points on each section for a total possible score of 240 points. Students can convert their PSAT score to its equivalent SAT score by adding on 0 to the end of their score. With permission, the College Board uses these scores to determine eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship Program.
Raw Score is the total number of points earned on a given portion of the SAT or the ACT. On the ACT the raw score is the total number of questions right. On the SAT the raw score is the total number of questions right minus 1/4th of the total number of questions wrong. For example, if on the critical reading section, one student got 44 questions right and 16 questions wrong, their raw score would be 40. The raw score turns into a scaled score.
SAT is a standardized test administered by the College Board that aims to measure mathematical, reading, and writing ability to help colleges judge applicants’ college readiness. Students can earn up to 800 points on each section with a maximum composite score of 2400 points. Most students find that preparing for the SAT helps them improve their scores and thus become more competitive applicants for college. Many colleges require either the SAT or the ACT for admission though others do not.
SAT Subject Tests are a set of 20 hour-long, multiple-choice standardized tests that focus on a particular subject area. Subjects include foreign languages, mathematics, science, history, and literature. Only about 30 colleges require students to take at least one subject test and these colleges tend to be the most competitive institutions.
Scaled Scores make standardized test scores easily comparable across dates. For the SAT, the raw score is converted to a scaled score between 200 and 800 for each section. For the ACT, the raw score is converted a scaled score between 0 and 36.
International Baccalaureate Exams, also called IB exams, are the culminating assessments for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Students who are pursuing the full diploma must take IB courses in 6 subject areas, 3 or 4 of which must be at higher level. Scores range from 1 to 7. Unlike with AP exams, students may not take an IB exam without taking the corresponding course.
Test Prep is a multi-million-dollar industry made up of workbooks, tutors, and courses designed to help students improve their SAT and ACT scores. Often, expensive programs are ineffective or as effective as independent studying. The Collegiate Blog recommends students prepare for their standardized tests by taking numerous free and low-cost practice tests and learning from their successes and mistakes on those tests.
Self-Studying is a phenomenon where students who have not taken an AP Course take its corresponding AP Exam. They may prepare for these courses by purchasing their own textbooks or study guides and studying them for several months. Students often self-study to improve their application by demonstrating their competency in a variety of subjects. Self-studying can benefit students who attend schools that offer few AP courses or put caps on the number of courses the students can take.
Percentile defines a student’s performance relative to other students in a particular group. A student who scores in the 80th percentile on the SAT scored better than 80% of all students who took the SAT. Colleges will have their own standardized test score percentiles. For instance, at the University of Maryland, the middle 50% of students score between 580 and 680 on critical reading portion of the SAT. That means that a 580 is the 25th percentile and a 680 is the 75th percentile for students at the University of Maryland. These score distributions can help give students an idea of the competitiveness of their application.
Test-Flexible Colleges require standardized testing, but not to the same degree as many other schools. Instead of requiring students to submit the SAT or ACT, these colleges will permit students to submit 3 AP or SAT Subject Test scores instead. Click here for the complete list.
Test-Optional Colleges Hundreds of colleges do not require applicants to submit any standardized testing. See FairTest for the complete list.
TOEFL (or the Test of English As a Foreign Language) is a test administered by Educational Testing Services that asseses students whose native language is not English on their ability to use English in an academic setting. Most colleges require non-native English speakers to earn a minimum score to be considered for admissions.
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