August SAT: Summer Testing is Around the Corner
Students across the country are registering for the upcoming August 26 SAT. The August test is certain to be popular with students as it affords them the opportunity to prepare for and take an official SAT free from the academic rigors of junior year and first-semester senior year. Across our national markets, we’ve seen a significant spike in demand for tutoring for the August test, and we’ve heard similar feedback from other tutoring shops across the country. In light of the heightened interest in August testing, our colleague, Nancy Greisemer, has raised the concern that the College Board may not be offering enough physical seats to meet the demand for this test. The number of available testing locations is significantly lower in August than in October, which may lead the August test takers to have to travel far afield of their preferred testing sites to secure a spot.
The August Appeal
For years there has been unmet demand for summer testing. With their rigorous schedules and intensive extracurriculars, today’s students are busier than ever during the academic year; some students find it a challenge to fit SAT and ACT prep into their already full schedules. This has led to a dramatic increase in summer test prep over the last 15 years. Many students have opted to do the lion’s share of the prep over the summer, diving deep into the SAT and ACT content, and refreshing the content later in the year, closer to the official test dates.
Many students want to complete their official testing by the end of junior year to free up their summer for their college applications. This drives many students to take the May or June testing administrations. Some students grapple with the timing of the May SAT as it falls on May 6, smack in the middle of the May 1-12 AP testing period. This date is convenient for students taking the SAT Subject tests, as the AP/Subject test overlap is so significant, but can be a challenge for students prepping for their APs and the SAT. The June 3 test is an excellent option for students whose high schools have wrapped up their school year in May but can be a challenge for students who finish later in June, who may have end of year conflicts with the June 3 date. July and August, in contrast, are the only months without any significant academic conflicts, providing a natural time for many students to take their SATs and ACTs.
The College Board has not been oblivious to the latent demand for summer testing. Five years ago, the College Board offered an August SAT, available only to affluent students who could afford to attend a summer program at Amherst. Facing much criticism and cries of inequity, the College Board canceled the controversial August date. Now the College Board is making the August SAT available to all students, independent of their economic circumstances, and shifting the testing calendar for juniors and seniors alike.
Why Seniors like the August SAT
Given today’s admissions landscape early applications are the rule for our students, rather than the exception. An overwhelming majority of our students are applying to college through some form of early application: Early Decision, Early Action, Priority Deadlines and more.
Given the incredible admissions advantage afforded to many students applying early, this makes good sense. The need to submit completed applications by October and November deadlines puts pressure on students to get their test scores in order in advance of those early deadlines.
For over a decade, our rule of thumb for scheduling the SAT was “complete your testing by June, and save October as insurance.” October was the final test date for students to complete the SAT or SAT Subject testing and still hit those early deadlines. The addition of the August SAT and SAT Subject test date gives students additional breathing room and will turn October into even more of a backup. For many students, the August test date becomes the insurance policy in the event a score on the SAT or an SAT Subject test needs a boost.
For other students, the addition of the August test date will shift the entire testing plan. We’ve historically advocated taking the SAT (or ACT) 3 times. Analysis of our comprehensive data set reveals score increases up to the third official testing administration. Some students hit their goal on their first test, others on the second, but a majority of students prepping in earnest will see gains up to the third test, especially when super-scoring is taken into account. Now that we have August in the mix, some students will choose to delay all testing until the end of junior year. They will skip spring testing altogether and plan on a trio of June, August, and October tests. This will necessitate dedicating a portion of their summer to test preparation, but many will prefer this to having to fit prep into already packed junior year schedules. And for others concerned about having adequate exposure to the SAT content, this will give them the most time to learn all they can from their high school classes over the course of junior year.
Why Juniors like the August SAT
For rising juniors who have completed Algebra 2 (or its equivalent) in their sophomore year of high school, the August SAT is a great test to lock in gains from a summer SAT prep class. As long as a student has taken the relevant math, there is no downside to starting testing early in junior year. Many of our most advanced students are happy to get testing out of the way early their junior year. They will frequently prepare for the October PSAT, seeking National Merit status, and then move on to the official tests. It’s not unusual for one of our top performing juniors to take the October, November, and December SATs, completing their testing before first semester exams.
Some in our field have suggested that there is a benefit to waiting later in junior year to commence official testing, but our data does not bear this out. Analyzing our 10,000+ person data set, we find no “maturation effects” which occur over the course of junior year.
What we do find is a highly significant “testing effect” in which repeated testing iterations yield testing gains (due to valuable performance feedback and increased familiarity, confidence and self-efficacy).
Students taking Algebra 2 as juniors are advised to wait a full semester before sitting for an official test. But for those students who have already taken the relevant math, our data shows that they are ready to take official SATs and ACTs once they cross into Junior year. One caveat to this policy is that we have anecdotal evidence of a maturation effect when it comes to the SAT essay. We’ve heard from quite a few students taking AP language that they wrote much stronger SAT essays due to their analytical writing practice in their AP Language classes. For many students, however, the SAT essay will not be a significant factor in their admissions process: a majority of colleges are waiting to determine the predictive value of the SAT’s new essay before incorporating it into their admissions decisions.
August replaces January and does create a small hole in the testing calendar
It is noteworthy that the addition of August testing comes at the expense of the January SAT. August will be a more popular administration, and it fits better with most students’ testing schedules, but it does leave a gap during the year. After the December 2 SAT, the next official SAT will be offered March 10. Some of our juniors used to integrate the January test in a string of 3 tests: December, January, March or January, March, May. If juniors decide to prep for a December SAT, they will certainly need to refresh their testing skills in advance of the March test, given the 3-month hiatus. And seniors will no longer be able to take the January test after applications are submitted in hopes of raising their scores for admissions or scholarships. The March SAT test results will not be back in time to influence admissions decisions, so plan ahead!
The ACT’s first summer test is coming in 2018
Not to be outdone by the College Board, the ACT, Inc. announced its inaugural summer test will take place July 14, 2018. This is a prudent move, a direct competitive response to the College Board’s August SAT. This also creates parity between the SAT and ACT in that they both will offer seven testing administrations throughout the year. Like the August SAT, the July ACT will benefit many students. We anticipate the June-July ACT combo will be highly popular. And we anticipate some students delaying testing until the completion of their junior year, opting for the June-July-September testing combination.
Summer Prep is not for everyone
I believe that the summer options are excellent additions to the testing schedule: more choice is better. Ideally, students would have complete choice when they take their entrance exams, as is the case with the GRE and GMAT. Once digital adaptive testing is the norm, this will likely come to pass. However, not all students will choose to use the summer for testing. Many students will spend their summers in the woods at summer camp, or traveling or doing service. Other students will need a mental break in order to recharge their batteries over the summer. Others may have other scheduling conflicts which will preclude summer testing. For those who have the space in their schedule and the will, the summer option is a good one.
Any downsides of Summer prep?
The only concern voiced by our tutors is whether student preparation will be as consistent over the summer. If students don’t complete their assignments or their practice tests due to summer conflicts, this could clearly affect the testing outcomes. But if students commit to using a portion of their summer to prep in earnest, they could hit their best numbers on the summer tests, giving them the best shot at admissions and scholarships.
Others in the academic space have voiced concerns that the August SAT or July ACT could open up a Pandora’s box of “year-round testing.” However, if students do not keep good boundaries with their prep and their official administrations, they can burn out, with or without a summer test. Students need to go into their testing with a plan and a timeline: here’s where I will prep, here are my practice test dates, and here are my official test dates. This should be a discrete timeline with a clear beginning and an end, and potential contingencies built in. The process of preparing for and taking the SAT should be finite, out of respect for all the other things high school students must do in their lives. Thoughtful planning is the key.
Whether a student chooses to integrate summer testing into the testing plan is a personal choice. I believe the summer option will help many students, will increase their focus and decrease the stress of taking an SAT or ACT while competing with other academic demands. For those students who want to take advantage of the summer test dates, make sure to sign up early as spots in the most desirable testing centers may fill up quickly.