Parents of juniors in the class of 2017, seeking counsel on which tests to take and when to take them, have turned to so-called test prep pundits for advice. In response, each one has willingly provided what he claims to be the absolute answer to a complex and subjective question—one with implications that extend far beyond graduation for high school students in the class of 2017.
In 2005, the last time the SAT changed significantly, my advice was to wait for the new SAT. However, times are different now—and so is the right pathway for class of 2017 students. Back then, ACT was not a viable option for coastal kids and optional score reporting was not an option. Since all scores would be reported and since the amount of time students would have to prepare for the then current SAT was limited to the first part of their junior year, I recommended to students back them that they wait and take the new SAT when they were good and ready—and then to take it 2-3 times. Back then, the SAT’s changes were relatively minor: elimination of analogies, the inclusion of reading passages of different lengths, and the inclusion of an essay which had previously been found in the English Achievement test.
Now come the changes of 2016. The redesigned SAT debuts on March 5, 2016. In all, there are 16 changes, some superficial and some meaningful, some to the test’s structure and some to its content. While the core skills measured remain the same (reading, writing, grammar and math) the way the test manages to evaluate students and the criteria on which students are evaluated have changed. The fact that there are more algebra and data questions in the math section, evidence-based questions in the reading section, and passage-based questions in the grammar is not reason enough to scare us away. Neither is the fact that the essay is now analytical rather than narrative (as we now teach it at Chyten). Nor is the fact that there are 15 subscores enough to sway us away from recommending the new test. Indeed, we welcome the change—with one BIG caveat…take the old SAT or ACT first! There is little question that this is the right strategy when you connect all the pieces of the 2015-2106 test-taking puzzle.
Here are five reasons to take the current SAT first.
Familiarity and Predictability
The current version of the SAT has been around for ten years. We may not love it, but we certainly know it. We have proven strategies to increase scores and lots of material available with which to practice.
Optional Score Reporting
ACT and both SATs feature optional score reporting. This means that you can exercise full control over which scores are released to colleges. So, students can (and should) take tests two, three or four times with absolute impunity. Not doing so between September and January may be perfectly fine for some. However, for students seeking the highest possible test scores to bolster their admission profiles, taking tests more often means a greater number of chances to show ones test-taking skill, just as having more darts to break a balloon at a local carnival is more likely to yield a positive outcome.
This is the era of superscoring, loosely defined as the policy of most colleges to combine the highest individual section scores taken across several tests. For a student who takes a test three times, for example, her superscore would be the combination of a student’s highest individual scores from all three tests. So, each time a student takes a test she is more likely to be building a higher superscore and boosting her admission profile.
AP and Subject Test Dates
For top students who are taking single year AP and honors courses, AP tests are given in May and Subject Tests should be taken in May or June. For SAT test takers, that leaves only March if one waits for the new version. This problem is further exacerbated for those who will apply under the early decision (ED) deadline to gain an advantage in the admission process. Most ED applications for the class of 2017 will be due Nov 1, 2016, meaning that October 7 in the only senior year SAT/Subject Test date that remains. ACT test takers have September 10 and October 22, 2016.
Time Moves in a Straight Line
If you take the current SAT or ACT, you can still take the new SAT beginning on in March 5, 2016. However, you can’t wait for the new SAT then go back to the old one. Until proven otherwise here on Earth, time moves in a straight line.
Conclusion: In With the Old and Out With the New
The most advantageous path through junior year for the class of 2017 is to begin by taking the current SAT or the ACT. If necessary, you may later switch to the New SAT.