A recommended schedule for taking the SAT, ACT, and AP tests

by Grace

The Princeton Review published a High School Testing Timeline, with recommendations for when to take what tests.  Keep in mind that PR is in the business of selling test prep.

Here are key parts of the Princeton Review Timeline, with brief explanations of our local high school’s approach* to testing posted in blue text:

THE FRESHMAN YEAR

The Princeton Review philosophy is to not take tests during the first year in high school. We don’t even think it’s a good idea to take a PSAT as a 9th grader, because the scores seem to create more, not less, stress for the freshmen and their families. The one consistent exception to this is if a freshman is doing very well in her (or his) 9th grade Biology class, and is planning to take AP Biology before the end of the Junior year. If these two factors are in place, then we think it is a good idea for that student to take the Biology Subject Test (formerly known as the SAT II) in Ecology.

Our Local School —
Similar to above, except that many accelerated science students take AP Environmental Science in eighth or ninth grade as an alternative to biology.

THE SOPHOMORE YEAR

October: Take the PSAT or the PLAN
These tests during the sophomore year are opportunities for risk free practice that should not be missed. We do not recommend intensive preparation …

May: If you are in an AP class, then you will have the chance to take the AP in May. Some students take an AP class, but then do not take the AP exam. You do not want to be one of these students. College admissions people tend to frown upon students from AP classes who duck out on taking the AP exam.

June: Take any appropriate Subject Test
Traditionally, if a Sophomore is going to take a Subject Test in the 10th grade, it will be in either World History or Chemistry….

Our Local School —
Similar to above, with the opportunity to take the PLAN only recently becoming an option.  I’m glad they now offer the PLAN because it sets the stage for taking the ACT, which is a better choice than the SAT for some students.  Students taking AP classes are required to take the AP exam.

SUMMER BETWEEN THE 10TH AND 11TH GRADE YEAR

If you have the time, the inclination and the resources, this is the time frame best suited for test preparation. The students have learned the vast majority of the material that will appear on the SAT (and if they’ve completed Algebra II, they’ve learned all of it), and it’s a considerably less stressful time to be doing this work….

Our Local School —
Most students are advised to defer any test prep until after they’ve taken the SAT in their junior year.  According to guidance counselors, at that point a student will be in a better position to decide if he wants or needs tutoring.

JUNIOR YEAR

While many different scheduling strategies can satisfy individual student’s needs, the majority of students fall into two distinct categories: “Aggressive” and “Regulars”.

AGGRESSIVE
(Includes high academic achievers, kids with proactive parents, students who had a lot of time to prepare during the previous summer but who anticipate being extremely busy in the spring, students who want to try to achieve some flavor of National Merit status, very weak testers who may need extended preparation to achieve acceptable scores, and students who will apply as Early Decision candidates).
October – SAT followed by PSAT (may not be appropriate for weaker testers)
November – Language listening subject tests for native speakers
Winter – Refresher preparation
Mar – The second crack at the SAT, if necessary
April – Try the ACT
May – AP’s/Subject Tests
June – Subject Tests

REGULARS
Sep/Oct – Light prep (PSAT Clinic)
October – PSAT
Fall/Winter – Intensive prep (can do extended prep starting in November or begin in January, both in preparation for the March/April test in either the SAT or the ACT)
May/June – Subject Tests (if needed) or a second attempt at the SAT

Our Local School —
Similar to above recommendations on Subject and AP tests, but less aggressive on other testing matters.  Our high school generally recommends waiting until the spring of junior year to first take the SAT, followed by the ACT if the SAT score was lower than desired.  On the subject of test prep, our school appears slightly schizophrenic in their outlook.  Guidance counselors do not recommend extensive test prep for the vast majority of students, but the school administration sends the message that the highest test scores are the result of test tutoring.  My guesstimate is that at least half the students pay for some type of test prep.

SENIOR YEAR

The Senior year can become complicated because it is so late in the cycle, and the permutations are very dependent upon the individual student. From the broadest perspective, if you’re “Aggressive”, then October should be your last ACT/SAT/Subject Test attempt. The “Regular” students may take these exams up to, and including, December of their senior year and still make it in time for most colleges’ admission deadlines (including the UC schools).

Our Local School —
Similar to above, with a general recommendation to complete testing sooner rather than later.

* This is based on my experience and observations, so I make no claim that this is a comprehensive representation of their official policy.

Related:  College application timeline

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One Comment to “A recommended schedule for taking the SAT, ACT, and AP tests”

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