For Rising Seniors who plan to apply, or are considering applying, early to college under Early Action or Early Decision programs, June marks two major test dates for the SAT and the ACT. Early Admission hopefuls should aim for June so they’ll get two cracks at the SAT or ACT before applications are due (usually in November). Think of this strategy as the Olympic high jumper's approach to the SAT/ACT: students need more than one try to reach their highest score.
Let’s take a look at why a June test date is so important for students who need to submit their scores by November:
SAT and ACT scores matter
If you’re interested in applying to competitive 4-year colleges and universities, then scoring well on the SAT or ACT is of paramount importance. According to the hundreds of thousands of students who have been admitted to 4-year colleges and reported their profiles on Cappex, standardized test scores are the single best predictor of admissions decisions, even more so than grades. Maximizing your scores means improving your chances of acceptance in the most meaningful way. One factor to consider is when to take the test.
Taking the test more than once is essential
Testive coaches make one recommendation to their students time and time again: “Take the test again.” There are several reasons for this.
First, the margin of error on the SAT and ACT is meaningful. The SAT has a margin of error of about 50 points per section. (College Board) The ACT has a margin of error of 1.7 points per section. (FairTest) There is a 50% likelihood that your score under-reported your true ability. Even if you’re not planning to do any more prep, you should still consider taking the test again.
Second, veteran test-takers out-perform first-time test-takers. When we poll our students who take the test a second time, about 80% score better than they did on the first attempt. This isn’t very surprising, is it? Taking the test is stressful and comes with a whole host of logistical surprises. You’re sitting in a foreign place, surrounded by strange people, in a weirdly uncomfortable chair, facing down a gladiator-style opponent in high-stakes conditions. The stress is unbelievable. One of the things that best helps students offset stress is experience. So, when you go sit for the exam a second time, you’re better able to manage your stress and focus on your performance.
Third, prep helps. When you take the test a second time, you have an opportunity to continue your prep and build on your experience. The only consistent limiting factor is the appetite of the student. A student who wants to do better, almost always can if they put in work.
For these reasons, one of our most common pieces of advice is to take the test again. A corollary to this: one of the most heart-breaking moments for coaches is when they want to give that advice to a student, but can’t time has run out. If you wait to test until the fall of senior year and you are applying Early Action or Early Decision (and even if you aren’t), you only get one shot and, whatever the scoreboard says, that’s it. The only recourse at that point is to delay a year.
You should only take one test in the fall of Senior year
While students are technically allowed to take the SAT or ACT more than once in the fall (there are, after all, test dates in October, November, and December) strategically, this is inadvisable. And, if you are applying under Early Action or Early Decision, it may actually be impossible. Why? The most signification reason is the way score release happens. Most scores are released within 6 weeks of the test administration. While most scores are released about 3 weeks after the test, there are enough exceptions, errors, and delay that you are best not counting on this.
Since test dates are about a month apart, you aren’t likely to receive your test scores until right before you take the next test, if at all. And, since scores come out after the registration deadlines for the next test, you would need to register for your next test with only limited information about your performance on the last test. Back-to-back testing in the fall just isn’t optimal.
And, this all sidesteps the main reason that you should avoid taking tests in back-to-back months: human behavior. There is a powerful human inclination to take a break after taking the SAT or ACT. The run-up to the test and the administration itself are so stressful that it’s simply inadvisable for most people to take one, and then turn around and take another one without a chance to rest or reflect in between.
Junior year spring is the try before your last try
So, if stress is all-time-high on your last try, then it’s important to schedule a next-to-last-try. That try is the test you take in the spring of Junior year. For most people that test will be in June.
Early Action and Early Decision make the June test even more important
The Early Action deadline at Harvard (typically the first deadline) is November 1st in 2016. Now, if you’re following along closely, you’ll notice that there is scarcely enough time to get a test in after the summer if you’re planning to apply Early Decision or Early Action. There is an ACT on the second Saturday of September and there is an SAT on the first Saturday of October. At the best of times, the SAT releases scores three weeks after the test date. That just leaves a few days if you are planning to apply Early Decision between score release and your application due date.
Lately, the SAT has seen score release delays due to challenges with the new test format that was released in March 2016. If you’re taking the ACT, you’ll have more breathing room. (In either case, schools will most likely understand if you need to submit some test scores late because the score release was delayed.) But, the lesson is the same: If you’re applying Early Decision or Early Action, it is essential to take both the first test administration in the fall of senior year and a next-to-last try in the spring of your Junior year.
Why are we telling you this now, in April?
Good question. We find that students need about 2 months of consistent prep to be ready for the test. Although it may just your first try, doing some prep before the June test allows students to take a strong score into their last test next fall. A good score puts them in the driver’s seat. We don’t want you to miss the boat.