When Should Juniors Take the SAT?

Students working in classroom Most people agree that high school juniors should take the SAT, but there is some debate about when.  The answer to this question has changed over the years. In the current world of college admissions with early application deadlines creeping closer and closer, students who are taking outdated advice on the SAT may find themselves behind.

Complete Testing Junior Year

Old advice had students waiting until spring of junior year to make a first attempt at the SAT. Students were expected to retake in October, November, or December of their senior year.  This advice may have worked ten or fifteen years ago when most students applied to colleges with spring admissions deadlines. When I started working as a teacher and counselor, the application deadline to the University of Texas at Austin was in the spring, typically mid-February.  Today the final deadline for UT is December 1.  The early action deadline at Georgia Tech is October 15.  The freshman application deadline for the University of Florida is November 1.  Students who count on re-taking the SAT in the fall of their senior years may find it difficult to meet these deadlines. Ideally, students will complete all SAT attempts junior year.

No Need To Wait

Old advice cautioned students to wait on the belief that they would learn content junior year crucial to their success on the SAT.  (I wish!) While some students might add to their knowledge of college bound vocabulary or build their math skills, most students will not improve scores simply by waiting. Frequently parents and students are told to wait in order to learn more math.  The SAT does not test any concepts beyond Algebra II.  Many of the “advanced” Algebra concepts are things students learned in Algebra I, such as absolute value.  Even students taking Algebra II as juniors will be ready to take a fall SAT from the perspective of understanding math concepts on the test.

Focused Improvement May Be a Reason to Wait

While simply waiting and hoping that another semester of school will help isn’t a good strategy, delaying testing in order to engage in a focused improvement plan may be a wise decision.  This may mean taking a quality prep class or working with an experienced tutor.  It may consist of remedial work on math, vocabulary, grammar, or reading skills for the student who is struggling in one or more areas.

Plan for Activities and Conflicts

Juniors should take the SAT when they will have the most time to prepare and the most motivation to do well.  For most students, time is the biggest factor.  Sit down with the test schedule and compare it to schedules for sports, school clubs, vacations, and family activities. This school year the March SAT falls on the last weekend of spring break for students in my school district—not a great time for many students.  Right now most of my football and band students are too busy with practice to devote time and energy to a class; they will do better taking the SAT in the spring.  Students with schedules full of Advanced Placement (AP) classes may want to take the SAT earlier because May is packed with all the AP exams. Look at the busy times in your schedule and find the best time to take the SAT.

Allow for Multiple Attempts

Another consideration when scheduling the SAT is that most students will take the test two or three times.  Colleges look at an applicant’s best scores, so there is no harm in retaking the SAT.  In fact, many students learn from their first attempt and either study more, change their overall strategy, or simply enter a subsequent exam with less stress because they know what to expect. A student who takes the SAT for the first time in June will not have an opportunity to retest until October of senior year.  On the other hand, the student who takes her first test in November will have five more chances to take the SAT before the end of the school year.

When Should Juniors Take the SAT?

There is no single best time to take the SAT.  Your family will have to determine the best time for you.]]>

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