Some students take the ACT or SAT really early -- often even in eighth grade -- for various reasons. But in some cases, even after taking the test a few more times, students may not surpass their early scores, and wonder what their options are.
If you're in this situation, don't panic! Dr. Erin Avery, a New Jersey-based certified educational planner, thinks that this kind of a situation says more about the content of the test than the test-taker.
“So much of the content of the verbal is taught in the seventh and eighth grade if a student has a strong teacher, school and curriculum," Avery explains.
One option is to switch to the other test, from SAT to ACT, or vice versa. But this decision will also depend on your academic strengths. "There is much more geometry on the ACT than there is on the SAT," Avery says. "That is just one example of the ways in which one test could be more suited to a test-taker than the other test."
But if you were thinking that you should really buckle down and get serious about your test prep, well, you're absolutely right. Analyze your score reports to figure out your problem areas, and make a plan that will help you zoom in on those weak spots before you take the test again. Before you register to take another test, make sure that there will be enough time before the test date for you to thoroughly prepare.
Depending on your budget, you could hire a private tutor, take an intensive test prep course or even enroll in a summer test prep boot camp if you're taking the exam later.
“Clearly, increasing the time a student dedicates to test practice is critical. I highly recommend that students prepare for standardized tests in the summer months so that this does not compete with traditional classroom learning and homework. Now with the SAT being offered in August and the ACT in July, it only makes sense to prep and take the test in the summer," Avery says.
Along with blocking off more time for focused study sessions, you could also consider the possibility of testing with accommodations. However, you must first find out if you are eligible, and Avery adds that “even then if there is a track record for using accommodations in the classroom, the College Board or ACT may deny your request."
But retaking the test over and over again isn't necessarily the solution to increasing your score above your eighth grade results. After over 16 years of educational consulting experience, Avery has found that the October SAT taken by seniors “tends to max out their testing plateau. Students tend to do their best work during this test date perhaps because they are the oldest, have had time off during the summer to take an intellectual break, and then they've gotten back into the school routine. Then, by mid-October, they are back in prime intellectual shape without the burnout of May or June."
You also need to know if your target colleges will actually see your eighth grade test scores. According the College Board website, “Official score reports sent to colleges five or more years after a test date are accompanied by a message explaining that they may be less valid predictors of college academic performance than more recent scores."
This means that if you took the SAT in the fall of your eighth grade year and are sending in college applications by late December or early January of your senior year, that eighth grade score report may have this special note from the College Board.
And last but certainly not least, the test-optional strategy is always there for you if you really don't want a school to see that your standardized test scores haven't progressed since eighth grade. Especially if you are getting good grades in rigorous classes and would be able to get letters of recommendation from teachers and/or counselors, then you need not worry about a standardized test score when it's time to apply to colleges.
“Students are more than a test score," Avery adds, “and there are hundreds of colleges that will accept a student, highly selective colleges by the way, without the need to prep or take the SAT or ACT."
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