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Do Your Summer Plans Include Taking the SAT? Prior Version

By May 14, 2018Uncategorized

Calendaring test dates can involve navigating a tricky set of logistical challenges. Getting it right is an important strategic component of good test preparation and guidance. As the inaugural “Summer SAT” quickly approaches, students now have an option to address some of those conflicts.

Save The Date: August 26th, 2017
Registration for the new “Summer SAT” Opens This Month Now Open

Early last year College Board announced a two-part change to its US test date schedule that impacts the testing plan of the class of 2018 and beyond:

  • January exams would be offered for the last time in 2017
  • August exams will debut in 2017 and recur annually

The adjustment responds to a confluence of trends in testing, test preparation, and college admission behaviors. For the most part, students and counselors alike see this as a positive switch, one that better aligns with today’s prevailing college prep timelines.

Given its relative unpopularity, the January date was an obvious candidate for ousting. For most seniors who needed a final sitting, January was simply too late. Furthermore, juniors testing for the first time always had more favored options. Juniors typically take their first SAT in the spring (March, May, or June) after a few months of preparation following the return of PSAT results in December, while a handful of very high scoring juniors take their first test in the fall (October, November, or December.) January had increasingly become nobody’s ideal test date.

The introduction of the August date, of course, is the bigger news, and it primarily addresses the common desire to retake the SAT at least once. Until this year, most juniors chose to either test twice in the spring or wait until mid-autumn of senior year to test again. While both routes are still viable, many students will now see the new summer option as the best available path.

Improved Planning

Juniors who test in March can theoretically retest in May or June, but in practice, that plan can be problematic for several reasons. For one, late spring of junior year is notoriously impacted by increased academic and extra-curricular demands. Secondly, the May or June test dates are often wisely reserved for Subject Tests when students are peaking in the corresponding academic classes. And finally, for some students, late spring feels too soon to retest because there may not have been enough opportunity to significantly grow from where they were in March. Scores are unlikely to change much if the test taker hasn’t had time to improve.

For these reasons, waiting until the fall to retest has traditionally had merit for many students. The intentional delay meant juniors could remove an extra burden from their busy spring plates and focus on finishing the all-important academic year strong. Moreover, fall testing allows families and counselors to regroup near the end of junior year and contemplate what lies ahead. With an almost “complete” transcript, a first-round of spring test scores, and a preliminary college list in hand, students, parents, and advisors can preface the summer with a reality-check conversation about a final testing and application strategy:

  1. Should I prepare over the summer to retest?
  2. When should I retest?
  3. Where will I likely apply?
  4. And what application deadlines will I encounter?

Increasingly so, it has been such “rising senior” questions – particularly the second and fourth above – that have made an otherwise prudent decision to retest in the fall somewhat tangled. For starters, the notion of summer-only prep for a mid-October exam would mean taking an ill-advised six-week break before the next available testing opportunity. To avoid this, many seniors have maintained some form of test prep through September to stay sharp while also working on applications and returning to school. As of this summer, the August SAT should help tighten up that popular plan.

Additionally, mid-autumn dates left little cushion for students who apply to colleges early decision or early action. Students who sit for the August exam, however, will receive their test results well in advance of early application deadlines. In fact, should students find themselves dissatisfied with their August scores, they will likely have yet another opportunity (October or possibly even November) to retest; that is certainly at least true for non-early deadlines. In light of the recent spate of SAT and ACT scoring debacles, the implementation of a summer offering is a welcome insurance policy for students concerned about application deadlines.

Summer Subject Tests?

While much of the discussion around summer testing focuses on the SAT, it is important to note that most Subject Tests will be offered on August 26th as well. The slate of subjects previously offered in January will be moved to August, plus the addition of World History. The only subjects not offered in summer are some of the foreign languages: German, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, and all of the “with listening” versions of the foreign language exams (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish) which are still only offered in November.

The Subjects offered in August will be:

  • Literature
  • U.S. History
  • World History
  • Math Level 1
  • Math Level 2
  • Biology E/M
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • French
  • Spanish

While Compass usually recommends taking Subject Tests toward the end of a second semester, the new August date could be a good makeup or retest opportunity for some students, as long as proper preparation is completed over the summer.

One-ups-manship

In an article in The Atlantic after this news first broke, my colleague Adam Ingersoll shared his opinion of the summer SAT. Although Adam supports College Board’s decision to add an August option, he pointed out that the organization’s motives were not purely altruistic. For years, College Board’s main competitor, ACT, has administered the first fall test date, in early September. Many seniors chose the September ACT, partly out of near-necessity, looking to complete their testing as early into senior year as possible. By instituting a summer date, College Board has leapfrogged ACT in an attempt to coax more students away from its competitor. But only for so long . . .

Indeed, ACT too recently announced a summer administration, beginning in 2018. And not to be outdone, ACT lay claim to — yes — July! So those who have long lamented that high-stakes college admission testing seems to only occur in the midst of demanding academic year periods are soon getting their wish: between SAT and ACT, eleven calendar months per year will be covered. Only January will provide a month of testing respite.

New York and international students have unique planning needs. While the August SAT will be available in New York, the July ACT joins the February ACT as test dates with no New York centers. Neither the July ACT nor August SAT will be offered internationally.

What This Means for Compass Students

The first group of students who should consider the August SAT is the class of 2018 (current 11th graders.) We don’t recommend that current sophomores view this new date as an extra-early jumpstart opportunity.

Although the majority of Compass juniors will complete at least one ‘fully-prepped’ official test this spring, the August SAT provides a nice follow-up date for those who don’t reach their peak scores. And the August 26th date provides a clear target for well-paced, one-on-one tutoring over (only) the summer months.

If you are considering the August option, be sure to register early. Registration is not quite open but is expected to open soon now open as of late April. The regular registration deadline will close on July 28th, and we anticipate the summer administration to be in high demand. Update 5/2/2017: August test date availability appears to be extremely limited in some areas – register soon!

Should you have questions about the August SAT or other test planning concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact a Compass director for individualized guidance.

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.

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