Just mentioning the SAT in a classroom of juniors can strike fear in the hearts of many! It’s daunting, really, to think that this one test can have such an impact on one’s future; so a lot of students tend to react in extremes to the task of taking it–either rushing in and taking it too early or avoiding it like the plague and waiting until the very last minute. So, when is the right time to take the SAT?
I recommend that, ideally, students take the February SAT during the second semester of their junior year. This timing is ideal for four key reasons:
MEETING MATH REQUIREMENTS. The SAT covers a wide range of math concepts, including topics that students should have learned in their Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry classes. While it can be beneficial to take the test during one’s sophomore year to “feel it out,” it is important to ensure that the student has at least taken Algebra 2 before giving it a try.
TAKING PLENTY OF TIME TO STUDY. Some students will begin their junior year by registering to take the SAT during the fall semester of their junior year. However, The College Board recommends that students take at least SIX MONTHS to prepare for the SAT. Unless students begin studying over the summer, there is no way to get in the appropriate amount of preparation before a fall test date. Taking the time to study during the school year also provides opportunities to prepare in study groups with peers and to take advantage of school-sponsored SAT Prep activities (where available).
GETTING IT OUT OF THE WAY BEFORE SENIOR YEAR. Senior year is a wonderful, crazy, amazing, busy time, and most seniors will tell you that they often feel overwhelmed with academic, extracurricular, social, familial, and vocational responsibilities, not to mention the challenge of actually applying to and trying to raise money to pay for college! Think about that. Do you REALLY want to be worrying about taking the SAT in the midst of all that? The ideal scenario is for students to prepare appropriately for the test their junior year so that they DO NOT have to take it as a senior (although it is an option if they need to do so).
ENSURING TIME FOR ANOTHER TEST. Ideally, students should not have to take the SAT more than two times… if they prepare. I recommend that my students take the test once in February, then again in either June or August for the final time (depending on how much more preparation is necessary after their first test). In this way, students can take what they have learned from their first sitting and have plenty of time to use that new knowledge of the test, and their areas of challenge, in their approach to studying the second time around.
There are two more things to remember when preparing for the SAT:
MOST SCHOOLS SUPER SCORE. Imagine that, on your February test, you receive a 620 on your math section and a 500 on your verbal section. When you take the test again in June, you receive a 590 in math and a 650 on your verbal section. Which set of test scores do you use–the first or the second?? Well, most schools SUPER SCORE, so you actually don’t have to choose! Even if you take the test four times (which I do NOT recommend), they will always take the highest math and highest verbal score of all of your tests.
YOU CAN ONLY USE TWO WAIVERS. If you qualify for free or reduced lunch, you are eligible to receive a waiver for the SAT registration fee (currently $46 without essay and $60 with essay). However, it is important to note that you only get TWO waivers to use…ever. Once you utilize those two waivers (even if you don’t actually sit for one of those exams), you will have to pay for any additional tests. So use them wisely!
Author: Dr. Nichole H. Stewart, Executive Director of College and Career Pathways, Inc.