No college discriminates against students with multiple scores. Students need not fear the multiple scores, and those students who build ACT or SAT success early STILL have a major advantage.
The strategy students should follow is:
PREP EARLY and PRACTICE TEST OFTEN.
Strong practice tests are the best indicator of strong actual scores. (Remember, a well-timed practice SAT is a better dry-run than the PSAT). On a Test Day with no aberrations, a student is likely to score within 40 points (out of 1600) of her or his best practice test. Many students who begin their test prep early have practice tests that reveal that they can post impressive scores early (fall of Junior year). Those who start prepping early but whose progress is slow STILL have multiple test dates in the winter and spring of Junior year. ALL students who do well as Juniors avoid a crowded last summer, and avoid the pressure of Senior year “do-or-die” testing.
There is little in the SAT that relies on junior year academics. The SAT Verbal covers skills presented in the sophomore year and earlier. Most SAT math does as well. Schools not covering all SAT Math by the sophomore year are not guaranteed to cover the rest in the junior year either. Meanwhile, students taking pre-calculus or calculus are actually REMOVING themselves from the core SAT math: Algebra I and low-level geometry.
The result of early prep and early testing is:
One and Done!
Good Practice, Better Armed for Next Time
For students whose math classes in school have yet to cover all the ACT and SAT basics, early prep is still sensible for families willing to have a tutor give those higher level math skills in the summer.
Unless a student’s prep takes away from good academics or good extra-curricular activities, there is NO downside to a well-prepped student testing early. To avoid prep greatly conflicting with academics, we at Ivy Bound encourage 2 – 4 weeks of early summer SAT or ACT prep and then a late summer ramp-up to an SAT in August or an ACT in September. The up-sides to posting a good score early are:
- Knowing what colleges are realistic, and thus making intelligent campus visits
- Giving recruiters (especially coaches, but also academic department heads) an early reason to woo you
- Avoiding the pressures of junior spring and senior fall, which are otherwise very busy
- Being DONE, and getting on to other pursuits
The student who tests early in the Junior year and doesn’t do well still has three advantages for the next test:
- A student can learn from the testing experience. Making the best use of time, knowing what to expect of the proctors, and avoiding distractions can all incrementally help on the next test.
- Even a student whose abilities have not improved from one test day to another may still see a better score owing to the vagaries of the test.
- Even a student whose abilities have not improved from one test day to another may still see a better score because that student approaches the test differently the next time.
Our students are offered frequent group practice tests Students who start with us before junior year will be taking their first REAL test by November. Few high school counselors push for fall SATs, but they should.
This may be a wake-up call to some, but knowledgeable parents have long demanded that their kids test a lot. Savvy parents know what it takes in the modern era for competitive admissions, and their students are getting the coveted admissions and merit scholarship awards.
FOUR MORE SUGGESTIONS:
- Consider an experiment of two practice SATs and two practice ACTs on consecutive weekends. Or during a vacation, on consecutive days. This gives clarity about which test gives the better likelihood of a top score. The Official SAT Study Guide and The Official ACT Prep Guide provide the comparison opportunity.
- Don’t prep long, but prep WELL. Ivy Bound encourages only 3 – 6 months for ACT/SAT tutoring. When done well, no student has to be saddled with 20 – 24 months.
- Don’t take the SAT “cold”. Unless you can attain a score that will guarantee you admission to your cherished program, testing cold is a wasted opportunity. Do at least SOME prep. Get to a level where you can on a good day show a great score (for the colleges you aspire to attend) on at least ONE section. Once one section is “nailed”, it’s good for life at most colleges, and thus the student might be able to end study on that section and concentrate on the other two sections.
- Ideally, do all prep you expect to do before the first ACT/ SAT. That gives you the chance to make it the last test as well.
Colleges do not need both an SAT and an ACT, and we know of NONE that has even a mild preference (BYU’s former preference for ACT ended in 2010). All other things being equal, the SAT typically takes less tutoring time, but there is for most students a need for extra self-study of vocabulary, which the SAT tests indirectly. Also, more colleges “super-score” (i.e. cherry-pick the best sections) on the SAT than the ACT. However, the ACT now offers more practice tests for students and thus is a bit more “coachable”.
*There are exceptions. Students who have not had a semester of algebra and a semester of geometry by sophomore year may deserve to wait until later in the junior year to cover the basic math prior to their first SAT. And some students actually get vocabulary-intensive English courses as Juniors, though this is rare since most school administrators dislike direct SAT prep.