Western Academic Talent Search - Frequently Asked Questions

What is the PSAT 8/9 test?

The PSAT 8/9 is a newer assessment in the SAT suite, designed for 8th and 9th graders to prepare them for the PSAT 10 (used to identify National Merit Scholars), NMSQT, and SAT. PSAT 8/9 is a 2 1/2 hour long test, with sections in reading, writing and language, and mathematics. In WATS, 3rd-6th graders take this above-level assessment.

On the reading test, you’ll read passages and interpret informational graphics. Then you’ll use what you’ve read to answer questions, measuring command of evidence, words in context, and analysis in history, social studies, and science.

The Writing and Language Test asks you to be an editor and improve passages that were written especially for the test — and that include deliberate errors. To answer some questions, you’ll need to look closely at a single sentence. Others require reading the entire piece and interpreting a graphic. For instance, you might be asked to choose a sentence that corrects a misinterpretation of a scientific chart, additionally measuring expression of ideas and standard English language conventions.

The Math Test covers a range of math practices, with an emphasis on problem solving, modeling, using tools strategically, and using algebraic structure. This section is mostly also multiple-choice, but includes questions called "grid-ins", where you come up with an answer rather than selecting it from a list. The math test focuses on the Heart of Algebra, which focuses on the mastery of linear equations and systems, and Problem Solving and Data Analysis, which is about being quantitatively literate, measuring fluency, conceptual understanding, and applications. There is both a calculator and a no-calculator section of this test.

Guessing is not penalized and scores range from 240-1440, easily comparable to SAT scores. Results of the PSAT 8/9 are linked to both Khan Academy prep and Advanced Placement course advising.

What is the difference between the SAT reasoning test and the ACT test?

The SAT is a 3-hour test with four sections measuring skills in reading, writing, and math (with/without calculator). The essay section is optional for all students and is not part of Talent Search recognition ceremony or interpretive guide data. SAT is typically taken in 11th grade and is more popular on the Coasts, though all 4-year colleges take SAT scores. Guessing is not penalized and scores range from 200-800 on each area test, with a composite of 400-1600 possible. SAT is now mandated in many states as a completion assessment, including Colorado and Idaho, though all 4-year colleges take SAT scores.

The ACT is a 3-hour test that focuses on core curriculum knowledge acquired in school. There are four sections: math, English, reading, and science. The essay section is optional for all students and is not part of Talent Search recognition ceremony or interpretive guide data. Guessing is not penalized and scores range from 1-36. ACT is typically given in 11th grade and is mandated in many states as a high school completion assessment,, including Montana, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming, being most popular in the Midwest and South, though all 4-year colleges take ACT scores.

Which test should my child take?

Both the SAT and ACT are offered to 6th-9th graders, and the PSAT 8/9 to 3rd-6th graders. WATS does not recommend one test over another. Any of the three tests are appropriate for Talent Search participation. When choosing a test, parents and students may want to consider which date or location is most convenient, or which type of test feels more comfortable to the student. The tests are offered on different dates and at different locations. Students may also wish to review test questions prior to choosing a test. Most students take only one test per year; however, students have the option to take all tests for their grade level. Students may take each test only once per academic year.

My child is twice-exceptional (gifted with an identified cognitive or learning disability). Can he/she take the SAT/ACT/PSAT 8/9 test with accommodations?

Probably! The College Board and ACT (the test companies) make the decision on whether or not students are granted accommodations. A special request form must be completed and submitted to the test company prior to the regular registration deadline for the chosen test date. Most often, students are granted the same accommodations they receive at school as stated in their IEP or 504 plan. Copies of these plans and sometimes substantial documentation are critical for determination. For PSAT, please register first, then send us an email with student identifying information, accommodations requested, and verified documentation, and we will work with College Board and the testing site to establish supports. 100% extra time is not offered.

Should students study for the SAT, ACT, or PSAT 8/9 test?

WATS does not recommend that students spend a lot of time studying for these tests; however, we do suggest that students carefully review the test format and timing, and for SAT and/or ACT, students might also take a practice test a few days prior to their testing date - both the College Board and ACT websites offer opportunities to familiarize students with these two tests. There is no practice test at this time for PSAT 8/9. The talent search experience is not meant to be stressful or create anxiety. We want this to be a positive experience allowing students, parents, and schools to obtain more information about student's academic abilities.

Where do students take the test?

The SAT and ACT tests are given at many locations throughout the WATS region, usually at local high schools and colleges. Talent search students take the SAT and ACT alongside high school students who are testing for college admission; they are not generally separated into a different testing room. Review the website links for SAT and ACT test sites and dates. The PSAT 8/9 test is offered in a limited number of locations, usually at local elementary and middle schools. Students taking the PSAT 8/9 will test only with other 3rd-6th grade talent search participants.

What happens after students take the test?

For SAT and ACT, five to eight weeks after students take the test, they receive a score report at home from the testing company. For PSAT 8/9, all scores are not released until March, regardless of Dec or Jan testing dates. Test companies also send a copy of the score report to WATS. Please note this is the national score report and does not include specific data on talent search students. In mid-April, all WATS students are given access to the Educational Resources Page and are sent an Interpretive Guide. High scoring students who test by the end of February and live in a state offering a Recognition Ceremony will be invited to the WATS Awards Ceremony in their state. If you are willing to travel and are not in one of these states, please contact us and fax in your score report to be considered for another state ceremony. Most of the time, we can accommodate these requests. However, please note that your student's data will be compared to students in the ceremony state. All WATS participants will also receive a Summer Programs Catalogue. Certificates of participation for all WATS students are mailed to each student's school if you choose to release information, or to your home if you do not.

Is financial aid available?

Yes! Students who qualify for the free or reduced lunch program at their school (whether they use it or not) pay only the reduced $36 WATS fee if they are interested in the ACT. Documentation of qualification for the federal reduced lunch program must be included at application with your fee. WATS is issued a limited number of ACT fee waivers each year that are distributed to students on a first-come, first-served basis. The first students each year who send documentation of lunch program eligibility with their WATS application will receive a fee waiver so that they can take the ACT for free. Fee waivers are not offered for the PSAT 8/9 or SAT tests. In addition, WATS can sometimes scholarship students to cover the WATS fee in extreme circumstances. This program can be virtually free for qualifying students.

Can Talent Search scores penalize my student at this young age for college admissions?

The SAT or ACT scores for 6th-9th grade WATS students are only reported if families choose to share this information with colleges or universities. It will not be shared without your consent. This means that when students take these tests through Talent Search, they cannot be penalized for lower scores on an above-level test, removing the high stakes that these tests often entail.

9th graders: Both SAT & ACT record all scores taken from 9th grade on in your personal account; however, college reporting is different for each test and occurs only if families CHOOSE to report this information unless the college does not accept Score Choice reporting, in which case a comprehensive score report would include the 9th grade test score only. 9th grade test scores cannot be purged. Since WATS is meant to be an assessment and test "practice" experience, students age out of WATS at the end of 9th grade.

a bright spot for bright kids