An Eligible College Student will design a timing strategy for Standardized Tests. An important factor to consider when you are deciding when and how often to take Standardized Tests is to remember that some Colleges require you to submit ALL test scores (but not practice test scores, to the best of my knowledge). If you are taking these tests too early (before you have learned certain subjects), hoping your score will increase with practice, then you will have to wonder how the College will perceive your scores, if they require all test scores. Remember to consider your other commitments (athletics, for example), when making your Test-Taking Plan – maybe you will have a conflict with some of the Standardized Tests dates.
Most Colleges state that if you are taking the tests more than 2-3 times, you are spending too much time on studying for tests, and not enough time learning. It is difficult to advise students on how a College will assess their scores – it is individual to the College. How will they perceive very low scores, improving over time, vs. scores that don’t change much over time vs. why your math score was so high one test and so low on another vs. vs. (there are many scenarios on how your scores might change each each time you sit for the test).
- See Deadlines and Timelines and PSAT, SAT I & II, ACT for more advice on timing.
- PSAT, SAT I & II, ACT, SAT Prep and ACT Prep provides ideas on how to study and prepare.
- Check out SAT vs. ACT for advice on which test to take.
- Consider Grades & Test Scores – How Do I Fix This? if you tend not to perform well on Standardized Tests.
- Setting Realistic Goals with Limited Knowledge – The Early Search helps you assess your test-taking abilities early in the process.
While the SAT and ACT are available several times during the year, the PSAT (the official practice SAT) is offered on only one day of the year, on a Wednesday (“Super Wednesday”) in October. The PSAT is proctored by the High Schools during school hours, and is usually made available to Juniors, and sometimes to Sophomores. Until 2014, some High Schools chose to also offer the PLAN, a practice ACT, often made available to Sophomores. Beginning in 2015, ACT no longer offers the PLAN, but instead offers Aspire, which is an assessment tool for schools. I would expect that many High Schools will now choose to offer the PSAT for both Sophomores and Juniors. Students who do exceptionally well on the PSAT may qualify to be a National Merit Scholar, which could mean a full scholarship to some Colleges, therefore you should spend time preparing for the PSAT.
An easy way for an Underclassmen to get started preparing for Standardized Tests is to sign up for the SAT Question of the Day and ACT Question of the Day. You can visit the websites or download an application onto your phone or computer that will automatically load the daily questions. Use this resource as a good way to ease into test prep.
The PSAT is different than the SAT, so it makes sense to use PSAT prep materials when preparing for the PSAT.
SAT & ACT
Once you decide whether to take the SAT and/or the ACT, it’s important to decide when you will take those tests. When you take those tests is important not only to make sure you get the best possible outcome in time for your application deadline, but also because some Colleges require you to submit ALL test scores, so you want to decide on the best strategy to determine your test taking calendar, which will likely be complicated by other activities that take place on the same day as available Test Dates.
Generally, High School Juniors take the SAT and/or ACT sometime between March and June (and some may choose to take the test twice during that period), and then they may test again in the fall of their Senior year. If you score well the first time you take the test and don’t plan on applying to highly selective Colleges, you may choose to take the SAT or ACT only once.
Review concepts covered in the Standardized Tests to help you determine if you are ready to take the test. For example, you may not have yet covered key math concepts until the end of your Junior year that are included in the tests. Check out College Board’s description of the Math section, as an example.
Subject Tests are offered by The College Board, the same organization that operates the SAT. Subject tests are required by only a small number of typically more selective Colleges. If you go to a College’s website, you can check to see their testing policies and whether they require, recommend or consider Subject Tests. Subject Tests are a way to demonstrate that you have mastered a subject, such as Math, Chemistry or Literature. For that reason, most students take the Subject Test towards the end of the school year, when they have completed or nearly completed their studies in a specific subject. It’s important to look into the Subject Tests as an Underclassmen, because you may have already taken an advanced class (say, Biology) as an Underclassmen, thereby being ready to take the test as an Underclassmen. By waiting until the fall, students will have to do more prep to remember what they learned the prior academic year.
See the College Board’s website for test dates and which Subject Tests are available on which test dates. Subject Tests are offered on some of the same test dates as the SAT. You can take more than one Subject Test on the same day, but you can’t take the SAT and the Subject Test on the same day. If you want to test well, you will have to prepare for the Subject Tests, as you should prepare for the SAT and/or ACT. You can re-take the test if you feel you can/should improve your score.