Don’t let the title of this week’s blog fool you: the most significant thing you can do in any grade for college admissions is to take the most rigorous classes available to you and earn the best grades you can in them. Period. So as this year begins, keep your eye on the prize: A’s in school!
Having said that, another important component in the college admissions game is, for better or worse, standardized test scores. Consequently, it’s never too early to start to plan which ones you’re going to take, and when you’re going to take them. Forewarned is forearmed, and we’re here to help.
I do not believe in having 9th or 10th graders take ACTs or SATs, even though many schools advise–some even require–that they do. My reasoning is that while the upside is slim, there is a substantial down side: namely, if you don’t do well you may get psyched out, and colleges will see the scores even if they also see high ones later on. 9th and 10th grades are CRUCIAL YEARS to learn the basic material covered on the SATs and ACTs, so give yourself a chance to learn it!
When it comes to SAT Subject Tests, however, 9th and 10th graders SHOULD consider them, especially in history and science. Here is a FANTASTIC TIP: Buy an SAT Subject Test prep book for your history and science courses (I am partial to the Princeton Review series, though there are other good books on the market as well), and use them alongside your textbooks as the classes unfold. This will BOTH improve your standing in the classes AND prepare you over the entire year for the Subject Test(s) in May or, most likely, June. When the spring rolls around and your friends are freaking out and cramming, you will simply have to review ;-).
Juniors and seniors have to concern themselves with ACTs and SATs, as well as Subject Tests, and I strongly encourage everyone to take BOTH. See my June 17, 2008 blog for all the reasons why. Again, in the name of maximizing your learning and preparation time, there is no good reason to take these tests before the spring of junior year (unless, of course, you’re in that 1 or 2% of students who can ace them earlier, and a single practice test of each exam will show you whether you’re in that crowd).
Juniors: All juniors will take the PSATs in October–this year it’s 10/15 or 10/18. Because the PSAT generally sets a bar below which you will not fall on the SAT, you should prepare, and CollegePrepExpress offers a number of options detailed on this site. A month to six weeks of preparation suffices in most cases. After the PSATs, forget about test prep (other than regularly reviewing vocabulary, see August 6 blog, which should be a part of any rigorous junior year English curriculum) until you receive your scores in mid-December.
While individual family, sports, and extracurricular commitments may necessitate an alternate plan, I recommend that most juniors take the ACTs in April (4/4/09) and SATs in May (5/2/09), leaving the June CollegeBoard date open for Subject Tests (6/6/09). See calendar above for other options, i.e., other dates in the spring. At the very least, the April ACTs will be an excellent “warm-up” for the May SATs, and if you do well, YOU’RE DONE (i.e., ACTs count for Subject Tests, too :-)).
Seniors: Once again, while individual family, sports, and extracurricular commitments may necessitate an alternate plan, I recommend that most seniors take Subject Tests–these are typically re-takes– in October (10/4/08), the ACTs in October (10/25/08), and the SATs in November (11/1/08). This plan maximizes appropriate study time. There is also the possibility of taking the big exams in December (ACTs on 12/6/08 and SATs on 12/13/08), but these scores will likely be reported AFTER early decisions are made, so be sure to check with your guidance counselors about your plan to make sure all your scores are reported (or at least ask your counselors to indicate that future scores are pending)!
If you’re a little confused or disconcerted, take heart; you’re not alone. Feel free to call or email us at CollegePrepExpress and we’ll discuss any and all individualized plans. Now plan your work and work your plan!