In this blog, I will answer one of the most common questions that I am asked by both students and parents: “When should I/my student take the SAT?” There are five main factors that affect the answer to this question and that you should consider before making a decision:
1. When Will You Need the Scores?
The problem that many families run into is that they do not plan with the end-date in mind. You should plan to take the test twice and you should start preparing a year out from your first deadline. For most students this means starting their preparation their junior year. Many students will take the test one time during the spring of their junior year and one time in August, October, November or December of their Senior year for regular admission deadlines. This may be different depending on your individual circumstances. Here are some questions to ask:
Are you applying for early admission?
Students who are applying early admission need their scores by November of their senior year. This means that the last SAT test they will be able to take is the SAT offered in August or October of their senior year. They should begin preparing in August of their junior year.
Are you being recruited for athletics?
The student-athletes that I speak with usually need their scores earlier because college coaches will want to know SAT scores and how they compare with what is needed for their school when they are looking to recruit you. For this reason, many athletes take the SAT by the end of their junior year.
Are you applying for scholarships?
Some scholarships have deadlines that are before college regular admission deadlines. This is especially true of merit scholarships. Look up the deadlines of any scholarships you plan to apply to and start preparing for the SAT a year before that deadline.
2. What Does Your Schedule Look Like?
We all are busier at certain times of the year than others. You do not want to plan to prepare for and take the SAT during a time of year that is the busiest for school work, required school testing, a part-time job, sports practices and games, or other commitments. Think about the school year and ask yourself the following questions:
What times am I the most busy?
If you know that you will be taking three AP tests and three final exams in late May and early June, don’t schedule the SAT for that time. Instead, plan to take it in March. If you play basketball and know that you are most busy with practices and games from November to February, do not plan to take the SAT during that time. Take the test during a time of year that you have free time and are not so busy that it will be impossible to set aside study time.
What is your priority?
Many students I speak with have overcommitted themselves and, as a result, they do not have enough time to adequately prepare for their SAT test. They are trying to fit test preparation into the time left over once they complete everything else. This often means they are not prepared. We have to decide what is most important to us based on what we want for the future. We also have to make sure that we have time to do things we enjoy, get enough rest, eat meals, and complete school work. Consider what time commitments are top priorities for you, and eliminate the rest.
3. When Will You Be Ready Academically?
Overall, the best way to prepare for the SAT is to take challenging courses, make sure you are understanding the content and can apply what you have learned. Reading comprehension and writing skills tend to increase over time as students read more challenging texts. Students tend to do better on the Reading and Writing section of the test the later they take it, if they are taking challenging classes.
For math, students who have completed Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II tend to perform better on the test. The SAT is heavy on content from these math classes but does also contain some advanced math content. So, students who have completed Algebra II should be continuing to take a math class, usually Pre-Calculus, which will also be beneficial. However, having taken these classes is not enough. Students should expect to do some additional prep and devote study time to achieve the score they need to apply to the college of their choice. Knowing the content is the first step and will make prep much easier than having to learn the content for the first time and then also learn how to use it on the SAT.
4. How Much Improvement is Needed?
Take the PSAT as a sophomore or junior and/or a released SAT practice test. Then look up the Freshman Class Profile for the schools that you are interested in attending. Find their SAT information. How close are your scores to their average? How much improvement will you need?
Usually, students need a lot more practice than they think to make noticeable improvements in their scores. We suggest that students do a program that is 19 instructional hours and 8 hours of practice testing. On top of that, we recommend 30- 60 minutes of homework after each class and practice test session. This amounts to about 40 hours of practice. Of course some students do the homework, some don’t, and some do more than assigned. On average, using this method, students make about a 200 point increase. So, plan to spend 40 hours or more studying if you want to increase your score. You may need to spend more time than this, if you need a lot of improvement (as in more than 200 points).
5. Consider How You Will Prepare for the Test
Ask yourself whether you will have the self-discipline and knowledge to prepare on your own. Some students who are highly self-motivated and know the content are able to practice timing, strategies, and SAT questions on their own. Other students benefit from having dedicated and scheduled time with a tutor to work on preparing for the SAT. A tutor can also help them work through difficult problems and teach or reteach concepts they are unfamiliar with.
Think about what you are able to do on your own and what you might need help with. Then plan ahead so that you have time to get the help you need before your test. Parrish Learning Zone offers individual SAT Prep and small groups for students who plan to take the SAT in the next year. We also offer an SAT Workshop for freshmen and sophomores who would like to familiarize themselves with the SAT.
Even students who are working with a tutor will need to spend time outside of their sessions practicing. The good news is that there are many ways free ways to practice for the SAT. Students can link their PSAT test to the Khan Academy. This will customize any future practice that they do. The Khan Academy provides free practice and videos as well as diagnostic tests (if you have not yet taken the PSAT) to help students prepare on their own for the SAT. The College Board also offers a great app where students can answer a question each day to help prepare over time. The College Board also offers many free practice tests with an instant scoring app.
Using some of these methods to practice should help you to feel prepared when you do decide that you are ready to take the SAT.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC