College Testing Wars are Building. How Can Students Find Peace?

It was supposed to be a quiet week in college admissions, but a story was rumbling beneath the typical spring headlines of "Colleges Receive Record Apps" last week that, if left unchecked, could trash the serene summer of many a rising senior--and it all has to do with guessing.

It's well known that College Board rolled out a new version of the SAT in March, and it's also pretty well known that students who took the first edition of the test just received their scores. Those scores were just released this week , along with a table that shows how a student would have scored on the old SAT. Some colleges need this information to make better sense of the new scores.

Had the concordance table simply compared new SAT scores to old SAT scores, this week likely would have been pretty tame. Instead, College Board decided they would also include a chart that, based on their best information, compares the New SAT score to an ACT composite score--and that's when things got feisty.

ACT is run by a different company, and they took considerable exception to the way College Board compared the scores on the two tests. In a series of statements and emails that came at the speed of Serena Williams forehands, the two testing giants engaged in an exchange of psychometric Your Mama that left a lot of college admissions officers and high school counselors confused, speechless, and embarrassed for both companies.

The percentile pyrotechnics seem to have settled down, and school counselors are hoping it has occurred to both companies that the only thing certain to come of this very public argument is that students and families will lose faith in both the SAT and the ACT. After all, if no one really knows what the test scores mean, how exactly can colleges use them with any confidence--and how can students take them seriously?

Juniors, this is where you come in. It would be great to assume the leaders of these companies are going to work out their differences about the concordance tables, but the truth is, you don't really care about that. What you care about is what your dream college is going to do with the SAT scores you've just sent them--so ask them.

Call the admissions offices of the colleges you're interested in (or check their website), ask them what they're going to do with the new SAT scores, and make sure you give them your name. All this bickering about hypothetical scores means some colleges might not use the tables anyway. You'll know exactly what they'll do with the scores, and you'll have shown some initiative colleges like to see in an applicant. Plus, you'll have one less thing to worry about.

And if you've only taken the SAT, think about taking the ACT. Many counselors have always told students to take both tests, and this year offers more reasons than ever to do so, not the least of which is that the ACT hasn't changed all that much this year. Taking both offers you and your colleges a little stability, and helps College Board create some future stability (and could lead to an awesome score for you). So take care of yourself, and pay it forward a little-- as is the case with life in general, that's the best way to approach applying to college.

And don't forget the hundreds--that's hundreds--of great colleges that don't use tests results at all in the admission decisions of most of their students.