With the SAT now offered many times throughout the year, finding the right test date can be daunting. The process only becomes more daunting when you factor in college visits, AP tests, extracurricular activities, and, possibly, the ACT. Here is some preliminary advice about how to design an optimal testing schedule for junior and senior year.
Before I go into all of the details, I will give you what I feel is the best testing schedule. Students should take their first SATs in January or March off junior year, their second SATs in May, and then, if needed, their third SATs in October of senior year.
These days, most students take the PSAT in October of their junior year, then take the SAT two or three times after that. PSAT results come back in December, so the first test that it makes sense for a junior to take is in January.
The January test is a good first test to take. First of all, the January test, along with the May and October tests, offers the “Question-and-Answer Service” (“QAS”). This program allows you to get back a copy of the actual test you took. So not only do know which and how many questions you got right and wrong, but you can also go over those actual questions with a teacher or tutor to identify weak points. This process is extremely helpful in creating a tutoring program for later tests. Secondly, the January test occurs early enough in the college application process that a student has two or even three opportunities (March, May, and October of senior year) to improve his or her score.
After the January test, the next ideal test date is the May date. Waiting until May for the next test gives a student time to complete a full tutoring program once the January scores have been released and reviewed. While the January date is a good opportunity to “get your feet wet” with the SAT, the May date is a good time to try get your best score. If you do get a great score in May, great! You don’t have to worry about testing in your senior year, and you focus all of your energy on college applications. And if you don’t get the score you want, you still have October of senior year as a backup and an entire summer to prepare.
There is an SAT offered in June, but I do not recommend it. The SAT Subject Tests are offered in June and you will probably want to reserve the June date for those tests. Since June is the end of the school year, you will just have completed the courses on which you are taking those subject tests, so all of the material will be fresh in your memeory. The one exception to this recommendation regards students who are taking a lot of AP exams, all of which occur in the middle of May. For these students, the May SAT may simply be too much to handle. These students should possibly consider taking the June SAT, or, if they still want to take the subject test in June, they should skip the Spring SATs entirely and wait until the Fall.
Honestly, the October date is often the time when students get their best scores. If you are applying early decision, October is probably your last chance to take the test. I have often seen that with that motivation, students really get into high gear for the October test, realizing that “hey, this is it, I have to study hard for this.” If one is not applying early decision, then the November and December tests are also options.
Of course, you should also consider when your or your child’s schedule permits time for proper test preparation. You probably don’t want to pick the test date that comes during the busiest sports season or the week before the big play performance. Test preparation is only effective if enough time is committed to it.
The ACT testing schedule also comes into play when planning for the SAT. If you want to try out both tests and see which one works best for you, then take the SAT in January, then the ACT in February. Based on those results, pick one test on which to focus your preparation. If you try to prepare for both tests concurrently, you will drive yourself crazy, and your schoolwork will probably suffer as a result.
There is one final point I would like to make. A lot of families ask if their child should take the test in January to “get it out of the way” before school and the college process get really hard. While this question is understandable, I will almost guarantee that no student will get his or her best SAT score in January of junior year. First of all, most students naturally improve their test scores just by taking the test more than once; students generally do their best on their second testings. Secondly, the last two years of high school are a time when students are rapidly maturing, both intellectually and emotionally. Most students I work with, while serious, don’t have quite the same motivation to do test preparation when the college application process isn’t yet imminent. Taking the January test is a good idea, but you should resign yourself to at least one more testing after that.
I hope this helps you in your test planning process.