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When Does Early Testing Make Sense?

 In ACT, SAT

Early fall is one of our busiest times of the year here at Summit, and this year has been no exception. Just about all of our free proctored practice test dates have been full, which makes sense: after all, now that vacations are over and school has begun, families are starting to think about standardized testing. But we’re also fielding lots of calls from parents asking when their children should plan to take the SAT or ACT, and particularly whether they should test early.

By “early testing,” we’re not talking about taking the SAT/ACT in 9th or 10th grade (that’s still too early, thankfully), but rather having students begin or even complete the testing process during the first semester of junior year. This is not a new idea, of course: the junior year testing calendar, once firmly-rooted around spring testing, has been trending earlier for decades now. But does early testing make sense? And if so, for whom?

Here are some general guidelines for the types of students who might strongly consider testing early (and those who probably shouldn’t). Of course, it is always important to remember that test prep planning is a highly individualized process – no two plans are exactly alike. Contact one of Summit’s Program Directors for specific recommendations.

Who should consider taking the SAT or ACT early (during the first semester of their junior year)?

High scoring students

Generally speaking, students at the higher end of the SAT/ACT scoring spectrum (including students with strong National Merit aspirations) may fall into this category. The idea here is if early SAT or ACT diagnostic testing reveals that a student is a high scorer, that student has likely already seen and has demonstrated some mastery over the material covered on the tests. In many cases, high scoring students may likewise be more mature than their peers, so the idea of testing early will not faze them much.

Students studying abroad

Students who will be physically out of the country and unable to test in the late winter or early spring may want to consider testing early. Then again, based on baseline scores, anxiety, and overall level of preparedness, these students may be just as likely to consider testing in the fall of their senior year, after they have returned home.

Some recruited athletes

This is likely the largest group of students who should consider early testing. In my experience, coaches of some sports (such as lacrosse or women’s soccer) want to see test scores yesterday, causing many of these students to rush to take the SAT or ACT in the early part of their junior year, perhaps even before they are fully prepared to do so. Of course, testing early does not preclude a student from testing again later on in their junior year, when they may be more prepared to test. The best advice for recruited athletes is to check with the coach for guidelines on when they want test scores in-hand.

Who should not consider taking the SAT or ACT early?

Just about everyone else

The simple reality is that most students will do better on standardized tests the longer they wait. There are lots of good reasons for this. By their second semester most juniors: 1) will have seen most or all of the academic concepts covered on the SAT and ACT (particularly on the Math side); 2) will have had more time to prepare themselves adequately to test; 3) are likely more mature and “mentally ready” to test; and 4) will realize that most of their peers are testing at around the same time (what I call the “everyone else is taking the SAT/ACT at this time, so I am more comfortable with the idea of taking it myself” phenomenon. The name could probably use some work.)

Of course, just because most students will want to test at a certain time doesn’t mean all students have to do so. “When is the least bad time for my junior to take the SAT or ACT?” is a very valid question that parents should ask. And while not all students may want to test early, here at Summit we believe that it is beneficial for all families to get started on the process early: have your students come in to our office for free SAT and ACT diagnostic testing, and then engage in follow-up conversations with our Program Directors to determine which test they should take, when they should take it, and how they can best prepare for it. By creating a test prep plan early, parents and students allow themselves to feel more confident and less anxious about the standardized testing process.

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