For high schoolers who are planning to go to college, developing an SAT strategy can be a challenge. It doesn’t have to be if you observe some basic considerations.
First, define your goals. Obviously, you want your score to be as high as possible. But what is high? Over 830 four-year colleges view the SAT as optional. For students applying to these schools, low SAT scores are no problem; they don’t submit them. Schools that do require the SAT have a published range of scores, called the middle 50 percent, which tells you where yours should fall if you want to meet their SAT guidelines. Most high schoolers take the SAT well before they know these ranges.
Getting SAT experience early is a good tactic. Often, your first encounter with the SAT should be in ninth grade. Some sixth and seventh graders take the SAT as a qualifier for Johns Hopkins University’s Search for Talented Youth program. So don’t be upset by the prospect of a ninth-grade SAT.
January and June are two good months to take the SAT. By January, you’ll have a half-year of new math and English under your belt. That can’t hurt. You can use your January scores, then, to decide if you need to take another SAT in June, after a full year of math and English. At a minimum, it’s a good idea to have at least one SAT in the bag before you take the PSAT in October of the junior year.
In terms of how many SATs to take, sometimes more is less. Most students will have achieved an optimum score by the third taking of the SAT, assuming you take the final one in the Fall of your senior year. A rule of thumb states that SAT scores tend to rise naturally at the rate of 100 points (total) for each school year that elapses after the student’s first SAT. Coaching, however, can make a difference.
Don’t forget about the SAT II when planning your SAT I. The SAT II exams are the former Achievement Tests (now called Subject Tests). The three most commonly required Subject Tests (required by most highly selective colleges) are Writing, Math, and the sciences (Biology, Chemistry, etc.). You can’t take both the SAT I and the SAT II on the same day. The best time to do the Subject Tests is in June of the year you had the subject your testing. Each SAT II takes an hour; you can do up to three on one test date. If you want to do the SAT I and II in the same year, do the SAT I in January or May and schedule the SAT IIs for June.