Standardized tests might feel like just a mind-numbing activity that robs you of half a Saturday. But the ACT and SAT are important tools to help colleges assess your academic abilities.
Pete Lien, associate director of admission, says that the test results help the admission team determine whether or not the student will be successful in college. Concordia accepts both ACT and SAT scores with no preference for either or.
“The importance of the ACT or SAT is that it gives us a certain level of confidence that we’re not overwhelming the student academically,” Lien says. “We want to make sure they fit. We’re making sure we’re setting students up for success and the ACT or SAT score, at times, can really help us assess that.”
At Concordia College, the admission team takes a super score of the student’s ACT scores. A super score is pulling the highest subscore from each section of the test from all the tests the student has taken to combine it and give the student their best result.
“It’s a much more holistic approach to assessing ACT scores,” Lien says. “Instead of focusing on one test date on one day, we are looking at a broader sense of subscores. A lot of instances when students don’t do as well or they fail in their own eyes on a test, it’s multiple things that lead to that. Having a broader sense of where the student is at by looking at more subscores allows us to get a better sense of who they are as a student.”
The college does not require students to take the written portion of the ACT.
The Bigger Picture
Lien acknowledges that standardized test scores are not the only indicator to evaluate a student’s ability. The admission team at Concordia College looks at a student’s transcript, references, extracurriculars and more when evaluating a student’s application.
“We recognize that test results are just one part of the many things that we consider,” Lien says. “Academically, socially and financially – that’s how we look at admission.”
The institution does not have set scores of determining whether or not a student can be admitted into the college. Lien says that the tests are written a certain way, and that does not fit everyone. Due to that rationale, the admission office focuses more on the transcript.
“Grades are the best indicator for success in college,” Lien says. “We specifically look at junior year, when students are finding their stride. Freshman and sophomore year, that transition into high school from a social standpoint can be tough. Students also recognize, ‘Hey, oh my gosh, colleges are looking at my stuff. I probably should start trying.’ Junior year is a much better indicator of where they’re at.”
The team also looks at rigor of classes and involvement. At Concordia, about 80 percent of students are involved in more than one activity. The team looks at all aspects of the student’s high school life to make sure that the student will prosper in all areas of their life while at Concordia.
Test results are not only used for admission, but also for determining scholarships. Lien says that they want to make sure high-achieving students are recognized for their hard work. Due to budget and priority of acknowledging diligent students, the school does have cut-off dates.
Concordia looks at a student’s GPA and test result to determine scholarship amounts. A student with a high score and high GPA will receive higher scholarship amounts; however, if a student has a high test score but a low GPA, they would not earn more scholarships.
“Say a student scores a 27 on the ACT but has a 2.3 GPA,” Lien says. “That tells me that the student has ability but doesn’t have the work ethic. That’s more concerning for me. I would say that they would not see a higher scholarship and they may not even see an admission decision in their favor right away.”
Every student admitted receives a scholarship. If a student is close to obtaining a higher scholarship, the team will look at involvement and other factors to determine if the student should be rewarded a higher scholarship.
“We take a lot of pride as admission representatives that we try to get to know our students,” Lien says. “If we can have a better understanding of where you’re at and why you’re there, then we can make a better decision for your success.”
Share Your Story
Being able to share your story with admission representatives can help your scholarship outcome. The ability to brag a little about yourself is key, Lien says.
“Students are busy,” he says. “They’re doing a lot of things that sometimes they feel aren’t relevant. For example, maybe you’re asked to provide rent for your house, and that’s your family obligation. We all have unique backgrounds and upbringings and stories that create who we are. For better or for worse, it’s more than the classes you are taking. If I get to know you, I can take that into context and help us decide if that student can get a different scholarship.”
With all this information, how often should a student take the test? Do they need to study? Lien has some guidance for students.
“Research has proven that after taking the third test, students tend to flatline,” Lien says. “I suggest taking the test no less than two times.”
The latest a student should take a test is fall or early winter, he says. If a student has a conflict and cannot take the test until late winter or early spring, Lien says that as long as the student communicates the situation to the admission representative, they can accommodate.
One of the best things a student can do is test prep. Students can buy or rent books online or in bookstores that can help them study for a test. Online platforms exist where students can take practice tests as well.
The Reading and English portions of the test are the most important sections, Lien says.
“Reading and writing are probably the greatest assets we see in any major,” he says. “A five-page paper in high school is a 10-page paper in college. Being able to do that effectively is really important.”
Setting You Up For Success
If students have difficulty with reading or writing, that will not hinder their ability to be admitted into the college. Lien says that seeing those results shows them that these students need extra help, so the admission team can point them to the resources they need in order to be successful at Concordia.
“We want to make sure they know who they can talk to in the Academic Enhancement and Writing Center,” Lien says.
The admission team also uses subscores to help students determine what classes they should begin with. For example, if a student wants to take CHEM 128 their first year, but they had a low science score and low science grade on their transcript, Lien says they may point that student in a different direction.
“It’s not always a matter of whether they get in or not,” Lien says. “It’s a matter of also looking at classes. We feel that they have the ability; now let’s make sure we’re aligning their course schedule and interest areas accordingly.”
If a student is denied admission the first time, Lien says he has no problem re-evaluating an application if a student retakes the ACT or SAT.
Sometimes, the admission representatives may defer the student. A deferment is when the representative asks the student to retake the test again because they are close to admitting the student, but needs to see multiple test scores to ensure that whatever decision they make is the right one.
“That’s basically saying that we feel you have the ability to be successful here, but we want to ensure that, so we’re going to ask you to go back at retake the ACT,” Lien says.
The college would not ask a student more than once to be deferred. The process is normal, and the team only asks this if they feel that the student does have the ability to be successful at Concordia.
Lien has some final advice for students taking the ACT.
“Don’t ever let an ACT score make you feel that you aren’t intelligent,” he says. “I hate seeing students doubt themselves if they didn’t score as well as they would have liked to. You can still do a lot of great things and not have a perfect ACT score. It’s not the end-all-be-all indicator of success in life after college.”
Sage Larson '17 is studying multimedia journalism and Spanish.