“We are thinking of having our son take the SAT for the first time in January.  He is a junior and we thought he should go into the test cold to see how he does.  What do you think?”

While I know this is a popular approach to college admissions test these days, I’m not in favor of it for a few reasons.

First, if you want to gauge how your son will perform on the test, you can save yourself $50 and have him take the full-length practice test at your kitchen table some Saturday morning.  A full test with scoring instructions can be found in most guidance counseling offices or online: http://sat.collegeboard.org/practice/sat-practice-test

Next, while colleges and universities only use a student’s best scores, the students themselves worry about lower results being released to schools.  It is an unnecessary worry, but the college admissions process doesn’t need any additional sources of stress, especially when there is a viable alternative.

Finally, taking a test “cold” can exacerbate test anxiety for many students.  The SAT is stressful enough for students who know what to expect and have prepared.  Encountering unfamiliar material under timed conditions can make some test takers anxious.  Success on the test is part strategy, part content knowledge, and part focus.  Students who have a bad first experience with the SAT often psych themselves out on subsequent attempts, undermining their ability to focus.

Save your money and stress.  Practice at home before signing up for an official SAT.