The College Board recently changed their score reporting policy for students taking the SAT. How does that affect me?
Prior to March 2009, the College Board sent all of a student’s past scores to all of the student’s requested colleges. Previously, though most colleges claimed only to look at top scores, students were limited in the number of SATs they could take and the pressure to score well on any particular test was considerably higher.
However, as of March 2009, you can take multiple tests and choose which score to send to individual colleges. For example, let’s take a student who has taken three SATs. With the old policy, all three scores would get sent to all colleges that the student requested. Now, however, the student could select to send the test with the highest math score to one college, and the test with the highest reading comprehension score to another.
This policy change gives you more flexibility in the number of tests that you can take and reduces your performance pressure. If you score poorly, just take it again! Because a college sees only the scores that a student wants to send, you could take tests at every date starting in 9th grade and only send the top score.
However, that isn’t a license to over-test. While practice testing can be a helpful preparation strategy, it must be done judiciously. Practice testing can help calm nerves and build stamina, but no amount of testing (even years) will improve scores that are hindered by a student’s weakness in reading, English, and math fundamentals, or a weakness in test-taking skills. With the guessing-penalty, you also can’t even count on luck. What does that mean?
Instead of gross over-testing, students should use their resources (books, online software, and tutors) to efficiently isolate and improve their deficiencies. Prepare early and plan to take your first test between the end of your sophomore summer and the Jan of your junior year. With the new policy, you can confidently take advantage of your preparation and multiple test dates to give yourself the best shot at the score you need.
How should I use my summer for SAT preparation?
Each student’s test preparation period and number of tests they take will be slightly different. However, unless there are extenuating circumstances, you should NOT begin preparing for your SATs before your sophomore summer, and you should plan to have all of your SAT preparation done and your scores ready by the beginning of your senior year. Contrary to the opinion of many parents, more preparation than that is not necessary, can lead to burn-out, and, most importantly, takes time away from your other valuable activities.
Thus, my recommendation to students is to assess your SAT situation at the beginning of your sophomore summer with a practice test and preparation materials. With the help of a qualified expert, estimate how long you will need to prepare, and then compare that to your upcoming academic schedule. If you are free during your sophomore summer, begin preparation then and try to take your SAT early in your junior year. For those who need more time, or already have summer plans, begin studying no later than the start of your junior year and plan to have your test out of the way by March of your Junior year.
Unless you performed poorly on the SATs, or had a junior year schedule that was prohibitive to studying, you should not use your junior summer to prepare for SATs. Rather, you should begin to focus on your college application at that time.
Remember, the SAT is only a test and one part of your application. Your preparation should be as short and effective as possible to get you the score you need, so you can take advantages of all of the other great experiences available to you. If you need to, give us a call. We’d love to help!