I recommend that students take the SAT or ACT in the spring of junior year and retake that same test in the fall of senior year, if necessary. May is a perfect month for the SAT since students can order “Question and Answer Service” (which is only offered three times a year), a terrific study tool for the next round. Taking the May SAT also allows students to take SAT Subject Tests in June, close to the end of the semester in which they are studying those subjects.
The ACT Q&A service, “Test Information Release,” is offered in April and June. June is the best time to take the test, when courses are nearly over and students have learned more math, which is relevant on this test. Then take the test once more in September or October.
Colleges accept both. For students applying to colleges that require the SAT + SAT Subject Tests, or ACT alone, and who do not have strong SAT Subject Test options, the ACT is appealing. For students who are weak in reading and vocabulary but strong in math, the ACT is often the better option. Otherwise, the SAT is generally considered the more coachable test. Students can take a practice test in each to get the definitive answer of which test is a better fit for them.
Under what circumstances should students retake the SAT or ACT? How much better should a student expect to do the second time around?
Although the trend is to take more and more tests, there are several reasons students should not retake the SAT or ACT more than once. Students’ time could be put to much better uses than prepping for and retaking tests, too. Students who study for these tests tend to make a big jump in scores after their first course of study: 50 points or more in each SAT section, 2-4 points in each ACT section. After that, many students plateau out, but still manage to raise their scores in the fall, sometimes an additional 50 points per SAT section, and a 1-3 points on the ACT.
Since colleges pick the best scores to make a superscore, nearly everyone should take the test again in the fall. Many students pull it all together then: They are a half-year older than when they first took the test; they’ve grown and matured over the summer, too. A number of factors lead some students to see big improvement in the fall test. Even if they only pick up a few points here and there, it adds up and overall is likely to be much higher than initial scores.
What is your advice for parents, when it comes to helping your child juggle the necessary components of admissions (exams, essays, paperwork, tours, etc)?
Every student and family is different, but the demands of college applications and admissions are the same: burdensome and stressful! Students need to be willing to accept some parental help and guidance but may rightfully reject meddling. Families should sit down early in the process and establish roles, boundaries, and procedures for making sure everything gets done.
Personally, I have no objection to allowing a student to delegate much of the logistics and bookkeeping to parents. Some students are not ready to take on that responsibility or are too busy juggling school and test prep and all the rest of their responsibilities. It does not mean that they are not ready to go on to the next step. Essays, however, and anything that is supposed to be in the student’s voice should not bear any parent’s fingerprints.
Should students ever cancel their scores on the ACT or SAT? If you feel you did particularly bad is it a good idea to cancel your test?
Both ACT and SAT scores may be cancelled within a few days of the test, but students should really have a good reason to do so, not just nerves. It really is difficult to predict one’s score based on a gut feeling after taking the test, but if the student was ill or had any other extraordinary circumstance that would have affected his or her test performance, cancellation is a last resort. Remember though, most colleges will superscore the results from all the SATs taken, and a growing number of colleges will do so for the ACT, too, so even if the results in one or two sections of the test are poor, a higher score in another section generally makes it all worth keeping, since that score would benefit the overall score compilation.
For students taking the SAT Subject Tests, note that score cancellation affects all tests taken that day. Even if the student is concerned about one of two or three tests, it probably would be wiser to keep all the scores. Most colleges allow Score Choice, so any weak scores can be suppressed later.