Preparing for College

How many times should I take the SAT?

How many times should I take the SAT? Some of my friends say once is enough, but I know one person who is on his fourth try.

For most high schoolers, three times is about the maximum between the start of the sophomore year and Christmas of the senior year. In some special cases, four times may be needed, but that should be the exception.

You may take the SAT/ACT prior to the sophomore year if you wish. Academically talented students take the SAT in sixth or seventh grade as part of Johns Hopkins University's Search for Talented Youth program. Some eighth and ninth graders just want to see what its like, so they experiment with it.

My personal opinion is that every sophomore should take the SAT/ACT in May or June. When those scores come in, special note should be taken of the areas of weakness. The diagnostic report that comes with the score report can be helpful in targeting efforts for improvement.

Juniors should keep in mind that they will be taking the PSAT in October. As we have discussed before here, the PSAT is not only a preliminary version of the SAT but also a qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarship competition consideration. Don't consider the PSAT as one of your SATs; it's not an SAT. I recommend that juniors take an SAT in January and May. June should be reserved for SAT IIs.

Remember, you can't take an SAT and SAT IIs on the same day. Seniors should use the October test date if another opportunity to improve the SAT score is needed. October and November are the last dates you can take an SAT and have the scores reported before the January 1 application deadline. Of course, if you're applying to a school that has rolling admissions or a much-later application date, you can go out farther.

If you're thinking about investing in a coaching course, I think the best SAT (or ACT) to get coaching for is the Junior-year May one. Give that one your best shot so you don't have SAT pressure first thing in your senior year.

Another reason to take the SAT/ACT again is directly related to whether or

not you'll qualify for more academic scholarships. For example, if you took

the test twice but were 10 points shy of a scholarship worth $2,000 more per

year, taking it a third time might have its rewards! By the same token, if

you have already been accepted and think you can earn more scholarships if

you keep taking the tests, then call the admission office first.

You should know the specific score ranges that earn different scholarship

amounts. If the college won't tell you what various scholarship levels

require, then press them harder. While you want to be as competitive as

possible, you also want to avoid taking a test when it won't do you any

good. Finally, be aware that many colleges won't look at increasing your

scholarship no matter how much your SAT/ACT has improved. Ask which is the

last testing date from which you can submit scores for further scholarship

consideration. At many schools, once you are accepted and have your

financial aid offer in hand, a better test score won't give you any more