Counselor Beth Abler Explains All That Testing Stuff: PSAT, ACT & SAT

Skylar Schultz, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

As most Notre Dame students will recall,  on a recent Wednesday the commons was closed off to study halls and students for most of the day. However, this was not merely a malicious attempt to make us eat after 1 o’clock. Rather, it was an important opportunity for all those who spent their time within the lunchroom that day. But what exactly was this opportunity? 

“The PSAT is a practice SAT test,” said Beth Abler, counselor in the NDA Student Services department. “Students can take it in preparation for taking the SAT, which is a college entrance exam.” 

While the SAT can be important in determining students’ future schools, many at NDA prefer the ACT. As college admission processes have evolved and been refined, so have the tests that are often used as their base. While they are not quite the same test, the differences between the SAT and ACT, content-wise, have been growing slimmer and slimmer.

“The biggest difference used to be that it is a reasoning test. What can you figure out versus what can you know?” explained the counselor. “The SAT has moved much closer to the ACT in that way, that it is much more ‘What do you know?’”

However, location also plays a large part in determining a student’s testing preference. Born at the University of Iowa in November, 1959, the ACT is a typically Midwestern test. 

“I wouldn’t say it’s made ‘for’ Midwestern students, it just happens that the colleges in the Midwest, because it’s a Midwest test, have taken a preference to that,” said Abler. 

Meanwhile, the SAT is created by the College Board, whose major offices are based in New York and Virginia. As it is produced on the coast, it is typically preferred by schools on the coast. “We’re to the place now, though, where colleges accept both,” Abler maintained. “They don’t really care, so whichever one you can show a better score on, that’s what they prefer.”

A more recent development in the differences between the tests is the news that the ACT will soon begin offering the option to take individual portions of the test, or even an online version. “It’s yet to be seen exactly what’s going to happen,” said Abler. “It feels like a great opportunity for students to not have to sit for the whole test.” 

However, this change does not come without consequences. Many reporters and students alike have expressed concern about how the value of the test will be affected by the changes. 

“It could truly make it absolutely worthless to colleges, knowing that every single exam score that’s coming is super-scored in that way,” the counselor said. 

Still, nothing is known now. This new system has yet to see the light of day, it if ever will be given that chance. While the  voiced concern has not been quite as harsh, it is possible that this idea will fall flat before it can fly, similar to the SAT’s idea of an ‘Adversity Score’ for its test-takers. 

“We’ll have to see,” said Abler. “It’s huge, huge news.”

Changes in the ACT side of things may provide further motivation for students to take the SAT test. However, the PSAT test benefits all those who take it, whether they plan to take the real one later.

 “Standardized testing is a skill,” professed Abler, “Students, the more you practice, the better you become at it.” 

Similarly, the convenience of the test can work in students’ favor, as its an in-school, more relaxed option. For many students, though, the ‘relaxed’ aspect is not really a factor. 

“PSAT also comes along with what’s called the National Merit Scholarships. Students will take it to see if they can qualify for that as well,” said Abler. 

This program is a search for strong scholars across the entire country. While very few actually go on to earn the coveted scholarship, even recognition in the competition is an extreme boost on a college applicant’s resume. 

Junior Jenny Ai was definitely motivated by the chance at the scholarship, recalling “that was really nice for my brother because he got it, so I want to get it.”

On a more local level, the PSAT is used as an entrance exam for certain classes right here at Notre Dame. 

“As of last year, for College Credit English the PSAT score for the English section will qualify you to take that test,” stated Abler. In previous years, the ACT score had been used to determine admittance into the difficult class, however, the PSAT has been added to the list of criteria that may qualify you.

Still, outside of these limited circumstances, the PSAT does not have any bearing on student life or classes here at NDA. As a result of this, NDA does not require students to take the test at all. This year, 67 juniors and one sophomore took the test. Typically, it is taken by both sophomores and juniors, by the requirement of the school. 

“It’s not mandatory here. About 10 years ago, we moved to an elective system,” said Abler. “We used to make everybody take it, but not everybody needed this kind of practice, and not everybody wanted to. It became just kind of burdensome on some kids that didn’t want to do it”

Still, despite its scarcity here, the test comes recommended from counselors and students alike. “I think that practice of any type of standardized testing is good,” said Abler. “It certainly doesn’t hurt, for the sophomores out there, if you’d like to take it next year.” 

Similarly, the sophomores can expect to take the Pre-ACT sometime next April, which is more used by our school

The test itself, the four sections (reading, writing, no-calculator math, and math with calculator), took around three hours, though it may feel like an eternity. As for its actual difficulty, the jury is still out. “I don’t know,” said Ai. “If I do badly, ten.”

Despite any fears of rigor, the consequences are minimal. “If you don’t do well on it, it doesn’t apply to anything so it doesn’t really matter,” said Ai. With little to lose and much to gain, students can easily benefit from this annual testing event.