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How to Choose Between Testing as a High School Junior or Senior

Dave_BerryDave_Berry CC Admissions Expert Posts: 2,742 Senior Member
"Factors like completed coursework can have an impact on your score.

There is no shortage of advice available to students who plan to take either the ACT or the SAT. From analysis of test content to guessing strategies, a whole world of tips and practice material is easily accessed online.

One aspect that is less often discussed but which may influence one’s scores is when students sit for these assessments. Before you choose to test as a high school junior or as a high school senior, take the following factors into account." ...


Replies to: How to Choose Between Testing as a High School Junior or Senior

  • intparentintparent Registered User Posts: 35,338 Senior Member
    This article doesn’t mention that waiting for fall can:
    - Mean the student goes into fall without a solid list of where they are applying, since that is dependent on test scores.
    - Leaves little time to restart if the student isn’t happy with their scores.
    - May make it hard to apply early for rolling admission schools or meet scholarship deadlines.

    Students really should test at least once junior year.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,051 Senior Member
    ^^ Not so sure it's dumb. CMU, for instance, requires that scores be from Junior or Senior year and they also look at all scores. The clear implication is that they discourage applicants from taking too many tests - one or two is fine. If someone is very busy with advance coursework and EC's, senior year may be an optimal time to sit a couple of standardized exams, especially with the summer to prep. The complication is that when you add in subject testing, you need another one or two testing dates, so beginning some form of testing by end of junior year seems necessary. But why can't it be subject tests in March - June, ACT/SAT in Aug-Dec? With self-reporting becoming a more popular aspect of the application, one should be able to sit an October or Dec SAT at least and have those scores back before the deadlines. Not saying this strategy works for everyone, of course, but it will work for some - or even many.

    Not having the solid list going into Senior year might feel a bit disconcerting; with all the various early options now, there's a strategy to selecting which schools you apply to and when. However, someone who has prepped well should have a decent idea of where he/she will end up score-wise so can choose a working list with that expectation in mind. Admission committees don't hang their decision hat on your score unless it's simply too low. Also - Surprise! - summer is a prime time for schools to alter their admission policies. Flexibility, openness to last minute changes, and patience in thinking through that list can be the keys to a happy outcome. Don't rush the job.
  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 Registered User Posts: 3,363 Senior Member
    I have to agree with the above comments that waiting until senior year can cause unnecessary problems. Sure junior year course load may be heavier, but Fall of senior year is when you need to be doing applications. I think students and parents underestimate the amount of time and effort that is required for well crafted essays and applications.

    I also agree that it's very hard to have a realistic list of reach/match/safety schools without test scores, let alone meet the EA deadlines without test scores.

  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,051 Senior Member
    edited November 27
    Not sure there is one correct answer here. @momofsenior1's points are certainly the conventional wisdom. Would also add that waiting until October can really backfire if your test center is somehow compromised due to natural - or even plumbing - disasters. Senior course load can also be significantly ramped up if the number of AP's offered for that year are higher (this is true for my son). But it's possible to work smart on this issue as well as hard. For instance, the application really isn't crafted during this fall; it's crafted during grades 9 - 11, and by senior year you are writing it up. Second, no one should spend a second more than the necessary time on standardized testing. Less is more here. If waiting a few months means you end up with fewer retakes and a higher score - that's a good thing and presents just as well on that application as the rest of your accomplishments. Third, it's absolutely the case that you can have a realistic list of schools before seeing your actual test scores. Just continue to reassess as necessary and change up or down as your expectations start to meet with reality. It's much easier to adjust your list than to add 100 points to your test score through one more attempt at the SAT, and applying to your dream school when you don't have the stats is really a waste of your time. Totally agree that lots of time is required for well-crafted essays. But unless you've front-loaded your top choices to unrestricted EA, you can probably spread these out over the four months before Winter Break. My son is totally taking his time and using the full runway (and he did so both for the SAT and his subject tests). But he's working smart and his main priority is maintaining his high GPA in the midst of a pretty rigorous load of AP's, and continuing to pursue his other interests and passions. Not saying his is the best strategy for everyone - it works best for him. That's the main takeaway: Do What Works Best.
  • chercheurchercheur Registered User Posts: 1,141 Senior Member
    We always started testing with the September ACT during junior year.

    First, it gave them a feel for what the test was like. They were under no pressure to reach a desired score at that point.

    Second, it was good prep for the October PSAT.

    Third, when they tested again during the 2nd semester of junior year, they felt prepared, scored well, and were done at that point.
  • makemesmartmakemesmart Registered User Posts: 851 Member
    We found taking SAT August right before Junior year (well in our case the beginning of junior year) to be perfect timing. Kiddo has summer to prep, and since we toured few schools during his sophomore spring break and at the beginning of August, he got motivated by the schools that he really liked (and saw their admitted students’ test scores!)
    Additionally, for potential recruited athletes, having test scores ready during junior year is almost a must!
    Sooner (as be done with standardized tests in Junior year) definitely is better!
  • MrElonMuskMrElonMusk Registered User Posts: 1,248 Senior Member
    edited November 27
    It's better to take the SAT/ACT or any standardized tests early on. I found that I had more time to prepare and thus did pretty good. Taking these tests in or before Senior year adds on to the huge headache of the college application process.
  • Mwfan1921Mwfan1921 Registered User Posts: 630 Member
    Another vote for earlier testing. Even if they wanted too, many students don't have the option to take a fall test during their senior year, such as those who play a fall sport, or those involved in fall theater productions/variety shows. At my kids' school nearly 1/3 of the 900ish kids in a given class are involved in a fall sport, and maybe another 50ish involved in theater/show productions. Just keeping up with schoolwork is a challenge when involved in these activities. Then add in college apps, writing essays, etc., it would be very difficult to make a serious effort at test prep and a test sitting.

    As someone mentioned above the timeline for athletes to take standardized tests is also accelerated now, as with new NCAA rules at least one ACT or SAT is needed to be able to take official visits, which start Sept 1 of junior year. It will be interesting to see if athletes really do this, or instead just take unofficial visits until they take a test sometime junior year.
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,051 Senior Member
    My niece is playing for a D1 team and took her first ACT during sophomore year in order to proceed with her recruitment.
  • havenoideahavenoidea Registered User Posts: 132 Junior Member
    Prep summer before junior year and take both ACT and SAT. This will also help for PSAT. It's possible you'll be done. If not, you can study the part you need to raise on whichever test you scored higher on and have plenty of time to take another time (or 2, if need be).
  • YnotgoYnotgo Registered User Posts: 3,896 Senior Member
    edited November 29
    @JBStillFlying CMU does say they want testing from 11th and 12th, but when asked by email if they really wanted a student who got 800s on the Math II and Physics subject tests in 9th grade to retest, they said that they would be happy with the freshman scores.

    Caltech said the same thing in an info session on campus. "Better to do testing junior and senior year" and then "Of course we are happy with 800s from freshman year. We just say test later because the scores typically get higher."
  • JBStillFlyingJBStillFlying Registered User Posts: 5,051 Senior Member
    @Ynotgo - not surprised by that information. While there is nowhere to go but down once you hit 800, there's no need to demonstrate further proficiency in the subject, even if you were a 9th grader at the time.
  • dragonmom3dragonmom3 Registered User Posts: 420 Member
    My kids have all finished testing by spring of junior year.
    The idea of being finished with testing was a great motivator in our house.
    All my kids have an informal "target" score which they have decided is good enough.
    However, with my D20 the game may be changed by her unexpected 1510 SAT from October. Her 780 in English was "random" as she says and much higher than her practice tests. This never happened with our other kids.
    Since she is more of a math/science kid I suggested that maybe she could try a second round to see what she could do in math because of superscoring.
    She shrugged and said she was above "target" so she should be done. I said that's ok with me....but then yesterday she asked my if I had signed her up for another SAT??
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