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The Class of 2017's Standardized Testing Dilemma

Normally, college admissions season begins in the spring semester of 11th grade. But next year’s juniors are in a unique situation, which requires planning and decision-making right now!

3 Test Options Instead of 2

Most colleges require students to take a standardized test as a condition of admission. Since schools accept either the SAT or the ACT, students generally have a choice between the two. But because a new SAT will be released during the next school year, next year’s juniors will have three testing choices: the current SAT, the new SAT, or the ACT. So which test should your child take?

Don’t Take the New SAT

Based on conversations with college admissions officers, test prep professionals, and others, we are advising our students to avoid taking the new SAT. There are a few key reasons:

  • Because it is new, there will not be many practice tests or other prep materials available. Those materials that are available will likely need revision after the first several rounds of the test are administered. Tutors will also need a period of time to become familiar with the new instrument.

  • As opposed to the usual 3-week turnaround of test scores, the first round of the new SAT will take substantially longer. As many students will want to take the test twice, they may not receive feedback on their first performance soon enough to help them prepare for their second.

  • It’s unclear how college admissions officers will interpret the results. The new test will be scored differently than the current test. The top test score will be 1,600 instead of 2,400 and multiple subscores will be reported.

  • The SAT has been changed to make it more like the ACT, so why not just take the ACT?

Do Take the Current SAT or the ACT

The upshot is that we believe that next year’s juniors should be looking at the same options as this year’s juniors—the current SAT or the ACT.

There Are Differences Between the Current SAT and the ACT

Frequently, a student will do better on one test or the other. Here are some of the differences between the two tests: Versus the ACT, the current SAT:

  • Is more of a reasoning/problem-solving test

  • Puts a stronger emphasis on vocabulary

  • Is broken up into more sections

Versus the current SAT, the ACT:

  • Is based more on high school curriculum

  • Has a science section

  • Tests more advanced math concepts (trigonometry)

  • Is more straightforward

Take Practice Tests To Zero-In

To get a better grasp of how they will do on the real thing, students should take practice tests and compare their relative performance. Armed with these results, they can focus their efforts on maximizing their score on the test that best plays to their strengths. and McGraw-Hill Practice Plus are two options for taking full-length practice tests online. The Princeton Review, a test prep company, offers free, full-length, in-person SAT and ACT tests, as well as the PRA, a test designed to help students determine which test is better for them.

Take the Current SAT in Fall, the ACT in Spring

While students typically take their standardized tests in the spring of their junior year (at least the first round), this coming year’s juniors will have to choose between testing in the fall or the spring, based on which test they elect to take.Since the current SAT will be making its final appearances on four test dates between October 2015 and January 2016, those students who want to take it should plan to do it at least once in the fall, with the opportunity to repeat it in January--the last time it will be offered. Those students who choose the ACT can plan to take it, as is typical, during the spring semester.

Prep This Summer for the Current SAT

Usually students don’t begin their test prep in the summer before 11th grade. However, because next year’s juniors will need to take it in the fall, those planning to take the current SAT should begin preparing for it this summer. Further, make a point of signing up early. As both juniors and seniors will be vying for seats, they may fill up fast. Those students who will be taking the ACT can wait until the end of fall semester to begin prepping.

The Bottom Line

Figure out your test strategy early this summer, in order to keep the chances of a successful outcome high and your anxiety low.

2015-2016 Test Dates

The current SAT will be offered:

October 2015, November 2015, December 2015, January 2016

The new SAT will be offered:

March 2016, May 2016, June 2016 and from then on

The ACT will be offered:

September 2015, October 2015, December 2015, February 2016, April 2016, June 2016

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