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When does Early SAT/ACT Testing Make Sense?

 In ACT, SAT, Test Prep

This fall, we’ve been getting lots of calls from families with high school juniors asking when they should consider having their kids take the SAT and ACT. They know they should be making a plan for taking these tests, but are unsure whether it will make more sense to wait until later in the school year or have their kids 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?

To make this decision more complex, COVID-19 has sufficiently changed the testing landscape.  As standard practice we now remind families that the pandemic has greatly altered SAT and ACT test site availability, with the result that upcoming tests may not be available at your preferred location for the dates you want to take them.

We have always advised students to plan on taking the test 2 or even 3 times, and that advice has taken on even more importance in 2020: if your first test date is canceled due to the pandemic, you’ll feel better knowing there are a couple of later options already on the table.

Test prep planning is a highly individualized process, with the result that no two plans are exactly alike. Following are some general guidelines for the types of students who will want to consider testing early.  However, for specific testing plan recommendations, please contact one of our Program Directors to discuss your student’s situation (a complimentary service).

Who should consider taking the SAT or ACT sooner, rather than later, in junior year?

  • High scoring students
    Generally speaking, students at the higher end of the SAT/ACT (or PSAT) scoring spectrum may fall into this category. The idea here is that, if early SAT/PSAT or ACT diagnostic testing reveals that a student is already a high scorer, that student has likely already demonstrated some mastery over the material covered on the tests.  Students who fall into this camp may find it advisable to get a head start on testing rather than waiting. With the standardized testing out of the way, students can focus on academics and other activities to enhance their college application.
  • Some recruited athletes
    The traditional school of thought on testing for recruited athletes was that coaches wanted to see test scores yesterday. This year the NCAA is providing more flexibility around SAT/ACT testing in response to the pandemic and the cancellation of many test centers around the country. However, it may still be the case that some recruited athletes will be better served by getting their first test scores in earlier. Families will want to check with coaches to make sure.

Who has more flexibility about when to take the SAT or ACT?

  • Just about everybody else
    As we’ve said before, it is a decision that is specific to the student. Most students test twice before application season to take advantage of score choice and superscoring. 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 in math; 2) will have had more time to prepare themselves adequately to test; and 3) are more mature, focused, “mentally ready” to test. And of course, we all hope that the pandemic will be much more in control as we progress through the school year, with many more test sites able to open their doors to SAT and ACT test takers.

What’s the best thing to do now?

No matter whether your student decides on the winter, spring, or summer test dates, we do recommend getting a testing plan in place.

As a parent, the best thing you can be doing to pave the way for the standardized testing process at this time is signing your student up for our in-person or at-home SAT and ACT diagnostic testing, then engaging with one of our expert Program Directors. They will help you make a plan for which test your student should take, when they should take it, and how they can best prepare for it. By creating a test prep plan now, parents and students allow themselves to feel more confident and less anxious about the standardized testing process.

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