When you register for the ACT or SAT you may of the opportunity to receive the questions for your test along with your scores. This option is not available for every test date. But if you are looking to improve your scores taking the ACT or SAT on one of the dates that offer this option is a must.
What is the Test Information Release (TIR) and Question Answer Service (QAS)?
In a nutshell, if you select the ACT TIR or the SAT QAS when you register for the test you will receive a copy of the test questions and your answers when you receive your scores. This is not a free service. There is a fee (expect to pay around $20) for this service and not all test dates include this option. The TIR/QAR is offered only at the last couple of test administrations of the school year. Start looking for the option with the December administration. If you are a graduating senior who is planning to attend college in the fall you might be a little late so ordering the TIR or QAS may not be very helpful. But junior or sophomores will be able to take full advantage of the service.
Why Would You Need the TIR or QAS?
Beyond simple curiosity, the TIR and QAS can be helpful if your goal is to improve your test scores. The value of these services is to allow you to review the questions you missed. This in turn will indicate areas where you have content knowledge gaps, skill gaps, or poor test-taking strategies. Focusing on the remediation of weak areas will most certainly help to improve your score the next time you take the test. The earlier you can use this tool for self-assessment, the more time you will have to work toward improvement.
When Should You Take the ACT or SAT?
There is much debate about when you should take a college admission test like the ACT or SAT. Should you take these tests before you are a senior? Should you take the SAT or ACT, both tests, or maybe none at all? There is not a one size fits all answer. The decision ultimately depends on your goals. If you intend to go to college, do you know to which colleges you will be applying? Do you know their admission test requirements? Does the college have automatic admissions for certain SAT/ACT scores? Do the scholarships you might be eligible require SAT, ACT, or maybe even PSAT scores? How close are you to the score cut-offs for admissions or scholarships? It takes some degree of introspection to answer these questions as well as effort to research existing requirements and opportunities. Begin your research with a college’s website and once you are familiar with their admissions requirements call their admission office and ask to speak with an admissions representative. Ask them direct questions about their testing requirements, typical freshman scores, cut-offs, and merit scholarships offered by their school.
You should allow yourself enough time to take at least two of whichever test is appropriate for your circumstances. Scores will normally improve slightly on the second test because you have gained familiarity with the test. If you have taken advantage of TIR and QAS to work on deficiencies, you are likely to see larger score improvements on the second test.
Generally, you should take the PSAT test at the beginning of your Junior year, the SAT/ACT toward the end of the Junior year, and if you are unsatisfied with your SAT/ACT score repeat the test early during your senior year in order to meet college admission and scholarship deadlines. Keep in mind, the ACT and SAT tests are not the same, taking the “other test” might mean a slightly better score.
Note, that wishful thinking will not dramatically improve your scores between tests. These tests may not measure your potential for doing well at or graduating from college, but they do a good job of measuring what you learned in high school. If you don’t work to improve your areas of weakness you won’t see a meaningful improvement in your scores.
To Test Prep or Not To Test Prep?
Should you take an SAT or ACT test prep class? Again, the answer is dependent on your goals. Paid SAT and ACT test prep courses come in many flavors and can range from test familiarization, question strategies, content tutoring, or all three. You need to ask yourself where are you are now, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get there.
You don’t want to take your first SAT/ACT test “cold” without ever seeing the test, reading the directions, or attempting the different types of questions. Not knowing what to expect can lead to anxiety on test day. And, your score will also suffer if you have never been exposed to the question types. You’ll likely waste too much time contemplating what you need to do to answer the question.
At the very least, take the PSAT, which is similar to the SAT, when you are given the chance. Even better, take a practice SAT/ACT, there are free options on the internet. If you want a more structured approach and are willing to spend money, find a test prep course like the ones offered by Beasley College Prep. Beasley offers a “Free Crash Course” to get you started.
Your high school might even offer test preparation classes. Check with your high school counselor to find out. If you decide a prep class is for you, contact the company and ask what type of course they offer (familiarization, question strategies, tutoring). Remember, familiarization and strategies will only help so much. If you are missing basic skills, you’ll have to put in the time and effort for remediation.
If you are just starting high school, the best advice for doing well on either of the college placement exams is to develop a love for reading and do well in the most challenging coursework that is available to you. If you do have “holes” in your education the TIR and QAR will identify those weaknesses so you can work toward making those areas a strength.