We often ask, “What‘s the right test to take?”
While we wish there was a concrete answer to this question, it depends on each student’s circumstances. That being said, there are several factors to take into account when deciding which ACT or SAT test date a student should sit for.
The ACT and SAT are administered six and seven times a year, respectively. That means students have several options and can figure out which test date(s) they want to work toward.
First, we want to dispel a common misconception: From a scoring perspective, there is no advantage to taking one test date over another. The scale for the January administration is not more favorable than the March or any other administration and vice-a-versa. Both the ACT and SAT are designed to negate variances in difficulty and student performance. The scaled score gives college admissions officers an apples-to-apples comparison regardless of when an applicant took the ACT or SAT.
Students should take into account the following four guidelines when deciding which ACT or SAT test date to take.
Plan to take either the ACT or SAT more than once. It’s great if students can go “one and done,” but don’t plan on it. Leaving time to only take either test once puts an increased amount of pressure on one administration. With the experience of taking the exam (and hopefully scoring well) comes significantly less anxiety surrounding the second administration. As a result, scores often improve the second time around. With this strategy in mind, students should leave adequate time to review between tests and work on areas that need improvement from the first administration.
We do not advocate taking either the ACT or SAT unprepared. Although both the tests have score choice policies that allow students to submit their best scores regardless of the number of times they take the test, these policies are not universally accepted by all colleges. Additionally, it’s important for students to have comfort with the underlying academic fundamentals, test taking strategies and appropriate pacing that will allow them to excel on the test. In order to gain this comfort, students should plan to put in the appropriate amount of preparation and have experience taking full length practice tests. Walking into the test unprepared results in sub-par scores and ultimately even more anxiety about the ACT or SAT.
Performing at a high level on the ACT or SAT requires focus. The workload during junior year and first semester of senior year is demanding. Additionally, many students are busy with extracurricular activities such as sports, theater and clubs. Students should look ahead at the syllabus for final exams and big projects. Similarly, the time devoted to most extracurricular activities ebbs and flows based on a predetermined schedule. When are the deadlines for yearbook? What are the dates of the school play or soccer playoffs? Plan to take the ACT or SAT at times of the year when the schedule is not filled with other commitments.
We recognize that most students want to be done with standardized tests by the time senior year rolls around so they can enjoy the summer and focus on college applications as the school year resumes. That being said, there is nothing wrong with planning to sit for the ACT or SAT in the fall. The scores will still be available in time for college application deadlines. In terms of preparation for students taking the fall administrations, we recommend review throughout the summer with the focus on diligent preparation and practice resuming in August.