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Which Tests to Take, and When?

Which Tests to Take
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Which Tests to Take,

and When?


            In short, colleges want to see your best; they will consider your scores from the test that best displays your potential, either the SAT or the ACT.  Reflect upon the following when deciding which tests to take, and when. 

 1.  Don’t take too many.  Consider the opportunity cost of testing too many times: standardized test scores are just one piece of an application.  ‘Burn out’ is real.  It is much easier to be motivated when you sign up than when you test.  Furthermore, admissions officers frown upon an overemphasis on testing.  Set a strong limit to the number of times you take a particular test to 3, and the number of total tests (including SATs and ACTs) you take to 5.

 2.  Second rounds are most often best.  It is uncommon that a student should stop after one round: statistically, second rounds are better overall and are almost always stronger in at least one section.  Third rounds scores interestingly more often drop, though are advisable in some situations.

 3.  First semester junior year scores are not often one’s best.  Continuing to look at the statistics, students more often perform better when they wait until second semester to test.  Sometimes, considering a student’s schedule or personal learning preferences, preparing over the summer and testing early is a sensible choice: just realize that you’re heading in to this plan looking to beat the statistics.

4.  Use practice tests to decide between the SAT and the ACT.  It is often difficult to guess which test will be better for a particular student.  Fortunately, both the SAT and the ACT make available free practice tests.  Take both and use your results to inform your decision about which to take.  (You could otherwise compare your PSAT and PLAN results.)

 5.  Keep the other test in mind.  It is comforting to know that there is more than one test: the SAT and ACT serve as nice back-ups to each other, in the event scores don’t come back as hoped.  Some students reasonably plan in advance to take both the SAT and the ACT.  The tests are much more similar than they are different, so the transition between the two is smooth. 

6.  Consider testing senior year.  Most colleges will accept tests taken through fall of senior year.  Still, if getting into college is the primary motivation for taking these tests, being done with testing is the secondary motivation!  First semester senior year is a very busy time with college essays and applications, but sometimes one more round is an appropriate choice.

 7.  Choose tests dates based on when you have time to prepare.  A student should begin his or her preparation 2 ½ to 3 months before a first official test and complete 3 to 4 full practice tests.  Preparation for a second round can be much more modest.  Students most often take two rounds of a particular test in a row before transitioning to the other test.  Those who elect to test earlier in junior year may benefit from a longer break between the tests.   If you are planning to take both the SAT and the ACT, leave at least one month between the two.

 8.  Don’t forget about the SAT Subject Tests.  The SAT Subject Tests are a series of tests offered in individual subject areas.  They incidentally do not have an ACT counterpart and are required at the more competitive colleges.  For the most part, they are offered on the same dates and times as the SATs so should be considered when you’re planning your schedule.

 9.  Decide and commit.  Test questions have right and wrong answers; choosing a test along with a preparation schedule does not.  Weigh the pros and cons of different options, make your choice, and commit to it, wholeheartedly.