When should my child take the SAT/ACT? The short answer is: It depends on the specific student. Unfortunately, not every body will tell you this. Many college/guidance counselors will tell you that your child should take the SAT/ACT is during the spring of junior year. This misinformation is largely due to The College Board, which has the following posted on its website: “Most students take the SAT during their junior or senior year of high school.” The College Board also wrongly tells students to take the SAT in the spring so they can get the added benefit of taking the PSAT (students take the PSAT in mid October and receive scores in December), because the PSAT is the best way for students to prepare for the SAT. The best way to study for the SAT is to actually practice taking real SAT exams. The College Board provides a free full-length SAT exam on its website and also provides a study guide with additional practice exams that can be found at most major bookstores..so there is really no need to wait for your child to take the PSAT to get an accurate baseline.
While most high school students may take the SAT/ACT in the spring doesn’t necessarily mean that your child should do the same thing, because every child is different. Let’s say that your child is a competitive student who gets top grades and will be taking several AP/IB classes junior year. Their goal is to attend a highly ranked/selective college. Let’s go through 4 reasons in which taking the exam for this scenario during the spring would be a bad idea:
1. Difficulty of Junior Year: Junior year is the hardest year of high school. As the year progresses, junior year only gets harder…especially for students who are advanced classes. Spring of junior year is arguably the most stressful time for students. (AP/IB exams, finals exams, research papers/projects). Rather than overloading your child in the Spring, it might make sense for them to take the SAT/ACT exam earlier junior year when they have more time.
2. Subject Tests: Many selective schools require applicants to take 2 subject tests. If your child takes the SAT during the spring, they may have a hard time fitting in the subject tests, especially if your child plans to take the SAT/ACT a second time. By taking the exam earlier (fall or winter of junior year), your child will have more time to study for and take these exams.
3. PSAT/NMSQT Scholarship: Students who score high enough on junior year PSAT have an opportunity to receive scholarship money for college. Competitive students who are really serious about the scholarship usually study for the SAT between the summer of sophomore and junior year in preparation for the October SAT. These students then turn around and take the PSAT a week later in mid-Ocober, thus killing to birds with one stone. When students study for the SAT, they are also studying for the PSAT as well; both exams have very similar formats and almost identical question types. The only major difference is that the PSAT is half the length of the SAT. Waiting to take the SAT in the spring after putting serious attention into the PSAT in the fall wouldn’t make any sense…especially for competitive students who have a host of other things to worry about like AP and Subject tests.
4. Senior Year/College Applications: Many of my students who apply to selective schools want to complete everything on the early side. Your child may be like this as well and may not want the SAT/ACT looming over their senior year when they would rather be focusing on college applications. Additionally, your child may want to apply early application to a certain school…all the more reason to get the exam over with before senior year begins.
This super-competitive student scenario may not apply to your child, but nevertheless proves the point that taking the SAT/ACT spring of junior year does not apply to every single high school student. It depends on the specific student. Stay tuned to my next blog that discusses the factors to consider when deciding when your child should take the exam.