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The SAT and ACT exams can be the deciding factor that gets a prospective student in their dream school. There has never been a more competitive climate in regards to college admission. A high score on either of these exams has heavy weight in the eyes of a college admissions office, so you want to make sure you schedule your tests to give yourself the best chance of success.
Factors you must consider include:
- The dates the exams are offered
- The price of each exam
- The amount of preparation time available
Luckily, a sound strategy cooperatively created by the student and parents can take the stress out of this obstacle on the road to college acceptance
Take Both SAT and ACT Tests
There is much debate on whether the SAT or ACT is better to take, but the reality is you should take both tests. While this may seem like added stress to an already stressful situation, this strategy has benefits if it is well-planned.
First off, taking both tests eliminates any potential regrets. Students who only take one test and don’t get into their top choices start to second-guess their application strategy. This includes wondering if taking the other test could have improved their chances enough for acceptance.
Each Test is Different
Each test also has slightly different content and scoring methods. The SAT is broken up into the SAT I and the SAT II. The SAT I is the main test and has a writing, verbal, and math section. Each section is scored out of 800, with a correct answer equaling one point and a wrong answer equaling a deduction of 1/4 of a point.
The SAT II, also called the SAT Subject Tests, are for students looking to pursue a more specialized program. Language subjects include French, German, Spanish, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. Several of these can be taken with or without the listening portion of the exam.
Other non-language subjects include Literature, U.S History, World History, Math 1, Math 2, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. the SAT subject tests are important if your schools of choice are especially selective. For more information, check the official SAT Website.
The ACT exam has sections on English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science. There is also an optional writing section where students have 30 minutes to answer a prompt. You can register on the ACT website.
The big difference between the two tests is the ACT exam doesn’t penalize students for wrong answers. This is means strategic guessing on every question is a good strategy on the ACT, yet it can be an ineffective strategy for the SAT.
There is no age or grade requirement to take either exam. Most students take their first exam at the end of Junior year, so taking your first test at the end of your Sophomore year gives you an academic edge on your peers. If you do take this test, then be sure to approach it realistically.
It won’t be your only time taking the exam, so your score is essentially irrelevant. This first test is simply to get used to the format of the test, as well as to get experience in an actual test setting. There is usually an SAT test given in May and June, and an ACT test given in April and June.
Plan for Progress
Use these initial results to plan your summer study strategy. While summer studying may sound unappealing, it will drastically reduce the amount of test anxiety you will feel as your next test date approaches. Also, summer is a great time to study since you have your graded schoolwork to worry about during the academic year.
Choose Your Remaining Dates Wisely
The SAT I is was given seven times and the SAT II six times throughout the 2014-15 academic year, and the ACT was given six times. If you start with the first test of your Junior year, then you will have roughly a dozen tries at each exam if you took every single one.
There is no limit to how many times you take each test, so long as you pay the registration fee before the deadline. The only thing is, depending on the date; you may have to travel outside of your home district to find a test site. These sites, dates, and fees can be found on various websites.
Choosing How Many Times to Take the Tests
How many times you take each test depends entirely on your schedule. A good rule of thumb is to take each test at least twice more. This will leave you plenty of time to study for each exam, also to maintaining a high GPA in your crucial Junior year.
Take both the ACT and SAT I in the Fall of your Junior year. The ACT is usually offered in September and October while the SAT I is offered in October, November, and December. If you have structured your summer studying properly, then you should be able to score well this time around. Still, this probably won’t be your highest score.
Your next tests should be scheduled the earliest date in the spring of your Junior year. This is the test that will most likely yield your highest scores so far. If you are satisfied with your scores, then you can move on to other aspects of your application journey.
If you are unsatisfied with your scores, then dedicate your summer to extensive studying and take the first test in the fall of your Senior year. The scores are usually available 6-8 weeks after the test, which is in plenty of time to accompany your applications.