Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

Bonus Material: PrepMaven's Summer 2020 Calendar

Many colleges--including Princeton University--ask their applicants to answer the following question:

How did you spend your last two summers?

For most high school students, especially upperclassmen, summertime is a chance to unwind, catch up on sleep, and spend time with friends.

Relaxation is vital and frequently well-earned! 

Yet filling your summers with other meaningful activities, including volunteering, research opportunities, and college programs, can be doubly vital. Rich summer experiences can help you solidify and jumpstart your classroom learning while connecting you with like-minded peers.

Plus, they can make it easier to answer that college application question--when that time comes!

Whether you’re a Princeton local or a student keen to spend time in proximity to Princeton University, this post is for you. Keep reading for insight into the best Princeton summer programs for high school students.

You'll also get access to our Summer Calendar, which can help students organize the programs and activities they'll be pursuing this summer. This calendar also includes information about virtual activities and online programs.

Grab this below.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  1. Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students
  2. Princeton-Based Summer Programs
  3. Bonus: PrepMaven's Summer 2020 Calendar

Note: In light of changing circumstances, many of the programs discussed in this post might now be virtual and/or canceled. Visit our 20 Online Summer Options for High School Students post for more information.

Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

There are only two Princeton summer programs for high school students directly affiliated with Princeton University. These include the Laboratory Learning Program and the Summer Journalism Program.

If you’re eager to learn more about academic year opportunities at Princeton University, check out our post on Princeton courses for high school students

Princeton University’s Laboratory Learning Program

This “full-time, free research experience in the sciences or engineering” is available to students 16 and older at the time of applying. 

If accepted to this program, high school students participate in a research project with faculty members and fellow researchers for 7-10 weeks in the summer. Research opportunities vary every year.

Here’s a glimpse of summer 2019’s research projects, available in natural sciences and engineering:

  • Denitrification in biological reactors and wetlands
  • Machine learning on combustion
  • Yielding in semicrystalline polymers
  • The genetic and neurobiological underpinnings of social behavior
  • Fluidics and optics in biophysics
  • Cognitive and neural mechanisms of human sociality

Students can specify up to two projects they’re interested in when applying in the spring prior to the Laboratory Learning program’s start.

**Note: High school students do not receive any kind of academic credit for participating in this program. Nor does the Laboratory Learning program give Princeton University applicants a greater advantage in admissions.

Princeton Summer Journalism Program

Princeton’s Summer Journalism Program is a free residential summer opportunity for eligible high school juniors. 

Every summer, forty participants spend ten days on Princeton’s campus, learning from professors, journalists, and alumni and collaborating together to produce the Princeton Summer Journal (published at program culmination).

The best part about this program? Its impact extends beyond the summer intensive. Following the program, each student is matched with a college advisor, who helps them navigate the college admissions process their senior fall. 

**Note: Preference is given to high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds.

Princeton-Based Summer Programs

There are numerous Princeton summer programs for high school students hosted on Princeton University’s campus. 

While these are not directly organized by the university, they offer high school students a chance to experience the campus and various facilities firsthand. Many of these programs are geared towards gifted learning, making them ideal for precocious learners eager to dive deep into subjects like coding, debate, journalism, and more. 

Summer Institute for the Gifted

Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School Students

SIG participants have the chance to live on campus and utilize Princeton’s amazing facilities during this summertime intensive.

The Summer Institute for the Gifted at Princeton brings together talented students from all over the world for three weeks. As a SIG camper, you’ll have a chance to explore multidisciplinary curriculum spanning Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math, Humanities, and Fitness and Recreation on Princeton’s campus. 

When not taking such courses, students can explore the Princeton Art Museum, Frist Campus Center, Prospect Garden, and more. Students age 13-17 are welcome to apply to this program.

JSA Summer School at Princeton University

Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School StudentsThis “pre-college academic experience” with the Junior State of America (JSA) gives students a chance to build leadership skills, debate with their peers, and participate in civic engagement activities.

JSA offers three-week programs at a variety of college campuses each summer, including Princeton. Princeton participants engage in weekly debate workshops and JSA’s speaker program, which brings students in close proximity to the nation’s best thinkers, lobbyists, analysts, and political leaders.

JSA also has a Freshman Scholars Program at Princeton, designed for rising 9th graders.

If JSA program cost is prohibitive, don’t worry! JSA does offer scholarships to eligible participants.


Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School StudentsFor over ten years, iDTech has been giving students a chance to explore tech in its many forms through a summer intensive at Princeton. At this STEM summer camp, students explore machine learning, coding, artificial intelligence, robotics, and beyond.

iDTech prides itself on its stellar instructors (often industry experts), intimate class sizes, and accelerated, fun style of learning.

Classes are held at the Princeton Theological Seminary, Quadrangle Club, and Cloister Inn. iD tech camps, for students ages 7-17, are each one week long; iD coding and AI academy camps, for students ages 13-18, are two weeks.

John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at Princeton

Best Princeton Summer Programs for High School StudentsCTY has long been lauded for its rigorous (and simply fun!) summer programs, hosted at a variety of college campuses in the U.S. High-achieving students experience intensive academics, team-building activities, and much more at CTY.

In 2019, 10th - 12th graders participated in Global Issues at Princeton, a three-week, residential summer program focused on some of the most pressing global issues in the 21st century. Courses change every year, so we recommend checking out CTY’s course catalog for updates.

Program in Algorithmic and Combinational Thinking (PACT)

Aspiring computer scientists and mathematicians won’t want to overlook PACT, a unique summer program that gives students a chance to dive deep into the world of theoretical computer science.

This five-week educational program emphasizes the math and algorithms students need to know to succeed in the computer science field. It’s funded in part by Rutgers University and the National Science Foundation. 

The only requirements for this program? “High school algebra, the willingness to work hard and be challenged, and, above all, the desire to learn.”

Some summer program students may be eligible to continue studying on Saturdays throughout the academic year.

Princeton Tutoring/PrepMaven Courses

PrepMaven and its sister site, Princeton Tutoring, have been providing academic tutoring, test, prep, and college counseling services since 2005.

The co-founders of the company are Princeton University graduates, and their team of 150+ tutors/instructors are comprised mostly of Princeton University undergraduates and graduates.

While their office is located within the Princeton Entrepreneurial Hub, they work with students across the country through live & online courses:

Private tutoring is also available if preferred or if students can't make the courses.

We want to reiterate that attendance of any of these programs does not advantage Princeton University applicants in any way. It’s important to apply to these programs for the experiences they offer, first and foremost.

Download PrepMaven's 2020 Summer Calendar

Eligible students have a lot to choose from when it comes to competitive Princeton summer programs for high schoolers. That's why we've created PrepMaven's 2020 Summer Calendar, a helpful tool for organizing this summer's activities, particularly those that are now virtual / online.

With this calendar, you'll be able to:

  1. Identify your experiences of interest and start / end dates (if applicable)
  2. Narrow down this list of experiences to your top 3-5
  3. Block out these experiences on a digital calendar for an easy birds-eye view of your summer
  4. Find extra details and links to all of the summer programs mentioned in this list (we’ve done the work for you!)
  5. Document your time so you can feel confident filling out your college application resume down the road

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

A Good ACT Score

What's a Good ACT Score? Insight From the Experts

Your Guide to a Good ACT Score

All U.S. colleges and universities accept either ACT or SAT scores from applicants.

But what scores will make you the most competitive? What is a good ACT score? Is there such a thing as a bad ACT score?

We hear these questions all the time from our students and families, and for good reason. While there are some test-optional schools out there, most colleges place significant weight on each application's standardized test scores.

If you've decided that the ACT is the test for you, the first step in your ACT test prep journey should be to identify a goal score.

Understanding the components of a "good" ACT score can be helpful for choosing a target score and making your application that much more competitive!

Here's what we cover in this post:

ACT Test Scores: The Basics

The ACT has five sections:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Essay (optional)

Each ACT section has a different number of questions and time limit, which we discuss at greater length in our post on the ACT format.

However, every section (except the essay) is scored on a scale of 1-36. 1 is the lowest score you can achieve on an individual section, while 36 is the highest score possible.

ACT Section Score Range
English 1-36
Math 1-36
Reading 1-36
Science 1-36

Students will also receive an ACT total score, also called the composite score. This is the average of the scores received on the four required ACT sections.

Take a look at this sample student ACT score report to see this scoring system in action:

Sample ACT Score Report

Notice how the student's composite score of 21 is the average of the student's individual ACT section scores (19, 18, 24, and 23).

The student's ACT essay (also referred to as Writing) scores do not impact this composite score and fall on a range of 2-12.

Naturally, most students assume that because 36 is the highest possible ACT score (both composite and individual), it's a "good" ACT score. While a 36 will definitely add a competitive edge to an application, anything less than a 36 isn't necessarily a bad ACT score.

We'll talk about average ACT scores now to clarify what we mean by this.

Let's Talk Averages

Let's take a look at the 2019-2020 average ACT scores to get a sense of how students are generally doing on this standardized test. regularly releases a "National Norms" report for ACT scores. This includes data from all ACT test scores reported between 2019 and 2020 (although these scores could be from 2017, 2018, and 2019 class graduates).

The most recent National Norms ACT Report includes the average section and composite scores of those reported between 2019 and 2020.

Here's what they are:

Section 2019-2020 Average Score
English 20.2
Math 20.5
Reading 21.3
Science 20.8
Composite 20.8

One definition of a "good" ACT score is one that is nationally above-average. In this sense, a composite score of 21 or higher on the ACT could be considered a competitive score!

At the very least, we encourage students who are new to the ACT to aim for a target score that is above national averages, on individual sections and the whole test itself.

This would mean establishing a goal score of the following on each section:

Section Goal Above-Average Score 
English 21
Math 21
Reading 22
Science 21
Composite 21

Of course, your starting score may be higher than a composite of 21, so we also recommend that students start with a diagnostic practice exam to see where they currently stand.

A Word About ACT "Ranks"

ACT score reports also include information about a student's "ranking" in the U.S. and that student's home state. These are approximate percentages of recent grads who have taken the ACT in the U.S. and your state and achieved the same score as you or lower.

The ACT offers these rankings for your composite score, individual section scores, and STEM/ELA scores. 

Naturally, the higher your "rankings," the better. Yet we recommend that students prioritize target ACT scores as opposed to rankings, as these are a lot more straightforward (and less likely to fluctuate dramatically in any given year).

What is a Good ACT Score?

Of course, scoring above-average on the ACT is just one interpretation of what it means to do well on the test. There are two other things to keep in mind when defining what counts as a good ACT score:

  • Average scores of admitted applicants to your school(s) of choice
  • Your current scores

It can be challenging to pinpoint the precise average scores of admitted applicants to your school(s) of choice. Some colleges make such information public, while others are a bit reluctant to release this information.

Luckily, there are two tools at your disposal to figure out the average ACT scores of admitted applicants:

  1. The College Board's BigFuture Tool
  2. The Common Data Set


The College Board, which releases the SAT, has a bunch of tools outside of SAT practice designed to help prospective college students build an appropriate college list.

BigFuture allows students to search for schools and assess their eligibility for admission based on institutional standards, application requirements, and test scores.

Here's what comes up, for example, when you search for Princeton University:  

Big Future_Princeton University

To view information about average test scores of admitted applicants, click "Applying" on the left-hand side and then "SAT & ACT Scores." BigFuture will then detail the percent of freshmen in each ACT score range. Here's what that range looks like for Princeton:

Princeton University _ Average ACT Scores

As you can see, according to BigFuture, 90% of Princeton freshmen have an ACT composite score of 30 - 36, while 10% have a composite of 24 - 29.

BigFuture is quick to reiterate that "most colleges admit students with a very wide range of scores, so published scores should be used as a general guide, and never a cutoff."

For this reason, we encourage students to also check out the Common Data Set for a given school.

Note: BigFuture often pulls from Common Data Sets to create its score ranges.

Common Data Set

The Common Data Set (CDS) initiative is an effort to give clear, relevant information to everyone involved in the college admissions process about universities' "institutional priorities."

What are institutional priorities? These refer to what a college cares about when it's admitting an incoming class.

The Common Data Set for Princeton University, for example, contains information about the university's enrollment, admissions, financial aid, and more for a given year. A school's CDS should also include details about test scores of admitted applicants, as Princeton's shows here:  

Princeton University Common Data Set

Princeton University Common Data Set

Notice how Princeton's CDS also breaks down ACT scores into 25th and 75th percentiles. You can use these percentiles to understand competitive scores of admitted applicants.

For example, one can safely conclude based on this CDS that 50% of admitted applicants to Princeton in 2019 had ACT composite scores ranging from 32 to 35.

Here's a sample spread of 25th and 75th percentiles for ACT scores of admitted applicants to various elite U.S. schools:

College 25th Percentile: ACT Composite  75th Percentile: ACT Composite 
Brown University  32 35
Fordham University 28 32
Middlebury College 31 34
Vanderbilt University 33 35
Wesleyan University 30 34

Source: 2018-2019 Common Data Sets

Once you've done some sleuthing using BigFuture and Common Data Sets, compare these ranges of competitive scores to your current ACT score, preferably one from a diagnostic exam. This can help you establish a goal score for your test prep and more definitively answer that question: what is a good ACT score?

Remember: your "good" ACT score is the score that is right for you given your college aspirations!

Bad ACT Scores: Do They Exist?

We've discussed the good. What about the bad? Is there such thing as a bad ACT score?

Once again, the answer to these questions really depends on your definition of "bad."

Yet from a general perspective, a “bad” SAT score often misses the mark of what has called college readiness. 

These scores are typically below-average in comparison to the mean. They may also not meet the benchmark scores has established in terms of college preparedness, especially with respect to content areas like English and Math.

Here's what says specifically about benchmark scores on its website:

Students who meet a benchmark on the ACT have approximately a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses. 

Here are the benchmark ACT scores for college readiness as of 2020:

  • English: 18
  • Math: 22
  • Reading: 22
  • Science: 23

First-time ACT students should prioritize meeting and surpassing these benchmark scores!

Next Steps: How to Get a Good ACT Score

We've discussed the good and the bad. Now what can you do to get a good ACT score? 

Preparation, preparation, preparation.

The ACT is entirely different from traditional high school tests. Much like a second language, it requires dedication, immersion, and time to understand and eventually master. 

To launch your ACT test prep journey, begin by establishing your initial goal score. It’s also important to set aside a decent amount of time for your ACT prep.

The ACT is not a test that students can cram, and nor should it take a side-burner in a student’s college application process. Allocate a generous timeline for sufficient ACT test prep, and stick to it! 

Build that college list.

Crafting a list of colleges of interest can help students identify ballpark ACT score ranges for competitive entry.

It can also inform other aspects of the college application, such as supplemental essay topics, scholarship opportunities, and optional application components.

Take a diagnostic ACT.

Taking a diagnostic practice ACT can give students a greater understanding of their personal great score. 

Plus, it’s an essential starting point for effective test prep! Students have the opportunity to take a diagnostic ACT and establish their benchmark scores through PrepMaven’s highly-rated ACT tutoring program.

Book your free ACT strategy consultation today!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 

ACT Format_ What's on the Test_

The ACT Format: Everything You Need to Know

The ACT Format: Everything You Need to Know

All four-year U.S. colleges and universities accept either SAT scores or ACT scores from applicants.

Choosing whether to commit to the SAT or the ACT can be a tough decision. We walk you through how to figure out which test is right for you in another post.

If you've decided that the ACT is your test of choice, congrats! The next step is to learn more about what's actually on the ACT.

Contrary to popular belief, the SAT and the ACT are very different exams. They're both scored differently, for example, and although they test similar content, they do so in fundamentally distinct ways.

Understanding the ACT format is central to developing foundational strategies for your ACT test prep journey. In this post, we'll walk you through the test's format, scoring, and more.

Here's what we cover:

What is the ACT?

In the world of college entrance exams, the SAT has been around longer than the ACT (by twenty years, actually).

However, as we just mentioned in our introduction to this post, colleges accept either test equally! For this reason, we encourage all of our students to ensure that they are signing themselves up for the right test.

What does the "right test" mean?

The "right test" is the one that is more likely to cater to your strengths and, ultimately, generate a high score. You can ask yourself these five questions to see whether the ACT or the SAT will do just that.

In the meantime, here's what you need to know about the ACT in general:

  • It is a standardized test, just like the SAT!
  • The ACT is a "national college admissions" test produced by ACT, Inc.
  • The test consists entirely of multiple-choice questions (excluding the Essay)
  • It contains four required sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science
  • Every U.S. college accepts ACT scores from applicants

According to ACT, Inc., the ACT is a "curriculum-based achievement test." This means that it is designed to test content and skills that students are directly learning in their high school classrooms.

Two of the ACT's required sections, Math and English, do indeed focus nearly entirely on content most students will have encountered in high school. These content areas include basic English grammar, Algebra 1 and 2, geometry, trigonometry, and others.

The other two required sections, Reading and Science, are more skills-based, assessing a student's ability to read texts and data critically.

We'll take a deeper dive into ACT format, timing, and scores now.

The ACT Format

The ACT consists of five timed sections, in this order:

  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Essay (optional)

Here's a breakdown of the ACT format, including the number of questions and timing per section:  

ACT Section # of Questions Duration
English 75 45 minutes
Math 60 60 minutes
Break   10 minutes
Reading 40 35 minutes
Science 40 35 minutes
Break   5 minutes
Essay (optional) 40 minutes
Total 216  3 hours, 50 minutes (with breaks)

One of the biggest challenges students face on the ACT is timing. Completing 75 English questions in 45 minutes, for example, is no easy feat. The same goes for answering 40 questions on ACT Reading on top of reading passages in just 35 minutes.

Additionally, it's important to note from a general strategy perspective that the two very content-heavy sections, English and Math, come first, while the two skills-based sections, Reading and Science, are at the end.


The ACT English section contains 5 passages, with 15 questions per passage. Questions do not appear at the end of each passage, as they do on the Reading section, but rather throughout each text, as in this example:

ACT English_Sample questions
Source: ACT Official Practice Test 1

On ACT English, students will encounter questions about basic English conventions and writing strategy.

Here are the general areas tested:

  • Punctuation
  • Verbs
  • Idioms
  • Transition words
  • Concise and clear writing
  • Pronouns
  • Conjunctions, prepositions, and modifiers
  • Vocabulary in context
  • Author's purpose
  • Expression and organization of ideas


The questions on the ACT Math section are arranged in order of increasing difficulty. This means that, in general, the first third of ACT Math questions are low-difficulty, the middle third are medium-difficulty, and the final third are high-difficulty.

Students who have completed Algebra 2 are likely to be familiar with all content on the ACT Math section. Here are the general principles and content areas tested:

Triangles, circles, rectangles, polygons

Perimeter, area, and volume

Ratios and proportions


Combinations and permutations


Mean, median, mode, range

Charts and two-way tables

Solving expressions and variables

Word problems


Cartesian graphs


Math vocabulary




Linear equations


Number properties

However, the ACT may not test this content in a straightforward way! Here's an example of an ACT math question that tests familiar math content in an unfamiliar fashion:

ACT Math_SampleQuestion
Source: ACT Official Practice Test 1

This ACT Math question is basically testing your knowledge of exponent rules. But is this immediately clear? Nope! 


The ACT Reading section consists of 4 passages of the following genres:

  • Literary narrative
  • Humanities
  • Social science
  • Natural science

One of these passages will be a dual passage, which will require students to compare 2 smaller passages (Passage A and Passage B).

ACT Reading_Dual Passage
Source: ACT Official Practice Test 1

Every ACT Reading passage has 10 questions

Guess what? This is the only section of the ACT that does not require any outside content knowledge! For this reason, students should anticipate approaching ACT Reading from a purely strategic perspective.

What kinds of questions can you expect to see on this section? Here's a list:

  • Detail
  • Author's purpose
  • Inference
  • Character analysis
  • Words in context
  • Literary devices


The ACT Science section may sound daunting, but it basically tests the following skills:

  • Data analysis
  • Figure and graph interpretation
  • Analysis of experiments
  • Scientific knowledge*

*There are about 2-3 questions per ACT Science section that require outside knowledge. However, this knowledge is most likely foundational knowledge students will have learned in high school science classes.

This section consists of 6 "passages." Each "passage" will contain some text and/or graphics in the form of charts, figures, tables, and/or graphs.

There are three passage types:

  • Experiments (3)
  • Charts and graphs (2)
  • Two scientists/theorists (1)

Experiments passages require students to analyze and/or compare scientific experiments or studies, while Charts and Graphs passages typically involve one scientific concept and a few figures. Lastly, students will have to compare and analyze the perspectives or theories of two scientists or theorists.

With ACT Science, it's very easy to get lost in the technical, scientific jargon of each passage. That's why it's so important to zero in on what each question is really asking and to analyze the figures prior to answering each question.

Here's what an Experiments passage question looks like on the ACT:

Sample Question_ACT Science
Source: ACT Official Practice Test 1


For the ACT essay task, students must analyze an issue and three different perspectives on this issue. They will then have to craft an essay response that discusses their perspective of the issue, including specific evidence and examples.

Here is a sample essay issue:

ACT Essay Issue
Source: ACT Official Practice Test 1

The ACT essay is optional. We give our input on whether or not students should sign up for the optional ACT essay in this post here.

How is the ACT Scored?

ACT scoring is relatively simple. Each individual ACT section (English, Math, Reading, and Science) is scored between 1 and 36. 1 is the lowest score you can achieve on an individual section, while 36 is the highest score you can achieve on each section.

Here's what that looks like:

ACT Section Score Range
English 1-36
Math 1-36
Reading 1-36
Science 1-36

Your total ACT score, what's called your composite score, is the average of your scores on these individual sections. Just like individual section scores, composite scores range from 1 to 36.

ACT essay responses are scored separately, and essay scores do not influence your section or composite scores! You will essentially receive five ACT essay scores: one "composite" essay score on a scale of 2-12, and four "domain" essay scores on a scale of 2-12. These "domain" scores refer to specific categories in the ACT essay scoring rubric.

Here is a sample ACT student score report from You can see that the student's composite score, 21, is the average of her section scores, and that her Essay score is separate from these:

Sample ACT Score Report

Notice how this score report also includes ELA and STEM scores, U.S. and State Ranks, information on "college readiness benchmarks," and "Detailed Results."

You don't need to worry too much about this added info, but, just in case, we discuss rankings and college readiness benchmarks in our What's a Good ACT Score? post.

ACT Test Dates 2020

Just like the SAT, the ACT is officially administered seven times each year. Here are the national ACT test dates for 2020:

ACT Test Date (National) Registration Deadline
April 4, 2020 February 28, 2020
June 13, 2020 May 8, 2020
July 18, 2020 June 19, 2020
September 12, 2020 TBD
October 24, 2020 TBD
December 12, 2020 TBD

If you receive testing accommodations, you will test anytime within a "Special Testing Window." We discuss this further in our post on ACT testing accommodations.

Missed a registration deadline? Don't worry! You can likely still sign up for a test if spots are still available at your testing location; you will have to pay an additional fee, however.

Next Steps

As you can see, the ACT is structured very differently than the SAT!

This curriculum-based college admissions test includes four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. The entire test with the optional Essay takes just under four hours.

Timing can be challenging on the ACT, especially for students who feel more comfortable reading difficult texts and analyzing data at a slower pace. However, one of the best ways to address timing issues is to practice, practice, practice.

You can do this on your own or with an expert. Either way, we're here to help guide your ACT test prep journey in the right direction.

Contact us for a free consultation today!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay. 

SSAT Prep Resources (1)

SSAT Prep Resources: Your Guide

SSAT Prep Resources: Your Guide

Most students seeking admissions to a private school will have to take the SSAT.

The Secondary Schools Admissions Test may feel like a daunting part of the application process, and for good reason! The test itself spans a broad range of content, including Math, Verbal, Reading, and Writing.

Like most standardized tests, the SSAT also favors the strategic test-taker who can move quickly through the timed sections.

We encourage all prospective SSAT test-takers to set aside adequate time to prepare for this challenging test. But when it comes to SSAT prep resources, the pickings can be relatively slim and costly!

These include materials released by the Enrollment Management Association, which produces the SSAT.

At PrepMaven, we know the value of solid practice materials, especially when it comes to tests like the SSAT. We're excited to share with you the SSAT prep resources we feel will set students up for success.

Here's what we cover in this post:

What Makes the SSAT Different (from Other Tests)

Much like other standardized tests, the SSAT is really unlike any test students experience in the classroom. It differs from standard elementary and middle school tests in three ways:

  • Duration
  • Content
  • Strategy


The SSAT is a veritable marathon of an exam! Students must prepare to sit through 3 hours and 5 minutes of intensive material with only 15 minutes of breaks.

They must also become fluent in answering a large number of questions in a short amount of time, a skill very rarely developed in middle school classrooms.

Here's a breakdown of the SSAT format and duration:

SSAT Section # Questions Duration
Writing Sample 1 25 minutes
Break n/a 5 minutes
Quantitative 1 25 30 minutes
Reading 40 40 minutes
Break n/a 10 minutes
Verbal 60 30 minutes
Quantitative 2 25 30 minutes
Experimental Section 16 15 minutes
Total 167 3 hours, 5 minutes


While some content on the SSAT aligns with what students have already learned in school, especially when it comes to SSAT Math, some of it may feel foreign.

For example, the SSAT Verbal section requires students to complete 30 Synonym and 30 Analogies questions, which largely test vocabulary and the ability to identify relationships between ideas. Some middle schools encourage students to build vocabulary through the study of Latin and Greek word parts, for example, but this is not a required component of most curricula.

Even the SSAT Math section might test familiar content in unfamiliar ways, requiring students to rely more on strategy and logic than rote mathematic principles.

In some cases, students may encounter math principles on the SSAT that they have not yet learned in school, such as exponential equations, radical expressions, and scientific notation.

Take a look at this SSAT Math question here as an example of the way the SSAT tests familiar content:

SSAT Prep Resources_Math

This question is essentially testing a student's ability to complete long division using decimals. But notice how the language of the question itself requires a bit of translation to make this clear! Rather than simply saying "Divide 0.5 by 0.02," the SSAT complicates matters, obscuring a basic math principle with tricky wording.


As we discuss in our post on SSAT scoring, students earn 1 point for every correct answer on the SSAT and lose 1/4 point for every wrong answer.

However, if a student leaves a question blank, they neither lose nor gain points. This is why we encourage many of our SSAT students to implement a guessing strategy on the SSAT as a whole. A solid guessing strategy means knowing when to guess on a question and when to leave it blank.

Here's an example the demonstrates this.

Guessing Strategy Example

Let’s compare two students: Guessing Gabby and Skipper Sam. 

They both took a Reading section and answered 25 out of 40 questions correctly. Gabby guessed on any questions she was unsure of, whereas Sam skipped them. Sadly for Gabby, it was not her lucky day, and all the questions she guessed were incorrect.

When we look at their scores, here’s what results.

Gabby: 25 questions correct, 15 incorrect -> 25 - 15/4 -> 21.75 raw score -> ~43 percentile

Sam: 25 questions correct, 0 incorrect -> 25 - 0 -> 25 raw score -> ~57 percentile

While both students got the same number of questions right, Sam came away with a 14% higher percentile score, all because she skipped questions she didn’t know! 

But that's not the only strategic component of the SSAT. The test rewards students who are strategic in other ways, too. Successful students may use specific elimination strategies on Verbal questions, for example, or active reading techniques on SSAT Reading.

This is a departure from traditional classroom tests, which often assess students' mastery of content rather than strategy.

3 Components of Effective SSAT Prep

So, the SSAT is unlike any other test you've taken in elementary or middle school. How do you prepare for it effectively?

Effective SSAT prep boils down to the three following components:

  • Time
  • Goals
  • Practice

These three things all help students master the three aspects of the SSAT that set it apart from other tests: duration, content, and strategy.


We'll discuss the timeline and goal-setting aspect of SSAT prep in more detail in a forthcoming post. In general, however, students should establish a generous timeline for their SSAT prep to give themselves the time they need to master the "language" of the SSAT.

What does this look like?

We recommend that students allocate at least three months of dedicated SSAT prep prior to an official SSAT exam. We also encourage students to sit for at least two official SSATs to maximize their potential for a score increase.

SSAT Prep Resources


Usually, these months of prep begin with taking a diagnostic SSAT practice test, which can be valuable for establishing target scores, initial goals, and test prep trajectory. As we discuss in our post about SAT Goal Setting, test prep goals should be related to:

  • Average SSAT scores of admitted applicants to your school(s) of choice
  • Your diagnostic SSAT scores (your starting point)

Many students ask us what a "good" SSAT score is. We always answer this question by directing families to their schools of choice. Many secondary schools post information about competitive SSAT scores on their websites.

Otherwise, a quick call to an admissions office can clarify what goal SSAT scores your student should be working towards.

Additionally, we encourage students to think about maximizing their current raw SSAT scores as a means of obtaining a realistic target score. We discuss this in detail in our Scoring on the SSAT guide and What's a Good SSAT Score? post.


Consistent practice is the key to mastering strategy, content, and timing on the SSAT. The most successful SSAT students are those who regularly apply their learning through practice tests, homework, and timed drills.

When it comes to these practice materials, it's important to choose authoritative SSAT prep resources. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of these resources out there, but some do exist. We discuss these in the next section of this post.

The Best SSAT Prep Resources Out There

What are the best SSAT prep resources available to test-takers? Here are our recommendations.

1) Official SSAT Practice Online*

When it comes to test preparation of any kind, we always encourage students to practice as close to the source as possible. This means working through materials released by the test-writers themselves, if these are available.

The Enrollment Management Association doesn't release a ton of materials, but their Official SSAT Online Practice is ideal for students preparing for the Middle and/or Upper-Level SSAT.

Here's what comes with an SSAT Practice Online account:

  • A mini SSAT practice test (free)
  • 3 full-length practice tests
  • 15 section tests
  • 4th full-length test (additional purchase)
  • Quizzes
  • Access to on-demand content
  • Other free resources

You do have to pay for the Practice Online. Currently, a one-year subscription (without the fourth practice test) is $69.95. That fourth practice test is an additional $19.99.

2) Official SSAT Guide Books*

If you'd rather work from a physical book, we recommend that students purchase an Official SSAT Guide Book (Middle or Upper Level).

Each book includes:

One of these texts is $59.95. The practice tests included in these books are exactly the same as those offered online through the SSAT Practice Online package.

So, which should you choose?

As the SSAT is administered on paper, we always encourage students to have a physical SSAT resource on-hand. However, the SSAT Practice Online can be useful for students who enroll in remote tutoring and/or wish for extra practice via quizzes.

3) Tutorverse Upper-Level SSAT Practice Questions

Tutorverse is a third-party test prep company, but that being said, we do find the practice questions in this text to be more reflective of SSAT questions than other materials.

Plus, there are a lot of them! This book comes with more practice questions than 10 official SSAT tests, spanning all content areas on the SSAT (Verbal, Reading, Quantitative, and Writing). This is the text we recommend our students purchase to complement their work with one of our SSAT experts.

This Tutorverse text does not include any strategies or instructional material. It contains only practice SSAT questions.

4) Success on the Upper-Level SSAT Course Book

Students seeking a supplementary text to official SSAT or Tutorverse content should consider this text by Test Prep Works. It includes content instruction, suggested strategies, drills, practice questions, and one full-length practice test.

While not comprehensive, this book will give SSAT students a great resource for building fundamentals, especially when it comes to basic strategies and content review.

5) IvyGlobal

IvyGlobal provides educational services to a wide range of students, including those preparing to take the SSAT. We find IvyGlobal's practice SSAT content to be quite reliable and reflective of official content, especially in comparison to content released by other third-party education companies.

Students can purchase workbooks in SSAT English and Math as well as a book of IvyGlobal SSAT practice tests. It is also possible to download free SSAT practice content on IvyGlobal's website.

6) The Princeton Review

For students seeking a more self-guided approach to preparing for the SSAT, the Princeton Review's Cracking the SSAT and ISEE workbook may be a great supplement. This text includes targeted strategies, quizzes, and practice exams, all delivered in an upbeat tone.

Be sure to select the most recent edition (i.e., the 2020 Edition) as the Princeton Review releases new SSAT workbooks every year.

Other Valuable SSAT Prep Resources

Remember: the SSAT tests specific content in addition to strategy and comprehension. The SSAT Math section, for example, is the most content-heavy of all the test's sections, so it's wise to supplement your SSAT prep with some straight-up content work!

Here are some great online resources for math content:

Success on the SSAT Verbal section requires a solid working vocabulary. Expand your word bank by making use of these Verbal resources:

  • Merriam Webster's Vocabulary Builder ($)
  • Membean ($)

Next Steps

The most effective SSAT test prep keeps in mind what makes this test unique: duration, content, and strategy. It also makes use of authoritative resources, including practice tests and content instruction.

We do recommend that students make use of official SSAT content when prepping for the test, but it is also possible to supplement preparation with other tools, especially when it comes to content review.

Of course, the best way to set your SSAT prep up for success is to work with professionals! We are always excited to match SSAT students with experts as they navigate this component of secondary school admissions.

Book your free SSAT consultation today!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.


Cancelling SAT Scores

Canceling SAT Scores: Should You Do It?

Canceling SAT Scores: Everything You Need to Know

Every SAT test-taker has the option of canceling their scores for a given test date.

This means that the College Board will effectively erase your scores. They will not appear on your record in any way, and you won't be able to report these SAT scores to colleges.

This is a permanent move! So why might you want to make it?

There are several reasons why canceling SAT scores may be a good idea, which we discuss in this post. If you do opt to cancel your scores, however, you have to act quickly and follow very specific guidelines.

Here's what cover in this post:

Canceling SAT Scores: What It Means

Yes, it is possible to cancel your SAT scores. But what does this actually mean?

Canceling your scores means all of the following:

  • You will not receive official scores for the SAT you've taken
  • The College Board will essentially not score your test 
  • If it has already scored your test, or part of it, the College Board will cancel those scores
  • Colleges won't ever be able to see these scores (and you won't either!)

Once you have submitted your request for cancellation, that's it--you won't be able to change your mind and request a rescoring. Because you'll never see these scores, they are also not eligible for SAT Superscoring or reporting to colleges.

It will be as if you never actually took the test itself!

This might sound like a pretty big decision to make, rare as it might be. We'll walk you through how to cancel your scores and then we'll discuss reasons why you might go this route after taking an official SAT.

How to Cancel Your SAT Scores

There are two ways you can cancel your SAT scores:

  • At the test center itself (on Test Day)
  • By mail or fax up to four weekdays after Test Day

1) At the Test Center

If you decide to cancel your scores on Test Day itself, all you need to do is ask the on-site test coordinator (often a proctor) for a Request to Cancel Test Scores form.

Fill out this form completely and return it to the test coordinator. The form requires students to submit all of the following information:

  • Official test date
  • Name and address
  • Birthdate
  • Registration number
  • Test center number and name
  • Name of the test you are canceling (includes SAT and SAT Subject Tests)
  • Signature and date

If you are canceling your scores due to sudden illness or equipment failure (such as a calculator malfunction), your proctor will have to fill out this little box at the bottom of the form:

Canceling SAT Scores

2) After Leaving the Test Center

Some students decide to cancel their scores after they leave the Test Center, either that very afternoon or within the next few days. You can still cancel your scores at this point, provided you do so by 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time on the fourth weekday following your test day.

The College Board encourages test-takers to confirm this deadline with their test coordinator.

Most students take the test on Saturday, so this would mean that you have until Thursday of the following week at 11:59 p.m. to cancel your scores.

There is an exception: if you are a student with disabilities testing in a school-based setting, you have until the next Monday after this official test date to cancel scores.

If you decide to cancel your stores after you've left the test center, download the Request to Cancel Test Scores form, complete it fully, and submit the form by fax or overnight mail delivery.

Canceling by fax:


Canceling by U.S. Postal Service Express Mail:

SAT Score Cancellation
P.O. Box 6228
Princeton, NJ 08541-6228

Canceling by any other overnight service:

SAT Score Cancellation
1425 Lower Ferry Road
Ewing, NJ 08618

Why can't you cancel online or over the phone? The College Board requires students' actual signatures for score cancellation, so this necessitates a paper submission.

Should I Cancel My Scores?

Now comes the big question: should you cancel your SAT scores?

On its website, the College Board states that you can cancel your scores "If you feel you didn't do your best on the SAT." This is a rather vague stipulation, however.

What does "your best" look like on the SAT? And how do you know if you've reached it without a score report in front of you?

These are tough questions to answer, especially because it's fairly normal for many test-takers to feel uncertain about their performance after an SAT. It's also virtually impossible to predict test scores based on "how you feel."

You may feel that you've bombed the SAT, for example, when the opposite is the case; conversely, you may feel that you've aced it, when, in reality, you haven't surpassed your goals.

We also like to remind students that many colleges allow students to Superscore, which means that they will only officially review a student's highest SAT section scores across test dates.

You might feel that you haven't performed to your full potential on an SAT. However, you might have done exceptionally well on one individual section (such as SAT Math), which can be valuable for Superscoring down the road. In this case, canceling your scores would be unwise, as it would preclude you from a potentially awesome Superscore.

So is there a situation when a student should cancel their scores?


Some students may fall ill during the exam itself or arrive at the test center very much under the weather. While it is possible to take the SAT when sick, illness can profoundly impact student performance. We've seen it happen time and time again.

The same goes for any equipment malfunction, such as a calculator going wonky or testing accommodation supports malfunctioning.

Thus, feel free to cancel your scores due to:

  • Illness or
  • Equipment failure / malfunction

These are unfortunate scenarios, and ones that definitely merit a score cancellation. But if you feel like canceling just because you felt it didn't go so well, hold off for now.

Frequently Asked Questions

Students often have a few more questions about score cancellation. Here are our answers.

Can I still cancel my scores if I took the test with accommodations?

Yes! It is possible to cancel scores from SATs taken with accommodations.

Your deadline for submitting a score cancellation form may be different, however, if you take the SAT on a non-standard Test Date. School-based test dates typically require submission by the Monday after the published test date.

What if I don't have access to a fax machine?

You can still send your cancellation form via overnight mail. Just make sure you use the right address based on the carrier you've chosen.

How many times can I cancel my scores?

The College Board does not state a limit to the number of times you can cancel. However, from a time and cost perspective, we caution students against canceling SAT scores more than once (and only due to illness or equipment failure).

Will I ever get to see the scores I've canceled?

Unfortunately, no. You won't be able to view these scores, and colleges will not be able to do so either.

What if my college(s) do not Superscore?

This is a good question.

However, many colleges encourage applicants to submit all of their official SAT scores. For this reason, we still encourage students to cancel their scores only due to illness or equipment failure.

Next Steps

It is possible to cancel your SAT scores, but we urge students to use this option only if they've experienced sudden illness or equipment malfunction.

Remember: it's perfectly natural to not feel as confident about one particular Test Day, especially if you are just starting your SAT journey. That's why we recommend that all high school students set aside the right amount of time for preparation and frequent practice tests.

What counts as a "good" SAT score? This is a natural next question to ask. Find our answer in this post here.

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SAT Question and Answer Service

The SAT Question and Answer Service: What You Need to Know

The SAT Question and Answer Service: What You Need to Know

Every year, the College Board administers seven SAT exams.

Students who take the SAT can expect to receive their multiple-choice scores 12-14 days after taking the test. Essay scores arrive a bit later (up to a week after).

These SAT score reports contain essential details about student scores, including section scores and percentile rankings.

However, they don't include information about the specific questions a student missed.

This might seem strange. After all, knowing how you can improve is a key part of any SAT study plan!

But the SAT is standardized, and the College Board is very careful about releasing any of its content to the public.

Luckily, students can learn more about the questions they missed through the SAT Question and Answer Service. This is a service available to test-takers of select exams.

What is the SAT Question and Answer Service? Should you use this service as an SAT test-taker?

We answer these questions and others in this post.

Here's what we cover:

A Typical SAT Score Report: What it Looks Like

SAT Score Report

About 12-14 days after taking the SAT, your scores should be available online. To access your scores, log in to your College Board account and view your online score report. This is free!

If you registered for the SAT by mail, you will receive a paper score report in the mail. The same is the case if you don't have an online College Board account. (Note: this takes a bit longer than online score releases.)

You can get your scores via the phone, but there is an additional fee for this.

What's on a typical SAT score report?

Basically, students can review all of the following on their score reports:

  • Total SAT score
  • Essay scores (if applicable)
  • Section scores
  • Percentile rankings (for section scores and total score)
  • Test scores, Cross-test scores, and Subscores (don't worry about these)

Total SAT ScoreTotal SAT Score

This is, naturally, the most important part of your SAT score report, and the score that most students care about! SAT total scores range from 400 to 1600.

Learn more about how scoring on the SAT works here.

Essay Scores

If you took the SAT Essay, your scores will appear in the same section as your total SAT score. Students receive a score for each of the three essay categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

Each category score ranges from 2 to 8. 2 is the lowest score you can receive in each category, while 8 is the highest. We talk about ways to maximize your SAT Essay score in a separate post.

SAT Section ScoresSection Scores

These refer to the scores students receive on a scale of 200-800 on the Verbal and Math sections of the SAT. Your Verbal score is calculated based on your performance on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing & Language Tests.

Your Math score is calculated based on your performance on two Math sections: No-Calculator and Calculator.

This section of the SAT score report also references whether or not you've surpassed specific benchmarks for each section, scores that "represent college readiness."


Students will be able to see two percentile rankings for their total SAT score and section scores on their score reports: their "Nationally Representative Sample Percentile" and their "SAT User Percentile."

Nationally representative sample percentiles refer to the percentage of students a test-taker has outperformed within a sample group. This group is derived from "a research study of U.S. students in grades 11 and 12 and are weighted to represent all U.S. students in those grades, regardless of whether they typically take the SAT."

Your SAT user percentile refers to the percentage of students you've out-performed who have taken the SAT in the last three graduating years.

SAT Question and Answer Service

Test, Cross-Test, and Subscores

These are designed to represent your performance on specific question types within each Test. You can use these to assess the type of skills you'll need to work on for future exams.

However, these do not reference the specific questions you missed in these areas.

In general, these can only broadly point to content areas and question types students will need to improve upon.

What's Missing

Students get to see a little bit more when they view their full score report online, including "score ranges" and "Skills Insights."

But SAT score reports do not include the specific questions missed in each section. Nor does a typical SAT score report identify the specific type or difficulty-level of these questions missed--key information for score improvement.

This may seem frustrating, but students do have an option here for viewing more details about the SAT questions they missed.

This is what the SAT Question and Answer Service is all about!

SAT Question and Answer Service: What is It?

The SAT Question and Answer Service is available for select SAT administrations. It's one of several options SAT test-takers have for what the College Board calls "verifying scores."

The Question and Answer Service gives students the following:

  • a copy of the SAT questions from a specific test administration
  • a report displaying your answers from the specific test administration
  • correct answers to these questions
  • "additional scoring instructions"
  • type and difficulty of test questions

The College Board clarifies that these SAT questions might not appear in the same order as they appeared on Test Day. This likely refers to their intention not to release exact replicas of the tests they've administered.

When is This Service Available?

The SAT Question and Answer Service is not an option for every administered SAT. It's only an option for three SATs each year, and even so, there are restrictions.

If you take the test on a Saturday in the U.S. or Canada, you can request this service for the following test dates:

  • October
  • March
  • May

If you have SAT testing accommodations and/or take the test anywhere except the U.S. and Canada, you can only request this service for a May test date.

The service is not available for any of the following:

  • Alternate test dates
  • Makeup test administrations
  • U.S. military personnel testing (under the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) program)

How Much Does It Cost?

Yes, you do have to pay for the Question and Answer Service.

As of 2020, it costs $18.00 to request this for eligible administrations. You can pay by check, money order, or credit/debit card.

How Do I Sign Up For The Q & A Service?

You can actually sign up for the Question and Answer Service when registering for the SAT!

It is also possible to order this service up to five months after you've taken the SAT on the available dates. To do this, simply log in to your College Board online account and select "Order Now" under "My Score Reports."

You can also order the service over the phone or by submitting this paper request form. You can request in this fashion up until five months after you've taken the SAT on the Q-&-A available dates.

Should I Use the SAT Question and Answer Service?

So, is the SAT Question and Answer Service right for you?

Certainly, given its restrictions, it might not be an option for some students, especially those who have testing accommodations or plan to take the test on an alternate test date.

However, this service could be a valuable tool IF:

  • you plan on taking the SAT at least one more time
  • the $18 fee is not prohibitive
  • you're taking the SAT in March, October, or May in the U.S. / Canada
  • you are taking the SAT in May with testing accommodations AND/OR
  • you want deeper insight into your SAT test performance

The College Board states on its website that "student answer verification services are not test prep or practice tools."

However, we definitely believe that this service can definitely be used for test prep purposes. By taking a deep dive into the type and difficulty of questions missed on all SAT sections, students can gain crucial insight into their strengths and weaknesses. This can tailor and hone their prep in the coming weeks and months.

In fact, several of our families have utilized this service with positive results.

If you do request this service, we recommend working through missed questions, identifying underlying errors, and practicing similar questions in your prep until you've achieved mastery. If you are working with a private SAT tutor, bring your Question and Answer Service report to your next session to identify further steps!

Remember: good test-taking habits develop by recognizing specific areas of learning opportunity. This is one of the reasons why our expert tutors look closely at missed homework and practice test questions with their students in crafting study plans.

Next Steps

The SAT Question and Answer Service can be used as a strategic tool for guiding further, effective SAT prep.

While it may only be available under select conditions, we encourage eligible students to make use of this resource if they are keen to maximize their SAT scores.

While it is possible to self-study for the SAT, the best way to demystify that Question and Answer Service report is to work with an expert. At PrepMaven, we are proud to connect SAT students with world-class tutors.

Reach out today for your free consultation!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

Princeton Courses for High School Students

Princeton Courses for High School Students

Princeton Courses for High School Students

Are you a high school student currently living in Princeton? 

If so, you’ve likely walked through the infamous Fitzrandolph gate at Princeton University, wandered the campus, and admired the historic architecture.

You may have even wondered what it might be like to actually take a Princeton class.

Most universities prioritize their enrolled student body when it comes to courses. But many offer substantial learning opportunities to community members, including high school students.

Princeton is not alone in this regard. 

Its community auditing program, discussed in this post, allows eligible community members to sit in on lectures for a minimal fee. It also offers high school students application-based research and school-affiliated learning opportunities.

If you are a high school student curious about Princeton’s academics, this post is for you!

We’ll discuss the following:

Princeton Courses for High School Students

Princeton Courses for High School Students
Source: Visit Princeton

Princeton University offers a wide variety of courses to its graduate and undergraduate students. 

These courses do not offer public, open enrollment to community members (although there is an auditing program, discussed later on in this post). 

If you’re a high school student, however, you may have the opportunity to enroll in select Princeton University undergraduate courses with the help of your guidance department.

Some local Princeton high schools offer courses that enable students to enroll in Princeton University classes for high school credit.

Princeton High School

At Princeton High School, juniors and seniors can register for Course H92021, PHS’s High School Program at Princeton University

This program allows eligible PHS students to apply for PU courses in “mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, world languages, computer science, and music (when special talent can be demonstrated)." PHS notes that “students must have exhausted all the courses the high school has to offer in the subject that they are applying to take a course at Princeton University.” 

While Princeton does not issue credits or transcripts to high school students, PHS awards high school credits for this program.

Ewing High School

Ewing High School’s Senior Experience program allows eligible seniors to pursue an independent study experience for high school credit. Seniors can volunteer, for example, seek out internships, or take college-level courses.

One recent student was able to take Spanish 107 through Princeton University given Ewing High School’s inability to offer AP Spanish that year. Here are his/her thoughts: 

“I was able to take the Spanish course through Senior Experience in place of AP Spanish. It wasn't through a program that Princeton itself offered; it's just that my guidance counselor also had connections at Princeton and was able to make the logistics work out. I met with Antonio Calvo and had a conversation with him so he could decide in which course to place me, and he selected SPA 107.”

West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District

Similar to Princeton High School, West Windsor offers a three-credit course (XXD) to rising juniors and seniors eager to take a class at Princeton University. 

Through this course, eligible students can enroll in a Princeton University class in “mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, foreign languages, computer science and music (when special talent can be demonstrated).”

Keep in Mind

Most schools stress the challenge of taking a university course on top of a full high school schedule. Here’s what Princeton High School has to say to students applying to its High School Program at Princeton University, for example:

“Students are cautioned to seriously consider the impact a university schedule may have on accommodating their desired high school program, especially because they are semester-based and will replace several periods in their PHS schedule.”

Secondly, Princeton has very strict requirements when it comes to high school student enrollment. WWPHS emphasizes that

“Princeton University provides WWPHS students with the opportunity to take their courses as a courtesy. The intent is to offer courses to a limited number of exceptional students who meet their criteria and follow the application procedures. The student must have completed all the courses that WWPHS has to offer in the subject they are applying to take at Princeton.”

It’s also important to note that taking courses at Princeton University as a high school student does not give you an advantage for undergraduate admission. The same goes for signing up for multiple summer programs at Princeton.

Enrollment in courses and programs doesn’t give anyone a better shot at admissions. In fact, it can be fairly obvious to admissions officers when students are “overdoing” it in this department.

Our advice? Take advantage of Princeton courses for high school students only if it serves you and your current learning path. 

Classroom Visits & Campus Tours

Map of Princeton University
Source: IAC - Princeton University

High school students wanting to learn more about Princeton are more than welcome to sign up for a general campus tour, called an Orange Key tour

In some cases, tour attendants may be able to sit in on a class before or after the tour, depending on offerings available the day of the tour. Be sure to inquire about this possibility when signing up for a tour.

Students can also attend information sessions if they are curious about admission. These sessions are offered Monday - Friday, while Orange Key tours are available seven days a week, year-round.

High school students interested in an engineering path can visit engineering courses at Princeton during the academic year (fall and spring semesters).

Princeton University’s Laboratory Learning Program

This “full-time, free research experience in the sciences or engineering” is available to students 16 and older at the time of applying. 

If accepted to this program, high school students participate in a research project with faculty members and fellow researchers for 7-10 weeks in the summer. Research opportunities vary every year.

Here’s a glimpse of summer 2019’s research projects, available in natural sciences and engineering:

  • Denitrification in biological reactors and wetlands
  • Machine learning on combustion
  • Yielding in semicrystalline polymers
  • The genetic and neurobiological underpinnings of social behavior
  • Fluidics and optics in biophysics
  • Cognitive and neural mechanisms of human sociality

Students can specify up to two projects they’re interested in when applying in the spring prior to the Laboratory Learning program’s start.

High school students do not receive any kind of academic credit for participating in this program. However, it can be a valuable experience for engaging with like-minded peers, experiencing Princeton laboratories, and working with renowned faculty on topics they are passionate about.

Princeton’s Community Auditing Program (CAP)

For high school students 18 years of age or older, it is possible to enroll in Princeton’s Community Auditing Program (CAP). 

CAP participants can sit in on course lectures for a fee of $200 per course.

You won’t receive credit for any courses you audit. Auditors are also not permitted to join in on discussion or seminar groups, take exams, or participate in labs. In fact, they are only able to communicate with the CAP office (not Princeton faculty).

However, auditors have 150-175 courses to choose from! 

Even without the supplemental discussion groups, Princeton lectures are generally pretty stimulating and enlightening. Plus, most auditors will have access to syllabi, lecture notes, and recommended assignments.

It is important to note that CAP’s rules are fairly strict. Be sure to review these before signing up.

Next Steps

Princeton courses for high school students may be available through select guidance departments. If your high school offers such an opportunity, be sure to read those prerequisites carefully and meet with your guidance counselor to ensure a PU course is right for you.

If your high school does not offer an official course, check in with your guidance counselor. He/she will at the very least be able to offer insight and potentially connect high school students with appropriate faculty.

We want to emphasize again that Princeton courses for high school students do not offer an admissions advantage. Nor should they be seen as opportunities to make an application competitive. Seek out a Princeton course only if it fits into the scope of your current learning path.

In the meantime, if you’re keen to explore Princeton University’s academic setting further, we recommend a campus tour and/or classroom visits (for engineering students). 

Eligible students may also wish to apply for the Laboratory Learning summer program at Princeton or other summer opportunities.

Planning an extended visit to Princeton University? Get your insider’s look here!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

How to Get That High SAT Essay Score (1)

Get That High SAT Essay Score With These Tips

Get That High SAT Essay Score With These Tips

You’ve decided to take the optional SAT Essay. You’re familiar with the essay’s format and instructions.

Now what does it take to get that high SAT Essay score?

The SAT Essay presents test-takers with a challenging task. Students must analyze an author’s argument and write a response that discusses the components of that argument.

AP English and SAT test prep students are at an advantage here. But keep in mind that the SAT Essay comes last, when students’ brains are already pretty tired! 

The good news? It is possible to achieve that amazing SAT essay score.

In this post, we’ll teach you how to use those 50 minutes to get closer to that perfect score.

Here’s what we cover:

The Anatomy of a Perfect SAT Essay

As a reminder, the SAT Essay requires students to read an argumentative essay and then analyze how the author uses various techniques to build his/her argument.  

It includes three parts:  SAT Essay Parts In our post The SAT Essay: What to Expect, we emphasize what SAT essay readers look for when grading student essays. You can find a detailed SAT essay rubric here.

What does a perfect SAT essay look like? 

Here’s a simple and effective skeleton structure that addresses all the key areas of the rubric.   SAT Essay Response Skeleton Structure

Notice how this skeleton structure looks a lot like a standard five-paragraph essay structure, commonly taught in high school.

Keep in mind, however, that on the SAT Essay, most students will likely only have time to compose two body paragraphs.  Plus, the introduction and conclusion paragraphs can consist of as few as two sentences.

Breakdown of a Perfect SAT Essay Response

Now, take a look at this SAT essay response that scored a 4 in each of the three categories: Analysis, Reading, and Writing. 

Notice how this response follows the skeleton structure we have just outlined.

The Prompt

Write an essay in which you explain how Paul Bogard builds an argument to persuade his audience that natural darkness should be preserved. In your essay, analyze how Bogard uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

[Find the full reading selection for this task here.]


  • Sentence 1: Restates the argument
  • Sentence 2: Thesis statement with three argument techniques

In response to our world’s growing reliance on artificial light, writer Paul Bogard argues that natural darkness should be preserved in his article “Let There be dark”. He effectively builds his argument by using a personal anecdote, allusions to art and history, and rhetorical questions.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Sentence 1: Topic statement including argument technique and quote evidence of the technique
  • Sentence 2: Paraphrases quote and explain the effect on the audience
  • Sentence 3, 4: Continues to explain the effect of argument technique on the audience, the persuasive value of technique, and includes an additional quote reference
  • Sentence 5: Conclusion sentence

[1] Bogard starts his article off by recounting a personal story – a summer spent on a Minnesota lake where there was “woods so dark that [his] hands disappeared before [his] eyes.” [2] In telling this brief anecdote, Bogard challenges the audience to remember a time where they could fully amass themselves in natural darkness void of artificial light. [3] By drawing in his readers with a personal encounter about night darkness, the author means to establish the potential for beauty, glamour, and awe-inspiring mystery that genuine darkness can possess. [4] He builds his argument for the preservation of natural darkness by reminiscing for his readers a first-hand encounter that proves the “irreplaceable value of darkness.” [5] This anecdote provides a baseline of sorts for readers to find credence with the author’s claims.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Sentence 1: Topic statement includes argument type and includes two examples of the argument
  • Sentence 2,3,4: Explains the persuasive value of example 1 and effect on the audience
  • Sentence 5: Discusses example 2 and restates quote evidence
  • Sentence 6, 7, 8, 9: Paraphrases content relevant to example, explains the persuasive value of example 2, explains how the technique and example build the argument

[1] Bogard’s argument is also furthered by his use of allusion to art – Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” – and modern history – Paris’ reputation as “The City of Light”. [2] By first referencing “Starry Night”, a painting generally considered to be undoubtedly beautiful, Bogard establishes that the natural magnificence of stars in a dark sky is definite. [3] A world absent of excess artificial light could potentially hold the key to a grand, glorious night sky like Van Gogh’s according to the writer. [4] This urges the readers to weigh the disadvantages of our world consumed by unnatural, vapid lighting. [5] Furthermore, Bogard’s alludes to Paris as “the famed ‘city of light’”. [6] He then goes on to state how Paris has taken steps to exercise more sustainable lighting practices. [7] By doing this, Bogard creates a dichotomy between Paris’ traditionally alluded-to name and the reality of what Paris is becoming – no longer “the city of light”, but more so “the city of light…before 2 AM”. [8] This furthers his line of argumentation because it shows how steps can be and are being taken to preserve natural darkness. [9] It shows that even a city that is literally famous for being constantly lit can practically address light pollution in a manner that preserves the beauty of both the city itself and the universe as a whole.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Sentence 1: Topic statement includes an argument technique
  • Sentence 2: Includes quote that includes evidence of the technique in action
  • Sentence 3,4: Explains the persuasive value of example 1 and effect on the audience
  • Sentence 5: Emphasizes how technique builds the argument

[1] Finally, Bogard makes subtle yet efficient use of rhetorical questioning to persuade his audience that natural darkness preservation is essential. [2] He asks the readers to consider “what the vision of the night sky might inspire in each of us, in our children or grandchildren?” in a way that brutally plays to each of our emotions. [3] By asking this question, Bogard draws out heartfelt ponderance from his readers about the affecting power of an untainted night sky. This rhetorical question tugs at the readers’ heartstrings; while the reader may have seen an unobscured night skyline before, the possibility that their child or grandchild will never get the chance sways them to see as Bogard sees. [4] This strategy is definitively an appeal to pathos, forcing the audience to directly face an emotionally-charged inquiry that will surely spur some kind of response. [5] By doing this, Bogard develops his argument, adding guttural power to the idea that the issue of maintaining natural darkness is relevant and multifaceted.


  • Sentence 1: Restates the argument
  • Sentence 2: Restates thesis statement with three argument techniques

Writing as a reaction to his disappointment that artificial light has largely permeated the presence of natural darkness, Paul Bogard argues that we must preserve true, unaffected darkness. He builds this claim by making use of a personal anecdote, allusions, and rhetorical questioning.

The College Board also has other sample responses to this prompt. We recommend viewing these as well.

Your Game Plan for Writing a Stellar SAT Essay

What steps can you take to get that perfect SAT essay score? Here’s your game plan!

Step 1: Read and Annotate (~ 3-5 minutes)

Read carefully and mark up your text before diving into your response. Underline the author’s central claim.  

Pay particular attention to the author’s argument techniques and make sure to underline evidence of these in action.

Step 2:  Make an Outline and Thesis Statement (~ 3-5 minutes)

Consider 2 or more key argument techniques, and connect these techniques to 

  • Specific examples from the text (IMPORTANT!)
  • The purpose and effect of these techniques on the audience (IMPORTANT!)

If you have done this step properly, your essay will almost write itself. You must also study and prepare argument strategies and purposes of these strategies before the test.  

In the next section, we will show you common argument strategies and their purposes.

Backup Thesis: If you are completely lost, you can almost always use this emergency thesis statement format:

In [essay], [author] uses a combination of evidence and emotional appeals to build his/her argument.

Step 3:  Write! (~ 35 minutes)

Follow a standard Intro + Body Paragraph + Conclusion model, using tips from our skeleton structure. 

We also recommend integrating advanced vocabulary and transition words (discussed later on in this post).

Step 4:  Revise! (~2-3 minutes)

Make sure to take a couple of minutes at the end to revise your essay for spelling, grammar, and, if possible, content.

You won't be marked off for individual grammatical errors. However, if these errors impede the reader's understanding of your response, you will lose points!

10 Argument Techniques to Use in Your Essay

The SAT Essay prompt ultimately tests students’ knowledge of argument techniques. These are the "building blocks" that make an argument compelling and persuasive.

We highly recommend you study commonly used argumentative /persuasive techniques and their purposes before you take the SAT Essay. 

Remember: a successful essay states the techniques used in the text and analyzes these techniques. It also thoroughly explains their impact on the reader.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a great start! Whenever you’re reading an article/essay with a main claim of any kind, see if you can detect these techniques in action.   

Strategy Purpose/Effect
Data / Evidence

  • Facts
  • Statistics
  • Quotations
  • experimental data
  • Examples
  • Lends credibility to an argument
  • Adds evidence to support a claim
  • Allows the audience to make conclusions on their own

Vivid language / Compelling Word Choice

  • Precisely chosen, powerful words
  • Evocative adjectives
  • Strong verbs
  • Emphasizes claim 
  • Appeals to the audience's emotion(s)
  • Heightens the impact of words on the audience
  • Puts the reader in the author’s shoes and draws them into the passage
  • Makes the topic more interesting and engaging for the reader

Figurative language 

  • Metaphors
  • Similes
  • Personification
  • Anaphora
  • Hyperbole
  • Allusion
  • Engages the reader’s attention
  • Establishes connections between words and images in new and distinct ways
  • Engages the reader by making the topic more interesting
Appeal to emotion  (fear/pride/etc…)
  • Serves as an emotional call to action
  • Raises stakes of the argument
  • Effective persuasion often involves tapping into the emotions of those reading/listening!
Allusion (referring to a well-known story, event, person, object)
  • Makes a comparison in readers' minds 
  • Can very efficiently and effectively connect the author’s idea to other familiar powerful ideas
Juxtaposition (contrast)
  • Uses contrast to heighten a claim's emphasis
  • Appeals to emotion 
  • Engages the audience’s imagination and senses
  • Makes claim more relatable and interesting to the audience
  • Engages the audience’s empathy and understanding
  • Lends further credibility to the author
  • Addresses audience doubts using the author’s own reasoning
  • Makes the author seem more objective and trustworthy
Direct Address
  • Appeals to the reader
  • Perhaps offers a call to action
  • Heightens the impact of content through direct engagement
Explanation of Evidence
  • Walks readers through the reasoning process to help arrive at the author’s conclusion

Quick Tips to Improve Writing Quality

What are some other ways you can improve your SAT essay score?

We recommend using advanced vocabulary and transition words.

Transition Words 

Transition words show the relationship between ideas. They can improve the flow and organization of your essay. 

This chart shows transition words that connect similar, contrasting, and cause-and-effect ideas.  

Similar Contrast Cause and Effect




In addition


For example/instance


In other words







Even so 














By/In Contrast

On the contrary

On the other hand


As a result





Doing so will impress your SAT essay reader and influence your writing score.

Advanced Word Choice

Another way to quickly improve your writing score is to arm yourself with a very specific set of strong vocabulary words and phrases before the essay.  

You should certainly keep working on building your overall vocabulary. A shortcut for the SAT Essay, however, is to build a strong vocabulary that is related to the specific writing task (analyzing an argument and its effectiveness) and prepare to use strong words and phrases on the essay.  

Here’s a sample set of effective essay words.

Vivid Cogent Synthesis Narrative
Evidence Meticulous Juxtapose Contrast
Credibility Precision Deliberate Pathos
Central Claim Subsequent Claim Cite Appeal
Call to Action Build Argument / Further Argument Refer Convey
Evince Manifest Communicate Exhibit
Rhetorical Efficacy Analytic Power Argumentative Technique Emotional Resonance
Motivates Inspires Emphasizes Support

Other writing tips that can improve your score:

  • Write legibly.
  • Write more than one page! Quality is always better than quantity, but your analysis should be substantial. 

Next Steps

The SAT Essay task may feel daunting, but now you have a range of strategies for improving your score. 

In addition to these strategies, we strongly recommend that students regularly practice SAT essay responses. Doing so with the help of a professional instructor can be particularly beneficial.

At Princeton Tutoring, our SAT tutors are at the ready to help students become more fluent in the SAT essay and raise their scores. 

Book your free consultation now!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SAT Testing Dates 2020

SAT Testing Dates 2020: What You Need to Know

SAT Testing Dates 2020: What You Need to Know

Each academic year (August - June), the College Board administers seven SAT exams.

When you take the SAT does matter, especially if you are a junior or a senior.

In fact, identifying an official SAT testing date is the first step in crafting an effective SAT study plan.

This can also be vital in determining how many times you need to take the SAT. Most of our students take the SAT at least twice, which grants them the opportunity to SuperScore and maximize their sectional and composite scores.

Locating those testing dates on the College Board's website, however, isn't so intuitive. In this regularly updated post, we specify upcoming SAT testing dates, registration deadlines, and more so that you can get a jumpstart on your prep.

In this post, we discuss:

Standard SAT Testing Dates 2020

Standard SAT testing dates refer to SATs administered on designated Saturdays throughout the academic year, at specific testing locations. Students can also take SAT subject tests on these days, depending on what is offered.

Here are the standard SAT administrations and registration deadlines for the first part of 2020:

SAT Test Date 2020 Registration Deadline Subject Tests Offered?
March 14, 2020 February 14, 2020 No
May 2, 2020 April 3, 2020 Yes
June 6, 2020 May 8, 2020 Yes
August 2020 - TBD TBD TBD
October 2020 - TBD TBD TBD
November 2020 - TBD TBD TBD
December 2020 - TBD TBD TBD

Plenty of SAT test-takers sit for the exam at their schools. "SAT School Days," as they are called, are SAT administrations offered at high schools on weekdays.

Schools and districts get to decide if they want to administer an SAT School Day, so have a conversation with your school counselor to see if you'll be able to participate in one. You do not need to register for the SAT online to participate in an SAT School Day--students sign up with their counselors.

You will, however, have to set up a College Board account in order to eventually submit your scores to colleges.

Here are the SAT School Day Administration Dates for spring 2020:

SAT School Day Administration Dates - Spring 2020
March 4, 2020
March 25, 2020
April 14, 2020
April 28, 2020

How to Register for the SAT

If you are taking a standard SAT administration, you'll have to register either online or by submitting a mail-in registration form.

We recommend registering online, as this will give you the fastest access to scores and submission processes. However, some students may have to register by mail.

Registering Online

The first thing you'll need to do is create a free College Board account online. (Note: your parents / counselor cannot do this for you.)

After you've created an account, it's time to start the registration process. Log into your account and navigate to this page here. Follow the steps in the registration process, making sure to input your full legal name or whatever matches your ID.

The registration process will also ask if you want to be a part of Student Search, a service that gives select information about you to colleges so that you can be eligible for information and scholarships. If you opt into this service, you'll have to answer a few questions.

Next, decide whether or not to sign up for the SAT essay. (Hint: we generally recommend it!)

You'll then have to upload a photo ID. The requirements are pretty strict for this, so be sure to follow them to a tee. After this, you'll be able to pay your registration fee and print your admission ticket, which you'll need on Test Day.

Note: Students with SAT testing accommodations will need to input their SSD number, found on their eligibility letter, during the registration process.

Registering By Mail

You'll need to register for the SAT by mail if you are:

  • Younger than 13 years of age
  • Requesting Sunday testing for the first time
  • Not able to upload a digital photo ID
  • Paying your registration fee by check or money order
  • Using an SAT international representative to register (international students only)

If you need to register by mail, ask your school counselor for a Student Registration Booklet for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. This includes your registration form and envelope.

Find more details about mail-in registration requirements here.

When Should I Take the SAT?

Our students ask this question a lot, and for good reason. It can be unclear when to begin the college prep journey, especially when it comes to standardized tests.

Most students take the SAT for the first time in their junior year of high school. We further recommend that students sit for the exam for the first time in the fall or winter of their junior year, especially if they have completed Algebra 2 and Trigonometry by this date.

This also allows for second or third testing dates in the spring of junior year and/or fall of senior year, leaving plenty of breathing room for college applications.

Regardless, we encourage students to take the SAT following at least three months of intensive prep. We also recommend at least one more exam after this first official so students can be eligible for SAT SuperScore (and the highest score possible).

We've put together some SAT testing schedules to make it easy for students to determine the SAT testing date that makes sense given their prep trajectory.

Next Steps

Now that you know the SAT testing dates for 2020, it's time to get ready for your next official SAT.

You can do this on your own, or you can get started by working with one of our expert tutors. In fact, one-on-one SAT prep can be the most effective way to get closer to your dream score in a short amount of time.

Learn more about SAT private tutoring here.

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

The Secondary Schools Admissions Test (SSAT) is a common requirement for students applying to select private schools.

There's a lot that goes into preparing for the SSAT, which we do our best here at PrepMaven to assist with.

But there's one part of SSAT prep that students may not be aware of: the SSAT Character Skills Snapshot. This additional, twenty-minute assessment gives schools yet another benchmark with which to assess applicants.

The Snapshot is a free add-on for students sitting for the SSAT. Those who aren't taking the SSAT must pay a fee to take the assessment.

What exactly is this Snapshot, and what do you need to know about it? We answer these questions and several more in this comprehensive post.

Here's what we cover:

The SSAT Character Skills Snapshot: The Nutshell

There's more to the SSAT than just the test itself. Students have the option of taking the SSAT Character Skills Snapshot, an additional online assessment that is meant to give schools a "richer holistic view" of an applicant.

Here's what says about the Snapshot on its website:

It measures your student's view of his/her character skill development and is meant to complement more traditional cognitive assessments such as the SSAT. The Character Skills Snapshot gives admission teams additional information and illuminates areas where their schools can help your student grow, thrive, and shine. 

Also according to, the SSAT Character Skills Snapshot tests a wide range of character traits, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Teamwork
  • Social Awareness
  • Resilience
  • Self-Control
  • Openmindedness
  • Initiative
  • Intellectual engagement

You can check out the Character Skills Card for more details here.

This online assessment takes approximately twenty minutes to complete, and can be completed in one sitting at home. Students who are in grades 5 through 11 applying to grades 6-12 are eligible to take the Snapshot. admits that the Snapshot may not be representative of the full scope of a student's character:

The Snapshot is meant to provide a snapshot in time of your student's view of his/her character skills - it is not a fixed, absolute measure.

While we agree that it's pretty challenging to assess a person's full character in twenty minutes, the Snapshot can provide potentially valuable information not otherwise able to be gleaned from other parts of an application.

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot Sample Questions

This may all sound well and good, but what do students have to do in those twenty minutes it takes to complete the assessment?

Luckily, the does provide some sample questions students can peruse in anticipation of taking the Snapshot. Students can expect to encounter two types of questions on this assessment:

  1. Forced-choice
  2. Situational judgments

Forced-choice questions ask students to choose responses to certain statements based off of what they feel describes them best. Here is an example:

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

Students shouldn't overthink these questions--simply identify what you feel best reflects you!

Situational judgments present a general situation and ask students to assess the appropriateness of responses to this situation. Here is an example:

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

Once again, don't try to overthink these questions--simply identify what you personally feel represents an appropriate / inappropriate / neutral response to the described situation.

Who Uses This?

The SSAT Character Skills Snapshot gives schools supplemental information about applicants that may or may not be present in other application materials.

It is essentially designed to complement existing materials, which include the following:

  • application essay(s)
  • SSAT scores
  • transcripts
  • and interviews

However, not all schools require that applicants take the Snapshot! In fact, it's best to consult your schools of choice prior to taking the Snapshot to see what role it plays in the admissions process. does provide a School List of private institutions, but still encourages applicants to contact admissions offices to see if the Snapshot is required.

If a school does require applicants to submit the Snapshot, admissions officers are likely to use Snapshot Reports very differently. Some may place a lot of emphasis on it, while others may not--similar to the way that officers analyze SSAT scores!

For example, the Lawrenceville School strongly recommends that applicants take the Character Skills Snapshot. Here's what it says on its website:

All applicants to Lawrenceville are strongly recommended to submit the Character Skills Snapshot. Lawrenceville is more than just a place where you will learn math, English and science. We believe the reason you are considering Lawrenceville is because you’re interested in an education that goes beyond the classroom and encourages personal growth. Similarly, we know that you are much more than grades and test scores. That’s why we’re asking you to take the Character Skills Snapshot, which looks at eight non-cognitive areas, and will hopefully be a fun, exploratory exercise for applicants. For the applicants who submit it, the CSS will provide us with richer information about you, and show us areas where our community can help you grow, thrive, and shine. 

Registering for the Snapshot

It's relatively straightforward to register for the Character Skills Snapshot.

If you are registering for the SSAT exam, simply click the "Snapshot" link on the homepage of your parent/guardian account to register for this as well.

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

Parents will have to review a consent form and candidate agreement form to complete Snapshot registration.

Registration is free if you are an SSAT test-taker. You can still take the Snapshot if you aren't signed up for an SSAT exam, but you'll have to pay a fee of $35 to do so.

Please note: You can only register for the SSAT Snapshot through a parent/guardian account. You can only take the Snapshot via a student account.

Taking the Snapshot Assessment

Once you've registered for the Character Skills Assessment, you can essentially take it whenever you wish. The assessment is on-demand, meaning it is designed to be taken at leisure.

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot

We recommend that students take the Snapshot as soon as possible, to ensure on-time reporting. Getting it out of the way will also free up time for your SSAT prep!

When you're ready to take the assessment, all you have to do is log in to your student SSAT account. On your homepage, you'll see a "Take the Snapshot" icon. Click this, submit the integrity statement, and begin the Snapshot. It's as easy as that!

Sending Snapshot Reports to Schools

Students receive a Snapshot Report after they've completed the Snapshot, but this doesn't necessarily happen right away. Reports are released according to a very specific schedule outlines on its website:

SSAT Character Skills Snapshot_Reports

So, as an example, if you take the Snapshot on February 7th, 2020, you'll be able to view your Report on February 13th, 2020.

To view reports, navigate to the homepage of a parent/guardian SSAT account. Click "View Results Details" under the section that states that Snapshot Results are ready to view.

We encourage parents to download a PDF of these reports, in case schools request (for any reason) a paper copy.

From here, you'll be able to search for schools that accept the Snapshot and submit the Report directly through this portal. For more information, view's guide to sending Snapshot Reports here.

Next Steps

The SSAT Character Skills Snapshot gives schools a greater sense of applicants' perspectives of the world and others. It can also be a valuable addition to other required application materials, such as application materials and SSAT scores.

Remember that taking the Snapshot is free if you're registered for an SSAT exam. We recommend that families register for the Snapshot when signing up for the SSAT itself, just to be safe.

At Prep Maven, we are here to help students experience success on the SSAT and beyond. Learn more about working with an expert SSAT tutor today!

Kate_Princeton Tutoring_AuthorBio Kate M.

Kate is a graduate of Princeton University (B.A. in English Literature and Interdisciplinary Humanities) and Boston University (M.F.A in Creative Writing). Over the last decade, Kate has successfully mentored hundreds of students in all aspects of the college admissions process, including the SAT, ACT, and college application essay.