Teens may not like the idea of taking the SAT, but at least they have plenty of options in terms of when they actually have to drag themselves to a testing center. The College Board administers the SAT from the beginning of the school year until its end, typically in October, November, December, March, May, and June. We’ve even had an August test since 2017.
The conventional wisdom suggests that students sit for the SAT (and ACT) in the spring of junior year and, if needed, the fall of senior year. High schoolers who follow this dubious advice flock to the May and June dates in the spring, then inevitably test again in October and November. December has typically been the test date for very late seniors and very early juniors.
After watching students struggle through the college admissions process for over twenty years, I’ve seen how the traditional testing paradigm fails students. A more successful approach entails that students test as early as is feasible in 11th grade. What’s wrong with May and June?
MAY – APs, spring sports, Spring Break
JUNE – Finals, Regents, prom, championships for spring sports, approaching summer, etc.
Obviously, students don’t need to worry about those culminating tests in the beginning of the academic year, but testing in October and November carries different baggage. Fall sports can be a distraction, but the bigger challenge lies in how much pressure students feel taking the tests at this time. Juniors always have options and future tests to sit for, whereas seniors are often up against their deadlines. Most Early Admission or Early Action applications require scores from October at the latest. The stress seniors feel when sitting for these fall exams often works against them in the moment.
March, on the other hand, seems mercifully free of distractions. Some schools release students for Presidents’ Weekend or Winter Break in February and just about everyone enjoys a Spring Break in April, but March sees students positioned to pursue the kind of high quality practice testing that leads to success on test day. Plus, if students fail to earn their target test scores in March, they still have May and June as contingency dates. Students that defer testing until the late spring must wait until fall for another shot.
Some students see winter as their busiest season for sports, theater, or other extracurricular commitments. Most, however, seem less encumbered during our colder months than they’ll be come spring. Make the most of this opportunity to focus on results and aim for the March SAT.