Should I take one more SAT? Is it worth it to sign up for an ACT in the Fall? Isn’t the fall of senior year too late to be testing?
Many families want to have their student’s college admission testing wrapped up by the end of their Junior year, and who wouldn’t? It is reassuring to know what scores a student is applying with, and everyone is relieved to have their testing behind them. But many students miss an important opportunity by skipping out on a fall test when, in my experience, students often see their greatest score improvements when they retest as Seniors.
It is not surprising that fall tests are often big wins for students, as there are several factors that help to prime students for a successful final test.
It is a less intense time of year.
Most of our students take their first two SATs or ACTs in the winter or spring of their junior year, and they end the school year with scores that they are happy with. This allows students to be strategic about developing their college lists over the summer, and they can feel good about the fact that they have completed the hardest part of test preparation.
However, winter and spring of junior year can be intense, and students are juggling their test prep with a rigorous academic load, APs and final exams, and extracurriculars, including the always-busy spring sports season. Students retesting in the fall of senior year have fewer academic obligations, and when they prepare during the summer they can really commit their time and attention in a way that isn’t always possible during the school year.
There is no risk.
Once a student has taken their first SAT or ACT, their final score can only go up or remain the same. Thanks to superscoring, students are submitting just their best sectional scores to colleges. If a student retests and their score goes down, they simply will not send that score. This eliminates the risk of retesting and can help reduce the pressure of Test Day, which can, in turn, improve performance.
Students know what they want and they are more invested in the process.
An important shift takes place during the summer leading into Senior year. As students finalize their college lists, refine their application essays, and prepare for their last year of high school, the prospect of going to college quickly becomes very real, and many students take an increasingly active role in planning for their own futures. This translates into a more impactful test preparation process.
When a student takes an SAT in March, they might be doing so as much for their parents as for themselves. However, when students sit for the August test, they often do so with a new perspective and a new level of commitment. This can be seen in the quality of student’s homework, their willingness to repeatedly engage in challenging practice, and the seriousness with which they take the process as a whole. These habits, when taken together, are instrumental in improving students’ results on Test Day.
Students are older and wiser.
No amount of tutoring and no parade of practice tests can make up for the factor of time. When a student takes an SAT or ACT during the fall of their Senior year, they benefit from the fact that they have simply been alive longer. They have been exposed to more language, they have encountered more diverse perspectives and experiences, and they have simply had more time for their prefrontal cortex to develop and mature. As a result, they are better equipped to navigate challenging content and thus more likely to reach and exceed their score goals.
While there are many compelling reasons for a student to take a fall test, the decision is best left in the student’s hands. If a student does not want to retest, forcing them probably isn’t going to get the results a parent hopes for. However, when a student has agency in the process, and when that student ultimately makes the decision to retest because they are invested in their own future, that is when we see students most consistently earning scores that they are proud to send to colleges, knowing that those scores truly represent their best effort.