Your student’s personal circumstances influence which dates work best.

In an earlier post I’ve covered when to take the SAT and ACT, the college entrance exams still required for admission to many colleges. Too many of the guidelines I’ve come across lately suggest students take their first SAT or ACT in the fall or early spring of junior year. I continue to disagree with this advice for the majority of students. Read on to learn why.

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Who should take the tests early Athletic coaches want to know a potential recruit meets their college’s and the NCAA’s academic requirements for admission. Because recruiting takes a more vigorous turn in the spring of junior year, a student-athlete will want to reach their target SAT/ACT score by the first quarter of junior year. Unfortunately, taking the exams in sophomore year leaves many athletes at a disadvantage if they haven’t taken all of the math, science and English courses covered on the tests.

Students in the top 10 percent of their class, the most likely to apply to the most competitive colleges, will want to test early. Top-tier colleges all require near-perfect SAT and ACT scores. With many high-succeeding juniors taking multiple AP and/or IB exams in May, testing in early spring allows them the most time to test prep. This also enables these students to retake the SAT or ACT once or twice to reach their target score before college applications are due for Early Decision (November 1) or Early Action (November 1 or 15) deadlines.

The rest of the class Non-recruited athletes and students applying to the thousands of other colleges not in the top-tier by Regular Deadline and even Early Action can give themselves more time. This is the majority of students. Testing later in the spring allows a student to learn more of the material covered on the tests. The SAT and ACT math sections include material from Algebra 1, Geometry and Algebra 2 with some Pre Calculus. If your junior is taking Algebra 2, sitting for the SAT in March or ACT in April risks their not learning enough of the material by the test date. The same can be said for the science portion of the ACT, which covers content in basic Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Earth Science.

Deciding when to test Rumors that easier tests are given on certain dates are false. The best test date(s) depends on your student and their schedule. If the spring musical is in March or April, then a June test date allows your teen enough time to prep once the show is over. The same is true for a student-athlete who isn’t looking to be recruited but is on a team making the playoffs in February. The May test date works better than the earlier one in March.

Students should plan for two to three months to seriously prep before the test when choosing a date for either the SAT or ACT. (See my post on test prep options.) With every other kid getting help preparing for the test, yours must, too. Follow the crowd here.

With tests always given on a Saturday, check for previous commitments (family wedding, dance recital, prom, cousin’s bar or bat mitzvah) on the weekend of the particular test date before letting your teen sign up.

Testing for the first time in late spring still gives your student the chance to take the exam again in the summer (July for ACT, August for SAT), early fall and/or late fall.  Your teen should confirm the earliest application deadline among the colleges on their list of schools where they plan to apply so their most recent test scores reach that college in time. [Note: Scores are available about three weeks after the test date.]

Students are generally more comfortable taking these exams in their own high school, but every high school doesn’t offer the test on every date. Knowing which dates your teen’s school gives the test and which nearby schools offer it on the other dates is another factor to add to the when-to-test equation.

Deciding which test to take The simplest way to decide whether the ACT or SAT is the better test for your teen is to have them take a practice test in each and see where they do best. Online score conversion tools will help determine the higher score. Of course, the test dates and how well they fit your student’s schedule matter, too.

How often to repeat the test Generally, your student’s score will improve the most between the first and second time they take it, especially if they prep well. Often times, kids prep for the first one, then apply the study skills they learned to prepare on their own for the second test. Taking the test a third or fourth time doesn’t help much, unless a student is concentrating on improving in a specific section.

There you have it. More reasons not to have your junior rush to take the SAT or ACT.