Now is the time for juniors – and even sophomores -- to register to take the ACT or SAT tests needed to be accepted into a college or university.

Students wanting to sign up to take the April 18 ACT can still do so until March 27, although a late fee of $24 is added to the $38 (without a writing test) or $54.50 (with writing) registration fee. However, they can sign up now until May 8 for the June 13 test and just pay the normal registration fee. Information about the ACT test can be found here: http://www.actstudent.org

Registration is also now open for the SAT test that will be held on May 2 (registration deadline is April 6) and the one that will be held on June 6 (registration deadline is May 8). More information can be found here: https://sat.collegeboard.org/home The SAT costs $52.50 (and another $28 for a late fee).

Virgie Hamrick, a Start High guidance counselor, said students should know that there are two fee waivers available in their high school careers if they qualify for free or reduced lunches.

“I would tell students that they should begin taking the test during their junior year or when they have finished at least one semester of Algebra 2,” Ms. Hamrick said.

Students interested in taking one of the tests should make their first stop the office of their high school guidance counselor. Counselors will most likely tell students to sign up for the ACT because it's taken at schools all over the country and more fee waivers are granted from the organization.

"However, if students wish to take the SAT and qualify for a waiver, they will get a waiver for the SAT as well as the ACT."

Essentially, the ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school while the SAT is more of an aptitude test, gauging reasoning and verbal abilities. The ACT has up to five components: English, mathematics, reading, science and an optional writing test while the SAT has a mandatory writing test.

The College Board is launching redesigned PSAT and SAT exams in fall 2015 and spring 2016 that will be more closely aligned to challenging classroom work and the factors that matter most for college and career readiness. The redesign came about because recent SAT tests have shown that more than half of the students who took the SAT were not prepared for college. And, even among those who were ready, many low-income and minority students do not take advantage of the opportunities they had earned.

The best way to prepare for either the ACT or the SAT is to take the most challenging courses in high school and then to engage in as much test prep as possible. That preparation can include free online practice tests, testing tips for each subject area and even complete practice tests.

”I also would suggest that they go on the websites, and get the study booklet from their counselor and do some studying for the test before just going into the test blind,” Ms. Hamrick said. The free student booklet, Preparing for the ACT, includes complete practice tests (with a sample writing prompt and example essays).

The help offered to students doesn’t stop with the questions. The ACT, for example, provides students with an Interest Inventory and a Student Profile Section. By answering questions about their interests, courses and educational preferences, the students are providing to colleges a profile of their work in high school and possible career choices.

Students should also know that by taking the ACT, they are making themselves visible to colleges and scholarship agencies. When a student registers for the ACT, he or she can choose up to four colleges to which their scores will be sent as part of the basic fee. It is suggested to most students that they take the test more than once because colleges will take their highest scores. 

If juniors cannot take the April or June tests, they should make sure they take it early in their senior year because many university applications are due on December 1.

“I also would tell them to not panic and try to relax the first time they take the test ... since they are learning how the test is laid out and about time management,” Ms. Hamrick said. “And finally, the night before the test, they should get a good night rest, eat a healthy breakfast and come with a positive attitude.”

Posted on March 18, 2015