Preparing for College

More College Knowledge Q&As

Question: Some of my friends think they should take the SAT four or five times. What do you think?

Answer: With the SAT, sometimes more ends up being less. For most high schoolers, three times is about the maximum between the sophomore year and mid-senior year. In some special cases, you might need four times, but that should be the exception.

You may take it before 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 it's like, so they experiment.

My personal opinion is that every sophomore should take the SAT in May or June. When those scores come in, take special note 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. 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 (Subject Tests). Remember, you can't take an SAT and Subject Tests on the same day.

Seniors should use the October test date if they need another opportunity to improve their scores. For most colleges October (and sometimes November) is the last date 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 to get coaching for is the one in May of your junior year. Give that one your best shot so you don't have SAT pressure right away in your senior year.

Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles and book reviews at College Confidential.