ACT and SAT College Readiness Benchmarks are meant as a guideline to indicate students likely to be successful in college as a freshman.  That is they have the ability and if they put the work in they are likely to succeed.

ACT Benchmarks Came First

In 2005 when ACT added the optional Writing portion to their test (remember: LEAP encourages all students to take the writing portion!), they also established College Readiness Benchmarks for each of the subtests: English, math, reading and science. Meeting the benchmark would indicate a student has a 50% chance of earning a B or better and a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding freshman college course.

The ACT benchmarks on the 4 main subtests are as follow:  English 18; Math 22; Reading 21; Science 24.

SAT Follows

With the ACT quickly catching up to the number of SAT participants, it’s not surprising that in September 2011, College Board announced their own version of College Readiness Benchmarks.  Unlike the ACT that breaks out benchmarks by subject area, the SAT has a single benchmark for across all three parts of the test.

For a student scoring a 1550 combined total across Critical Reading, Math and Writing (multiple choice and essay on the SAT Writing), they have a 65% chance of having a B- average in the freshman year of college.

What Does it Mean?

Often I hear from a concerned parent whose child is missing one or more of the ACT benchmarks and they are misled into believing their child won’t get into college.  That’s simply untrue.  For the graduating class of 2011, nationally only 25% of students met all four ACT college readiness benchmarks.  Do you think more than 25% of last year’s graduating seniors got into and went to college?  Of course!  Furthermore, approximately 40% of Americans have a college degree.

When SAT applies their new benchmark to last year’s class, 43% meet or exceed the mark.

Personally, I favor the ACT’s benchmark system since it breaks it out by subject area.  From a test prep perspective, it helps us greatly in determining a plan of action.

What Can You Do?

Start with taking appropriately rigorous courses in school and applying yourself.  Work hard.

For students with Explore (8th-9th grade) and PLAN (10th grade) results that do not meet the benchmarks (click here to see the numbers), early attention on weak areas is a great approach before doing formal ACT and SAT test prep.

For juniors and seniors, test prep strategies with an individualized focus on areas of weakness can make an enormous difference.  While we expect 2-3 point gains with prep, we regularly see 4-5 points and have seen as many as 9 points.  It’s well worth your while to invest time into getting to know the tests and practice, practice, practice!

At the end of the day, however, the biggest factor in determining college success is earning good grades in rigorous courses in high school and having excellent study habits when you arrive on campus.