Planning Your Testing Calendar in 2017
It’s the start of a new year, and with the new year, new questions that need answering, especially those related to finances. If you are a junior who will meet with your college counselor in the next few weeks to begin the college admissions journey, you will want the SAT or ACT tests to be on your radar this spring. If you have already taken an SAT or ACT at least once and are wondering if you should try again, or if you have yet to sit the official test, helpful information awaits.
In 2017, the SAT will be offered this semester on January 21st, March 11th, May 6th, and June 3rd. This is the last year for the January SAT date and the first year for an August SAT administered this summer on August 26th. The ACT will be offered on February 11th, April 8th, and June 10th.
In determining which test(s) you should take, there are a few considerations to make in order to ensure that you position yourself to get your highest score. Most importantly, you will want to prepare adequately. Take a practice test at the College Board or ACT website, evaluate the scores you receive, and begin preparing for the content, strategies, and timing pressures that you will encounter on the test. Ideally, you will devote at least a month of daily practice, with a few timed practice tests, to give your first test a solid performance.
Not only is preparation essential, but you will also need to consider your own schedule. Do you have an important robotics competition that would prevent you from taking the February ACT? What are your spring break plans? Is finals week sufficiently stressful to preclude you from taking the June SAT? Look at your academic and extracurricular calendars, and discuss a potential date with your family to see if there are any conflicts.
Finally, if you are planning on taking the SAT, you might be considering taking an SAT Subject Test or two to submit to colleges. Those tests take place on the same day as the SAT and, while you may take up to three SAT Subject Tests on any one test day, you cannot take both the SAT and a Subject Test. Typically, students will take SAT Subject Tests around May or June in order to coincide with AP Exams, since both tests are content-heavy. If you were planning on taking the SAT as well, you will want to consider how to organize your calendar to accommodate both tests.
Maybe you took the SAT or ACT this past year and are wondering if or when you should take the test again. Taking the SAT or ACT test is an investment of time and energy, not to mention money. Is it worth spending another Saturday morning in a high school classroom, working on math problems and reading passages? In most cases, an extra test is worth the extra effort when accompanied by a few necessary steps.
In order for a student to do her best on any number of SAT or ACT tests, preparation is paramount, no matter how many times you have taken the test previously. A student may take the test a dozen times, but you will likely get the same score if you have not devoted considerable time to understanding the test format, building mastery with the content, and practicing the testing strategies.
If you have taken the test several times and earned the same score, you’ll first want to examine your test prep habits. Did you try to cram too much preparation into too little time? Did you take practice test after practice test, but never look back over your answers to see why you got an answer incorrect? Reflect back on your past preparation and see if you might get a higher score with more focused preparation. If you are consistently missing Geometry questions for the math section, you might benefit from some specific review in that area. If you find that you can’t finish the last reading passage due to timing, it might help to think about what you can do to give yourself enough time at the end of the section. It might even be worth it to push a test date back in order to give yourself enough time to feel confident on the real test.
- Set aside several weeks and spend time daily on English/Writing, Math, Reading, and Science (ACT) practice.
- Take practice test at least once, making sure to review your work and determine areas for improvement.
If you felt that you adequately prepared for the first test or two, then some additional questions might be in order. Did you feel that you performed your best on the test? Did you get enough sleep leading up to the test, and did you have strong energy levels throughout the test? Sometimes a wrinkle like having to work with a dull pencil or your calculator losing battery power can be enough to affect an entire test’s performance.
- Evaluate what might have held you back on the last test and set up a plan for improving your performance with upcoming test.
You might have taken the test twice and received the same composite score, but have very different section scores. Most colleges will consider the highest section performance on the SAT test, and a good number do the same for the ACT. It could be that, when you submit your scores to your colleges, they will “super score” (take the highest individual section scores to create a higher composite). Just keep in mind that most colleges do not super score across the old and redesigned versions of the SAT, and most colleges still do not super score the ACT sections.
- Check with your colleges to see about their SAT and ACT scoring policies if your test results would yield a higher “super score.”
Often, when you take the test the first time, you might feel considerable anxiety. Once you make it out of the testing center and realize that an SAT or ACT test is totally doable, you might perform better on the second test, simply because much of the burden of anxiety has lifted. You know what the proctor will say; you know how to pace yourself for each section; you can manage the various demands placed on you.
Sometimes, it may take an additional test for a student to overcome the effects of those stressors. Think of the case of a certain student, let’s call her Goldilocks. Perhaps the first test, she took her time and had to omit the last quarter of each section. Maybe the second test, she overcompensated by speeding through the test, resulting in plenty of time after each section, but more errors. It might be the third test when she really is able to shine, knowing when she is moving too slowly or too quickly, choosing to live in the “sweet spot.” On this test, she will work quickly but thoughtfully, leaving a little time (but not too much) at the end of each section to review a few questions or to rest her eyes.
Of course, it might be that you don’t need to take the test an additional time. You adequately prepared, felt that you performed your best on each of the test dates, and have the scores that put you in a competitive position with your colleges. In that case, you can focus your attention on other aspects of your application – boosting your GPA, contributing more to extracurriculars, arranging those teacher recommendations – or taking a well-deserved break.
Each student’s history of test preparation and test performance will differ; however, there are abundant opportunities this spring either to prepare for and take the test for the first time, or to shoot for one final test to achieve your highest result.