SAT and ACT "Extras" That Are Worth Paying For

Should you pay for the SAT Student Response Service (SRS) or Question Answer Service (QAS) or ACT Test Information Release (TIR)? There are a lot of options to add to your cart when registering for the SAT or ACT. I skip over most of them, but there are a few items I consider essential. The other day I spent 20 minutes on the College Board website registering my daughter for another SAT. “Another” is important because most of her personal information was already saved in the system. But I had to click through page after page of classes taken, extracurricular, and potential college majors / activities before I could sign her up for the December exam. Once I made it to the screen where I could add the test, I was ready to finish and pay. Good thing I knew what to look for because there were a few extra items I needed to add to our order. When registering for the SAT or ACT there are so many add-on extras it is tempting to skip them all and complete your check out. But there are a few item you should get. Some are just good tools, while others could be essential.

+Writing (The Optional Essay)

Starting in 2016 the written essays became optional on both the SAT and ACT. These “draft” writings completed at the end of the multiple-choice exams do not affect a student’s overall score on either test. So, why should you care? Some colleges and universities still require students to have the written portion of the exam. I’ll admit, these schools are in the minority. In the past couple years, more and more colleges have dropped the optional essay writing requirement. But if you want to apply to a school (or program) that requires the essay, they may choose to only evaluate scores from exams that have the written essay. My daughter is a junior. We have a tentative list of colleges, but nothing final. So far none of her schools require the written essay, but she may add a school in the next 12 months that does. It would be a shame for her to get the score improvement she desires from the December SAT and not be able to use those results at a particular school because she didn’t do the essay. So I added the essay to our order. I strongly recommend all juniors take the written essay with every SAT or ACT. Seniors who have a final list of colleges can skip the essay if they know that every single college, scholarship, or honors program does NOT require it.

Student Answers

Students always receive scores, but will not know which questions they got right or wrong unless you pay extra. (Of course you have to pay extra for this! Sometimes it feels like the entire college admission process involves paying extra.) Why do you want student answers? Unless you have the rare student who is going to take the ACT or SAT once and be satisfied with his or her scores, you should expect this will not be the last testing attempt. Most students take their test of choice 2-3 times. Finding out which problems a student missed can go a long way for future score improvement. I have two students I helped prepare for the August SAT who got very similar scores on the math portion of the test– 670 and 680. Just looking at the scores you might think these students need to work on similar things (probably the hard questions) to make it to their goals of 700+ in math. But the Student Answer Service reports told two very different stories:
  • One student missed only the difficult questions in both calculator and no-calculator math. She missed multiple-choice and grid-in questions– but only the hard problems.
  • The other student got the hardest questions right. His errors came throughout the math section (easy, medium, and a few hard problems.) A majority of his errors were in the last section– calculator permitted math.
My suggestions for the first student involve practice with the harder question types and work on pacing, so she has the time she needs on the more difficult questions. The second student knows the math and is very familiar with the hard problem types; his issue is focus and endurance. Particularly in section four, he is losing focus, making careless errors on easier questions, and needs to work on strategies to improve accuracy. Without the question-level feedback these students wouldn’t know what to do as they prepare to retest.

Test Questions

The best feedback comes from having the most information. A few times a year, students can order a copy of the SAT exam questions. They don’t get their own test booklet back, but they do get a copy of the entire exam to go along with the list of questions they missed. When available, I strongly encourage you order this. It usually takes 6 to 8 weeks to receive the copy of the questions, so plan to wait a few weeks before you can utilize this information.  

Notes on What to Order

Of course we have some more admissions alphabet-soup when trying to order the items mentioned above. Here’s some info to help you decode the process: SAT SAT with Essay — Student can add (or drop) the essay up to the time of the exam. There is no late fee to add the essay; students just pay the extra $14 (for a total of $60) to take the written portion. Test Questions — (QAS) Questions-and-Answer Service. You will receive BOTH a detailed report of which questions your student missed AND a copy of the test questions. For 2017-18 this is available for the Oct, March, and May exams given in the U.S. and costs $18.00. Student Answers— (SAS) Student Answer Service. You will receive a question-by-question printout showing which problems were missed, difficulty level, and sub-score / cross-test info. This is available in Aug., Nov., Dec., and June (and international dates that don’t offer QAS) and costs $13.50. QAS and SAS can be ordered after the exam is taken, so log into your College-Board account and order one for your last test if you didn’t already. (Usually there is a three-month limit on ordering, so don’t wait too long.) ACT ACT with Writing — Student can add (or drop) the essay up to the late registration deadline for that exam. If a student decided to add the writing after the late registration deadline, he or she must notify the test center coordinator on the day of the test; availability will depend on the amount of extra writing booklets (a lot like flying standby.) Students pay the extra $16.50 (for a total of $62.50) to take the written portion. Test Questions — (TIR) Test Information Release. You will receive BOTH a detailed report of which questions your student missed AND a copy of the test questions. For 2017-18 this is available for the Dec., April, and June exams given in the U.S. and costs $20.00. Student Answers — Unlike College Board, ACT doesn’t offer a separate answer return service on test dates not covered by the TIR option.]]>

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