If the endless array of acronyms, shorthand and abbreviations has ya
feeling dizzy, you’re in the right place! We’re busting the college code so you
don’t have to hit Google (or feel like a know-nothing in front of your
counselor). Read on, smarty pants!
Er. What’s an “AP” class?
An AP class is an upper
level Advanced Placement class. The
AP program is administered by the College
Board, which also oversees the PSAT and SAT (more about those two later).
APs are supposed to be college-level courses you take for a year in high
school, rather than the typical college quarter, trimester or semester, though
if your school is on a block schedule, this may be different. There are tons of
AP classes—from biology to art history to Chinese—but not all schools offer all
At the end of the year, each AP class culminates in the AP exam, given to all students on the
same day, at the same time, typically at the end of April or beginning of May.
The exam is graded on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the best. Many colleges
and universities allow students to “place
out” of introductory level courses with scores of 4 or 5 on AP exams, but this differs widely. Your school
may or may not require you to take the exam—check with your school counselor to
Got it. So, what’s an IB, then?
The International Baccalaureate
or IB program offers upper-level
coursework, but it requires students to take a full diploma, or array of classes, rather than only picking the subject
that interest them. Students across the globe enroll in the IB program, whereas
the AP system is more of an American thing.
As part of the IB program, you pick six classes from six subject areas:
your primary language, a secondary language, a social science, an experimental
science, mathematics, and an art (or another course from the previous five
categories). At the completion of your coursework, you take a rigorous exam
marked by external IB program examiners, who assign grades from 1 to 7. If you
receive a minimum of 24 points, you are granted your diploma. The program also
evaluates students’ efforts in three other areas: creative (engagement in the
arts), action (physical activity) and service (as in, community service). You
must perform up to par in all areas.
OK. Let’s talk SAT.
The SAT used to stand for “standardized achievement test.” Now,
however, it doesn’t stand for anything. Yep, weird, we know. The SAT an
admissions test administered by the College
Board (the same folks who maintain the AP program we talked about earlier).
It’s the most widely recognized test in the U.S., and is used in part or whole
in admissions decisions for many colleges and universities. Some schools are
becoming “test optional”, which means you don’t have to submit SAT (or ACT—see below) scores to apply or be
The SAT is currently in flux and will be changing in the next few
years. The basics aren’t really changing, though. The test comprises two main
sections, critical reading and
mathematics, with a soon-to-be optional writing section. Right now, it’s scored out of 2400 points. When the writing section becomes optional, the scoring
will revert to the original 1600-point
Students typically take a practice SAT test during the fall of their
sophomore year. This is the PSAT,
and your score here can qualify you for scholarships and commendations. Plus,
practice is always a good thing. Come the spring of your junior year, you’ll
probably want to register to take your first real SAT. You can take the SAT as
many times as you like, but twice is probably the most typical among
There’s one more type of SAT, and that’s that SAT II, or SAT Subject Tests.
A lot of colleges require you to submit up to three scores from these subject
tests, so it’s really helpful to start looking at schools you might be
interested now, and checking out their admissions requirements. You can take
the subject tests whenever you want, and a lot of students choose to take them
after they complete a similar class in school. Example: You just took freshman
biology, so why not take the SAT II subject test in biology while the
information is still fresh?
One more thing. What’s the deal
with the ACT?
Good question! The ACT is a “college
readiness assessment” meant to more completely test a student’s preparedness
for college. Subjects tested include
English, math, reading and science, with an optional writing test. The
highest score you can get on the ACT is a perfect
36. You can take the ACT as many times as you want, though like the SAT,
twice is probably the average.
A lot of counselors recommend students take the ACT if they don’t
perform well on the SAT, simply because the subject areas are broader and it
tends to test what you learn in school, rather than your ability to reason
through various questions. While the SAT is still the default test accepted by
most colleges, many are now offering the ACT as an option. Before you take the
test—or if you’re deciding which to take—it can be helpful to check out the
admissions requirements of the colleges you’re interested in.
Phew! Have more questions? Ask ‘em
in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer in upcoming articles in our
college prep series!
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BY BRITTANY TAYLOR ON 3/26/2014 12:00:00 AM
POSTED IN crack the college code, SATs, ACTs and APs, standardized tests 101