The question: “When should I start taking the SAT and ACT?” The anwer: “Early.” If you’re a sophomore who has completed Algebra 2, then the June ACT and August SAT are good targets dates.
How often should you take the test? Probably no more than three times.
While sophomores could consider the June SAT date, still available for late registrants, let’s backtrack: we have two good reasons for suggesting a delay in taking the June test.
First: the number one item that colleges look at when comparing applicants is grades, not standardized test scores, so students need to concentrate on their current and future grades, not on anything else. Second: under no circumstances should you take an offical SAT or ACT without proper preparation.
Therefore, we’re recommending the August SAT, because that testing date allows students to focus on their grades, gives them sufficient time after the school year ends to do the needed prep work, and provides the “early” start opportunity for rising juniors. (Note: The newly instituted August SAT – which replaces the January SAT – is shaping up to be an extremely popular test date, so we recommend registering soon to reserve a seat before testing centers fill up… and there are fewer testing centers for the August test than there are for most other months).
We’re recommending the early start because the score gains data are so compelling. In a recent webinar, our friend and collegue Jed Applerouth shared this data on student ACT score gains based on early, regular, and late starts to official testing for a total of 4,502 students (he reports similar findings for the new SAT):
|First Official ACT||Average Baseline||Average Best Score||Change|
Early = 1st official test before January 1st of Junior year
Regular = 1st official test before April 1st of Junior year
Late = 1st official test after April 1st of Junior year
Applerouth admits selection bias in his group of students, because they’re all “students who are actively seeking out test preparation, whose parents understand the benefits of preparation, the importance of the scores to admissions and scholarships, [and] who have the resources to support” preparation. Since that pretty much describes our readership, we feel you’re part of a comparable group.
Students who follow our advice to take the August SAT after proper prep should be able to maintain momentum – with some additional preparation – through the October, November, and/or December SAT’s, with the March 2018 SAT as a emergency backup. Likewise, students taking the June ACT – who do some solid prep for it the week after Palm Beach County schools end – will have the October or December administration with which to improve their scores, with the February or April 2018 test as an emergency backup.
Students who don’t “knock it out of the park” on the first try should take additional tests for two reasons. First, there’s superscoring (using the best subscores from different sittings), which almost all colleges do for the SAT and an increasing number are doing for the ACT, giving students the opportunity to improve their total scores. Second, there’s compelling evidence – and lots of it – that students with proper test preparation, including timed and proctored simulated testing administrations and multiple official tests completed for homework, tend to show solid test-to-test gains.
To sum up our recommendations, sophomores should plan now for test prep leading up to the June ACT as well as the August SAT. By getting a head start on planning, they’ll give themselves the best chance to do well on an absolutely key element in the college application process. And they’ll be able to plan for a rewarding summer.