A New Look at When Juniors Should Take the SAT

Plan Conventional wisdom has held that high school juniors should take the PSAT in October then take the SAT in the spring. While this trend may have worked, it is no longer on schedule with today’s college admissions timeline. I also don’t think it takes into consideration what is best for each student.

Will Juniors Know Enough Content?

The old advice that juniors should wait until spring to take the SAT is based on the fact that the SAT claims to include Algebra II concepts.  I use the word “claims” because all the Algebra II concepts tested on the SAT seem to be things students learned in Algebra I, such as absolute value. Yes, some students will take Algebra II as juniors, but the trend over the past 10 to 20 years has been for students to begin taking Algebra much earlier in their junior high or high school years.  Most juniors have completed Algebra II. In fact, many juniors are already taking Calculus. So there is no need for juniors to wait until the spring to take the test.  They will not learn enough in school to make an appreciable difference in their ability to handle SAT reading, math, or writing.

Shouldn’t the PSAT Serve as Practice?

Again, old school thinking says take the October PSAT, wait until January to get PSAT scores, then you will know what to practice. There are so many more efficient ways for students to evaluate their SAT potential that using the PSAT seems out of date. Students and parents can access official College Board SAT questions for practice.  The College Board is developing online tools and apps to help.  Additionally, students can access full-length, official tests for practice from the College Board website or their high school guidance office.

But Isn’t Junior Year Early?

When I applied to college (in the 80’s when dinosaurs roamed the earth and calculators weren’t allowed on the SAT) students could wait until senior year to start taking standardized tests.  Those who took their first SAT junior year were ahead of schedule.  But these were also the days when college application deadlines were in February, March, or even later for many state universities. Today’s college timeline has accelerated considerably in the past five years.  Early decision, early action, and regular deadlines push students to submit applications earlier and earlier.  I know many students who are getting ready to submit applications in August or early September.  There are state universities with final application deadlines of November 1 and December 1. Students who wait until senior year to take or retake the SAT may find themselves out of time.  The SAT is not given between June, the end of junior year, and October of a student’s senior year.  Students facing earlier and earlier application deadlines should strive to finalize their SAT scores junior year.  This means allowing time to take and retake the SAT as a junior.

My Recommendation

Students need to see their entire junior year as the time to prepare for and perfect their SAT performance.  Some students should focus on the SAT in the fall.  First, fall may be the only time they have to study because they may participate in a very time consuming activity in the spring such as baseball or spring theater production.  Second, students who have prepared for the PSAT should take the SAT while the information is fresh in their minds. This means some juniors will take the October SAT.  Others may wait and take their first test in March.  All juniors should plan to have at least one official test complete by May.  Having standardized test scores out of the way will make the college application process (and senior year) go more smoothly.]]>

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