Usually, by the time students/parents reach out to me, they already have a test date in mind; maybe they’re even on a time crunch. But in a perfect world – one where none among us procrastinates about such important things – junior year (11th grade) is the best time to take the SAT.
There’s a school of thought that says that, since there is algebra II on the SAT, and many juniors are first taking algebra II in school, students ought to finish that class first and take the test in the fall of senior year. Well I am telling you, here and now, that school of thought is wrong.
- The actual algebra II content found on the SAT is taught in the first month or two of junior year; it is the most basic foundation of algebra II.
- Senior year is a time to be focused on college applications and, if necessary, Subject Tests (which are like mini-SATs that focus on a single curricular subject, much like an AP test); to first start the SAT process then is to overwhelm even the most resolute and dedicated student.
Every student should plan to take the SAT at least twice. Knowing that there is still a second test helps take the pressure off of the first one, enabling students to perform their best. And if they knock the first test out of the park, then maybe they won’t even need the second one, but at least they know it’s there for them if they need it.
The goal is to finish during junior year. Summer before senior year is a time for students to take college trips and start thinking about their application essay, not still fretting over a test that should be behind them already.
The most a student should take the SAT is three times (see why at “Which SAT scores colleges use to decide”), however the goal is to do it in two.
Juniors starting early (between July and October) are aiming to take either the October, November or December test for their first, and either the January or March for their second. The beauty of this is that, should the student need to take the test that one third and final time, there are still the May and June tests to choose from.
Juniors starting mid-year (between November and January) should be scheduled to take the January or March SAT. Once the scores come in, if they should opt to take the test again, those students should sign up for both the May and June SAT. They are only 5 weeks apart and it can take that long just to get all of the May scores back. In any event, it allows them time to take the test up to three times and still be finished before Summer.
Juniors starting late (between early February and – oh gosh – late April) should sign up for both the May and June SAT. It is their best chance to get the test done before the end of the year. Worst case scenario: there’s always October for early admissions and November or December for general admission.
Seniors starting (between July and early October) should plan to take October or November and December or, if starting on the later side of that spread, December & January. For those seniors who start in enough time for one of the autumn tests and the December exam, there’s still the January test if they really need to take it that third time.
Seniors starting very late (between October and December) may only get to take the test once or twice, in December and/or January. The good news is that those tests are about 7 weeks apart. The bad news is that this is right when applications should be finishing, so there’s a lot going on at once.
For practical purposes, the March test can only be taken by seniors who are being heavily scouted for athletics or, in rare instances, who are applying to schools with very little demand. Any test taken after the application deadline will have to be forwarded directly to the schools.
Final synopsis: Taking the test once is too much pressure. Taking it twice is just right. A third time is a safety net. And to take it four times is just punishing yourself (and not even helpful – again, see “Which SAT scores colleges use to decide”). And finally, get it over like ripping off a band-aid; no one likes taking tests – especially a four-and-a-half-hour test – but the earlier you do it, the sooner you can get on with your increasingly busy life.
Still have questions? Contact me