How to Choose Between the Digital SAT and ACT?

How to Choose Between the Digital SAT and ACT?

From the Author SAT vs. ACT

Now that college admissions is moving back into more of a test-preferred environment, students don’t have to struggle with the choice of whether or not to take a college entrance exam but rather which one. In a recent industry podcast, Test and the Rest: The College Admissions Industry Podcast, Woodlands Test Prep Founder Susan Powers weighs in on the important factors in choosing between the digital SAT and the ACT.

What are five things you will learn in this episode?

  1. Why should students give thought to which test they want to take?
  2. How are the ACT and digital SAT different?
  3. How does the ACT Science section play into a decision about which test to take?
  4. Should you prepare for both the ACT and digital SAT?
  5. Are there any general rules for what types of students are better suited to either test?
Congratulations Class of 2024 National Merit Semifinalists

Congratulations Class of 2024 National Merit Semifinalists

Classes From the Author

Woodlands Test Prep congratulates all students who have achieved Semifinalist status in the 2024 National Merit Scholarship Program.  All of these students have worked hard to reach the top levels of the scholarship program.  The Company especially congratulates the SIX students with whom it has worked with as they prepared for this scholarship competition including Jacob Daniels, Claire Jones, Vikram Kansal, Brooks McCoy, Daniel Milan, and Ryan Taylor.  Semifinalists will go on to compete for Finalist standing, and from there, become National Merit Scholars.  Woodlands Test Prep wishes these students all the best as they continue on in the competition.

The National Merit Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies.

Woodlands Test Prep hosts a “Goal 1600” class each summer to help National Merit hopeful students to prepare for their junior year PSAT.

Woodlands Test Prep, a Texas-based company, was founded in 2011 to help students and their families reach their potential on college admissions tests.  The Company has helped over 35 students over the last seven years achieve Semifinalist status.  The Company believes that taking these tests is a skill that can be learned and honed.  Woodlands Test Prep provides tutoring for academic subjects (all levels of math, science, history, and language arts) as well as the PSAT, SAT, ACT, SSAT, and ISEE in both a one-on-one setting and in a small class setting.  The Company’s philosophy can be summed up as “We teach. You Relax.”

The Truth About ‘Test Optional’

The Truth About ‘Test Optional’

From the Author

Test Optional: Does that mean I can skip taking the SAT or ACT?

Nope.  While it may be easier to apply, it is NOT easier to get in – at all.

Let’s break down this topic into some manageable chunks.

What does a “test optional” policy mean?  It means that schools don’t require test scores for a complete application.  This is in contrast to a “test blind” application policy such as that used by the University of California system and California State University system. These schools will specifically not consider your test scores even if you send them. 

During the pandemic, most colleges announced a change in their application policies for the class of 2021 to a test optional policy because most students had no access to testing opportunities.  Many colleges extended that policy to the class of 2022. However, the University of Tennessee system, Auburn, MIT, and Georgetown have announced that future classes will need to submit scores with their applications, and many other colleges (in Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee in particular) have already returned to (or never stopped) requiring scores so be prepared for more colleges to follow suit.  You can check the policy of the colleges you’re interested in here.

What happens when a college goes test optional?  Colleges experience at least two changes when they go test optional: average test scores rise and admission rates decrease.  Average test scores rise because students who are lower-scoring do not report their scores, so the overall average rises for the incoming class.  Admission rates fall because students (incorrectly) perceive that it is easier to be accepted and more students apply while the number admitted stays the same. 

These effects were seen again during the 2022 application cycle.  The most selective colleges in the U.S. saw enormous (sometimes even double!) increases in applications from pre-pandemic levels. 

Both of these changes benefit the college, NOT the student.  In some cases, students also benefit from these policies, although that isn’t clear overall.  While test optional does create a new avenue for students who truly struggle with standardized testing; schools clearly value test scores as a validation of grades and transcripts. 

Grade inflation is real. According to the College Board, over 60% of college applicants in the class of 2021 obtained a 4.0 or better. According to ACT, Inc., grade point averages have risen over the last several years while ACT scores have fallen slightly.

According to the GPA data on over 18,000 college freshmen taken from the “American Freshman Survey,” an annual survey done by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA since 1966 (with 2 years missing due to the pandemic), a whopping 80.6% of entering college freshmen report an A average GPA in high school!

Bottom line: while it may be easier to apply, it is not easier to be admitted – at all.  

Should I send my test score?  Briefly, if your scores are additive to your application, you should send them.  If you’re not sure whether your scores are additive, you should probably still send them. Because of the increase in average test scores over the last couple of years, when comparing your score to a prospective university’s range, be sure to look at their ranges pre-pandemic.

According to data from the most recent admissions cycle, students applying with test scores were admitted up to 2.7 times as frequently as students who applied test optional! That’s a clear preference for applications for scores.

While students in the (pandemic) class of 2021 had significantly fewer testing opportunities, students in the class of 2023 have normal opportunities to test.  Selective colleges will expect and receive scores from most applicants.  Like many other “optional” pieces of a college application, the most competitive students will be submitting all the optional pieces, including test scores.

What does the future hold? I don’t have a crystal ball, but if Auburn, MIT, the University of Tennessee system, and Georgetown’s recent decisions are any indication, many test optional policies will continue to revert to test required. According to MIT, test scores help them more accurately assess a student’s readiness for their program.

MIT’s Dean of Admissions Stu Schmill said, “We are reinstating our requirement, rather than adopting a more flexible policy, to be transparent and equitable in our expectations. Our concern is that, without the compelling clarity of a requirement, some well-prepared applicants won’t take the tests, and we won’t have enough information to be confident in their academic readiness⁠ when they apply. We believe it will be more equitable⁠ if we require all applicants who take the tests to disclose their scores.”

In other words, top-tier colleges care about your test scores. They adopted test-optional policies so students who did not have the chance to take the exam due to Covid-19 could still apply. Data coming out (like from here) proves that test scores matter, and it’s possible that other schools will soon follow MIT’s lead in transparency and drop their test-optional policies. In fact, according to a survey by Ernst & Young and the Parthenon Group conducted in 2021, 20-30% of universities surveyed claimed they would likely move back to test-required policies within 3-5 years. Selective schools including Stanford have openly discussed their intent to once again require a college entrance exam score, and Yale has echoed MIT’s sentiments about the importance of test scores when making admissions decisions. 

Other schools, including University of Texas at Austin, University of North Carolina, and certain schools within the University System of Georgia announced a return to requiring college entrance exams and then shortly reversed their decisions. Remember, test-optional policies benefit the school, not often the student, and schools might be slow to relinquish their boost in ratings due to increased selectivity and average test scores. However, as universities continue to follow the path of MIT, it seems likely that more schools, especially those considered selective, will join this game of follow-the-leader.

So what to do? Due to uneven transcripts with uneven high school experiences and very real grade inflation, most college admissions staff view test scores as a known quantity that can validate your application.  A solid strategy is to work toward getting the best score you can but don’t send your scores right away.  Once you are ready to apply, you can decide if your scores help your application if you’re applying to a test-optional school.

As always, Woodlands Test Prep is here to help you through this process. Call us at 713-205-1807 for your free consultation, and we can discuss if test prep tutoring would help your student on their college journey. Remember, we teach; you relax!

Test Scores Can Help Win Merit Scholarships

Test Scores Can Help Win Merit Scholarships

From the Author

At Woodlands Test Prep, we understand that the cost of higher education can be a significant concern for students and their families. We believe that every student deserves access to the best educational opportunities, regardless of financial constraints. That’s why we’re passionate about sharing valuable information on how test scores can help unlock scholarships and pave the way to a brighter future. In this blog post, we’ll explore the impact of test scores on scholarships and provide guidance on maximizing your chances of securing financial aid.

The Power of Test Scores
When it comes to scholarships, test scores can be a game-changer. Many colleges and universities consider standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, when awarding scholarships. These scores provide valuable insight into a student’s academic abilities and potential for success in higher education. By earning impressive test scores, you not only demonstrate your knowledge and skills but also position yourself for potential scholarship opportunities.

Merit-Based Scholarships
Merit-based scholarships are awarded to students based on their academic achievements, and strong test scores play a crucial role in qualifying for these prestigious awards. Admissions committees and scholarship providers recognize that exceptional scores reflect dedication, discipline, and the ability to excel academically. By investing time and effort in test preparation, you can significantly increase your chances of securing merit-based scholarships.

Here are some Texas-based colleges and scholarships that require or highly recommend test scores:

  • Sam Houston University: ACT 29 or SAT 1320 required. The Sam Houston Honors Scholarship is worth $10,000 annually.
  • Texas A&M: High ACT or SAT scores required. The Welch Scholarship varies in amount depending on financial need.
  • Texas Christian University: ACT 30-34 or SAT 1360-1500 recommended. The Founders’/TCU/Faculty/Dean’s/Chancelor’s Scholarships are worth from $12,000 per year to full-tuition.
  • Texas State University: ACT 32 or SAT 1420 recommended. The President’s Honor Scholarship is worth $12,000 per year.

Competitive Advantage
A high test score can give you a competitive edge over other scholarship applicants. When scholarship committees review applications, they often consider a combination of factors, including GPA, extracurricular activities, and personal achievements. However, outstanding test scores can make your application stand out from the crowd, demonstrating your commitment to academic excellence and potential for future success.

National Merit Scholarships
One of the most prestigious scholarship programs in the United States is the National Merit Scholarship Program. This program recognizes exceptional students who excel on the PSAT/NMSQT, a preliminary test taken during the junior year of high school. Students who achieve top scores on the PSAT/NMSQT may qualify as National Merit Semifinalists or Finalists, making them eligible for a range of scholarship opportunities. National Merit scholarships not only provide financial support but also carry significant prestige and recognition within the academic community. Be sure to check out this free and public resource of National Merit Scholarships offered at over 180 colleges (provided by Les Mathew from The Extra Mile College Admissions).

It’s worth noting that the typical Texas A&M National Merit Scholarship package is worth $42,000 over four years!

Maximizing Your Scholarship Potential
To maximize your scholarship potential, it’s essential to prioritize test preparation and aim for the highest scores possible. Here are a few tips to help you on your journey:

  1. Start Early: Begin your test preparation well in advance to allow ample time for study and practice. This will help you build confidence and achieve your target scores.
  2. Create a Study Plan: Develop a structured study plan tailored to your strengths and weaknesses. Utilize reliable test prep resources, practice exams, and seek guidance from experienced tutors or mentors.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice: Regular practice is key to improving your test scores. Familiarize yourself with the test format, practice sample questions, and simulate test-day conditions to build your endurance and test-taking strategies.
  4. Seek Professional Guidance: Consider enrolling in a test prep course or working with a qualified tutor who can provide personalized guidance, strategies, and feedback to help you reach your full potential.
  5. Stay Motivated: Remember the bigger picture—your test scores can open doors to scholarships and educational opportunities that may shape your future. Stay motivated, maintain a positive mindset, and celebrate your progress along the way.

Your dreams of pursuing higher education should never be limited by financial constraints. By understanding the significance of test scores and their impact on scholarships, you can take proactive steps towards unlocking the funding you need. At Woodlands Test Prep, we’re here to support you on your journey, providing expert guidance, resources, and caring mentorship. Start preparing today, and open the door to a future filled with limitless possibilities. Together, we can make your educational dreams a reality.

Need Help Writing Your College Admissions Essay?

Need Help Writing Your College Admissions Essay?

From the Author

Writing a college essay can be a daunting task, but it is also an opportunity to showcase your personality, strengths, and passions to the admissions committee. Here are some key ideas to keep in mind when writing your college essay.

• Choose a topic that reflects your personality and experiences

One of the most important aspects of a college essay is the topic. The topic should reflect your personality and experiences. Admissions committees are looking for students who are unique and have a clear sense of self. Don’t be afraid to be creative and choose a topic that is not typical.  

Jennifer Howard, Woodlands Test Prep’s college essay coach says, “The most important part of the college essay process is taking the time to discover the strengths and stories that make you, you.”

• Use the essay to highlight your strengths and passions

Your college essay is an opportunity to highlight your strengths and passions. This is your chance to showcase what makes you stand out from other applicants. Use specific examples and anecdotes to illustrate your points and make your essay memorable.

“Remember,” Ms. Howard says, “you may think you don’t have anything interesting to write about because you haven’t invented the newest tech, won the state championship, or saved the world, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  In fact, it’s the little, everyday moments and perspectives that make an interesting essay and showcase your unique personality.”

• Focus on your personal growth and development

The college essay is not just about your past experiences but also about your future aspirations. Show how you have grown and developed as a person and how you plan to continue to do so in college and beyond. This will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are a thoughtful and reflective individual.

• Use a clear and concise writing style

It is important to use a clear and concise writing style in your college essay. Avoid using jargon or overly complex language, as this can be off-putting to the reader. Instead, use simple and direct language to convey your ideas. Make sure to proofread your essay carefully for spelling and grammar errors.

• Show, don’t tell

Instead of simply stating that you are passionate about a particular topic or activity, show the reader through specific examples and anecdotes. This will make your essay more engaging and memorable.

• Be authentic and honest

Finally, it is important to be authentic and honest in your college essay. Don’t try to be someone you’re not or pretend to have experiences that you haven’t had. Admissions committees can usually spot insincerity and it can hurt your chances of being accepted.

Writing a college essay is an important and often challenging task, but it is also an opportunity to showcase your unique personality, strengths, and passions to the admissions committee. By choosing a topic that reflects your experiences, highlighting your personal growth and development, using a clear and concise writing style, showing rather than telling, and being authentic and honest, you can create a compelling essay that sets you apart from other applicants.

According to Ms. Howard, “The college essay is the part of your application that makes you more than a GPA, test score, or list of accomplishments–it makes you human. Don’t waste that opportunity.”

Join Jennifer Howard this summer in our College Essay Workshop, so she can help you bring out your unique qualities to best showcase YOU!

At Woodlands Test Prep, we teach, so you can relax.

The Digital SAT: A Brave, New Frontier

The Digital SAT: A Brave, New Frontier

From the Author News Tests

Revised February 1, 2023

Visit our new Digital Adaptive SAT Page with ALL the scoop you need.

The College Board announced that the SAT will be going digital in March 2024, and the PSAT will be going digital in October 2023.  As if *that* isn’t big enough news, they are also changing the format substantively to be more student-friendly.

Update: The first widely available practice tests are available! Click here to download the app and check out the new format!

So What’s Changing?


  • Same scoring format, still on 1600 scale
  • Shorter overall test time – approximately 2 hours instead of 3.25 hours
  • Adaptive scoring – performance on the first section of topic affects the difficulty of the second section
  • Much more time per question
  • No more long reading passages
  • Built in Desmos graphing calculator for ALL math questions


  • Moving to an all-digital format – bring your own device or use one of the College Board’s
  • Students will still test at a testing center
  • Students will install the testing app prior to testing day
  • Digital PSAT will be much the same as the Digital SAT in structure
  • Much faster score receipt – in days rather than weeks
  • Accommodations will be handled in the digital environment
  • National test dates will remain unchanged; many more choices for School Day dates

Overall, the changes are good for students!

When Is All This Happening?

First up, the PSAT will be Digital Adaptive in 2023 – this coming fall! Then, the regular SAT will switch completely to the Digital Adaptive format in March 2024. The Class of 2025 – this year’s sophomores – have several choices to make.

What Does That Mean For My High School Student?

If you are a junior this year (Class of 2024), you won’t see any changes. Just keep on doing your thing!

If you are a sophomore this year (Class of 2025), this change affects you significantly. See the table below for options, and contact us to schedule a free consultation to help you navigate these changes.

Note: If you are aiming for National Merit in 2023, prepping will be more complicated due to the switch. We are ready to help you navigate the new format with confidence!

If you are a freshman this year (Class of 2026) or younger, this will all be old news by the time you get there. You’ll be able to choose between paper ACT and Digital Adaptive SAT.

As always, Woodlands Test Prep is on top of the change to the Digital Adaptive PSAT and SAT. We look forward to helping with all your questions!

Not Just One College Ranking to Rule Them All

Not Just One College Ranking to Rule Them All

From the Author Uncategorized

Every summer, the well-known U.S. News and World Report releases its U.S. News Best Colleges List, ranking more than 11,500 schools, each vying for as close as they can get to that #1 spot. Students and parents hurry to see which schools made it into the top ten, hoping to start sending their college applications and essays to the schools highest on the list. However, college ranking lists are not like The Lord of the Rings: There is no one ring, or list, to rule them all. There are, in fact, many different college rankings.  Depending on your priorities, different rankings help to see other facets of those college application choices.

As one of the oldest ranking systems, U.S. News and World Report is the most famous vehicle that families use to decide which schools are the “top schools.” However, what students and parents should realize is that there are actually many ranking lists out there, and they all have different methods of ranking schools. You can explore multiple ranking systems to tell you what are the best schools for the criteria they’re measuring. To get started, you and your child need to ask yourself, “What matters most to ME for my college experience?” You might consider a specific major, student outcomes and success, affordability, cultural aspects such as sports or art programs, and many more. 

So what is U.S. News Best Colleges really telling you?

U.S. News Best Colleges considers a multitude of factors. They consider graduation and acceptance rates, class sizes, GPA and test scores of students, student debt after graduation: all categories you might expect. However, one unique category is called “peer opinion.” This category accounts for 20% of a college’s overall score. What is peer opinion? U.S. News asks the president, provost, and dean of admissions of each school to rank other schools on a scale of 1-5. The higher opinion they have of that school, the higher up the list the school goes. This ranking system means that the same ancient ivy leagues and selective schools remain at the top: everyone’s heard of them and knows them to be a “good” school. Therefore, if you’re only looking at this one list, you’re really looking at prestige.

If prestige is not what matters most to you, it’s time to begin the important process of thinking about who you are and why you’re going to college. Search for college ranking lists that prioritize the same criteria that are important to you. Below are a few lists we recommend and what you can find out from reviewing them.

Academic Influence

Created by data scientists, this website ranks thousands of universities using a program they have dubbed the InfluenceRanking engine. Their goal is to create lists that are as unbiased and ungameable as possible, so you can make an informed decision about where to go to school based on your likelihood of success, along with other criteria you can filter for such as major, online programs, and affordability. Academic Influence measures what they consider “influence”: How many students graduate from that college who go on to have influential careers in their fields, and how influential are they? If your main focus is post-graduate success in your field of study, this may be the ranking system for you.


Niche ranks based on recommendation: What are real people saying about the colleges and universities they’ve attended? They rank schools using millions of ratings, reviews, and surveys. Along with general rankings, they have some unique categories that might help you determine the best school based on what’s important to you, such as best athletic programs, social scenes, or campuses. You can also filter based on the major you’re interested in. Start with this list if your most important criteria is the college experience.

Colleges That Change Lives

CTCL is a nonprofit organization that helps students to consider more than the big, selective schools. They coach students on how to find a school that fits them with questions to ask and topics to consider. Their brochure “How to Choose a College That’s Right for You” is a great place to start if you don’t know what you’re looking for. They also have resources for senior year anxiety and how to make the most of your campus college visit. CTCL member colleges are small liberal arts colleges and universities with holistic admissions processes, challenging and supported academics, residential communities, and schools that offer aid to make learning more affordable.

(Edit added 4/20/2023) New York Times

The New York Times recently published an article pointing out the variety of criteria that a student might base his or her college decision on along with a meta-list creation tool. You can weight a lot of different factors to see how your list might change. It’s dynamic and pretty fun!

What’s the bottom line?

There is no one list to rule them all. U.S. News Best Colleges’ ranking system is the best known, but it is not the only college ranking system out there. Find out what is important to you and make that criteria the center of your college search.

Tests and the Rest Podcast

Tests and the Rest Podcast

From the Author Podcast

Woodlands Test Prep’s founder and CEO, Susan Powers, was recently featured on Tests and the Rest podcast, a podcast devoted to the college admissions process. Tests and the Rest hosts Mike and Amy said Woodlands Test Prep “improves students’ scores, supports students’ academic success, and helps families navigate the college admissions testing process with much less stress.”

Time to Think About Test Prep

Time to Think About Test Prep

From the Author

When Is It Time to Make Your Test Prep Plan?

Parents and students often wonder: When should I start thinking about the SAT and ACT?  To best position yourself or your student for the college application process at the beginning of senior year, students should start creating their college admissions testing plan at the end of their sophomore year or toward the beginning of junior year, ideally.  If you’re later than that, you’re still ok!  Here are the steps to get you started:

1. Get a baseline score for both the SAT and ACT.

While many students took the PSAT as sophomores at school this year, many students did not due to the pandemic.  Also, in general, far fewer high schools give practice ACT tests so those opportunities are more limited.  Students can take an official practice SAT or ACT or both in several different ways: at home at the kitchen table for free, via our new proctor videos, or participating in one of our live proctored exams (Test Flight Club).  There’s no need to take a national test date in order to find out which test suits your student better.

2. Once you have a baseline for both SAT and ACT scores, decide which test is the better fit.  We can work together to decide which test is a better fit for your student.  

3. Decide what testing calendar best suits your student. Here are some general suggestions:

  • Students who are taking Algebra II as juniors:  Plan to take either the March SAT or April ACT.  Test prep can begin after the Christmas holiday.  Student can then retake in either late spring or early fall or both.
  • Students who will have completed Algebra II by the end of sophomore year:  Think about extracurricular schedule and academic load in the junior year.  Most students will benefit from starting test prep in the summer and taking their first test in the fall to get the majority of the skill building finished over the summer.  However, if students have extremely heavy extracurricular schedules in the fall (Football, Marching Band, Cheerleading, Color Guard, etc.), they make choose to push their first test to the spring and follow the above schedule.  Students who choose to test in the fall have the opportunity to retest anytime in the spring and still have time to retest again early in their senior year if desired.
  • Students who scored particularly well on the PSAT in 10th grade:  Plan to prep for the PSAT over the summer.  The PSAT in junior year serves as the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Competition.  Even if the ACT looks like the better fit from a college admissions testing perspective, students who scored particularly well on the PSAT in 10th grade should consider making a real effort to maximize their score on their junior year PSAT.  They can then take either the October or November SAT to lock in their qualifying score should they become National Merit Semifinalists.

4. Plan on allocating at least two months to test prep.

    Test prep is really much more about practice than it is about content. You do need to decide what tactics work best for you, how to best allocate your time, and how to recognize the many patterns on the test, but really making a difference in your score comes down to putting in the practice.  We offer Test Flight Club twice a month where students have the opportunity to take a full length proctored practice test, receive immediate results, and have a two hour Q&A-style group tutoring session with one of our most expert tutors.  We have seen amazing results with students who have put in the practice!

    Remember also that almost every student will take either the SAT or ACT twice, and most students will take it three times. So keep in mind that the process is more of a marathon than a sprint and be patient with yourself.

We know that there are a lot of moving pieces when deciding how and when to work on test prep. Let us know how we can help! We love helping people with their questions!

2022 National Merit Commended Scores Established

2022 National Merit Commended Scores Established

From the Author

The National Merit Commended cutoff for the class of 2022 was recently unofficially announced at 207 – two points lower than last year’s class of 2021 level and the lowest number in the last ten years.  The lower cutoff reflects the significant drop in the number of students who were able to take the PSAT in October and January.

While the Commended cutoff dropped significantly, one cannot conclude that the Semifinalist cutoff for Texas will also drop.  The Commended cutoff is calculated nationally, while the Semifinalist cutoff is calculated by state.  Due to all the moving pieces, we will still have to wait until September to learn how it all works out for the class of 2022.  Right now, we predict that the Semifinalist cutoff score for Texas for the class of 2022 will be somewhere between 217 – 221.  We will update you in late August/early September as Semifinalist numbers become known.