Alphabet soup of tests can bewilder students, parents

Alphabet soup of tests can bewilder students, parents

Students can find a variety of materials in the Fairmont library that can help them prepare for some of the high-stakes testing they face.

When students walk into an AP or IB class, one of the first things they hear is how the teacher is going to help them prepare for the AP or IB test. These same students know they will have to soon take the SAT and ACT to get into college, and they probably already took the PSAT, too. And of course, they can’t forget about the OGT, the test that will determine whether or not they even earn their high school diploma.

What is truly the goal of school? To learn? Or to be able to pass a test? That’s the question on many people’s mind. But as long as students have to take tests to be successful, they might as well know as much as they can about each one.


Many students wonder why they should spend the time studying, preparing and taking the ACT and SAT tests. The answer is simple: All four-year universities require at least one of these tests, and these tests are America’s most widely accepted college entrance exam. Sophomore Joanna Fadel believes preparing for these tests is important. “It’s definitely worth spending the time. These tests are important for the future,” she said.

How do you decide which test you should take? The first thing to consider is which test is required by the colleges you’re considering. Secondly, although both tests help to predict college success, their emphasis is a little different. The ACT focuses on a student’s overall educational level in English, math, science and reading to determine the likelihood of success with college-level material. The SAT, on the other hand, focuses on a student’s reasoning and problem-solving skills to help predict college readiness.

With the ACT, students must begin by choosing their test option. Option One is the ACT test with no writing portion. This tests consists of four mutiple-choice tests in science, mathematics, English and reading. Option Two is the ACT test plus the writing portion, which includes the same criteria as Option One, but adds a 30-minute Writing Test.

Again, you should find out which option your preferred college requires. But if the college has no preference, consider whether writing is a strength for you. Peterson’s, which publishes a variety of college guides, suggests you take the writing test if you are good at planning and writing essays.

The next step is choosing the test date and registering on time. For the 2010-11 academic school year, students who plan to take the ACT test must register Jan. 7 for the Feb. 12 test, March 4 for the April 9 test, and May 6 for the June 11 test. Students sometimes think they can register for their test date at the last minute. But counselors say that this is not the wisest idea, and they remind students to keep in mind the deadlines for college and scholarship applications. Bring the mailed admission ticket to the test center on the test day.

The SAT test was created to level out the criteria for college admission to ensure students have a chance to succeed. The SAT test can also help students financially, because students can earn scholarship money through good test scores. Many students take the SAT in the spring of their junior year of high school. A few students retake this test in the fall of their senior year in an effort to earn a higher score. Students can take the SAT test as many times as they would like. Students must register by Dec. 23 for the Jan. 22 test, Feb. 11 for the March 12 test, April 8 for the May 7 test, and May 6 for the June 4 test for the 2010-11 school year.

Students should see their counselor to pick up the ACT and SAT practice test packet; all the answers are in the back of the sample test booklet.


The Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (usually referred to as the PSAT) is a standardized test that provides practice for the SAT and gives junior students the chance to earn scholarships from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This test is primarily taken by freshmen through junior students in mid-October.

“College-bound juniors ought to take this test if they’re going to a four-year university or even a two-year community college,” said Guidance Department Chair David Elliott. “Taking this test gives students experience and knowledge on standardized testing and allows students to be comfortable taking tests,” he said.

The PSAT measures critical reading skills, math problem-solving skills and writing skills.


The International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, IB, is a two-year program and covers a full curriculum in six different subject areas. Those areas are Language, Individuals & Societies, Mathematics, The Arts, Experimental Sciences and Second Language. As of November 2004, the IB Diploma was accepted as an admissions credential at universities in 102 countries, according to the College Board.

“IB helps develop students to be prepared for college and beyond,” said Fairmont IB Coordinator Pat Fife. “Taking the IB program is helpful and is useful for students who like a challenge.”

For the IB exam, 20 to 50 percent of the student’s grade will be based on internal assessment and classroom work. The remaining portion of the exam will be based on external assessments, which are provided by an international board of chief examiners. The exam itself will be graded by IB examiners who have been trained. According to the College Board, by being in the IB program, students are perceived as being engaged in academic achievement, and being a part of this program ensures students have an advantage in admissions to selective colleges and universities.

For more information about the IB program at Fairmont High School, click HERE.


The Advanced Placement Program, AP, is somewhat similar to the IB program in that all AP and IB teachers are trained in their subject area, yet AP differs greatly in many ways. It is a program for students who are motivated enough to take college-level academic courses. According to the College Board, AP is considered a standard for academic excellence in the United States, and nearly 60 percent of high schools participate in this program. Many North American universities recognize AP exam scores and courses.

A committee of experienced AP secondary school teachers and university professors make up and design the AP exam. There is a multiple-choice portion of each exam, and there is also a section of free-writing responses. AP scores range from 1 to 5. Getting a 1 means no recommendation and getting a 5 means extremely well qualified.

A student who takes an AP exam and scores well can earn anywhere from 3 to 6 college credits for a single course. A student who takes all of the AP exams and does well could actually earn enough college credits to skip his freshman year.

An increasing number of colleges and universities use students’ AP courses and exam scores for college acceptance and admissions criteria.


In order to graduate, students must pass the Ohio Graduation Test. The OGT is primarily taken in the spring of students’ sophomore year of high school. But students who do not pass this test can also retake the OGT their junior or senior year of high school until they pass.

There are five days of OGT testing, with one day for each test in the following five subjects: mathematics, science, social studies, reading and English. During students’ sophomore year of high school all the way up until the testing date, teachers prepare students by going over the most common questions and criteria that will be on the OGT.

If students attend every day of the OGT testing week and pass each test, they’re granted the privilege of exam exemptions in the spring. This just simply means that students are allowed to exempt any core class exam if they pass that specific part of the OGT exam.

Studying and working hard to pass the OGT only benefits students, and students are constantly encouraged do to just this.