Standardized Tests – When Should Students Begin Taking Them?
Most students will plod along through school, trusting their counselors to tell them when to do things. That includes when students should begin taking standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. Most counselors go by the guidelines of the testing services, and that’s fine, but there are some advantages to doing it a bit earlier than suggested. Taking those into consideration, many students will find that they want to begin testing as early as during the middle school years.
The purpose of standardized tests like the SAT and ACT is to provide colleges with a level playing field from which to compare applicants. That does not mean that the tests actually prove intelligence or book “smarts,” but rather a student’s ability to perform well on this type of test using the knowledge base that they have. Some students will do better than others on these tests just because they tend to perform better on tests in general.
One of the reasons for this is that many students get nervous when it comes time to take a test. That holds true for standardized tests, too. SAT and ACT tests are set up to have timed sections and wordy directions, and students facing them can quickly become overwhelmed. That is, of course, unless they have gotten used to the testing process and familiar with the “feel” of taking SAT and ACT tests early on. That’s where the question comes in about when to have a student begin getting familiar with standardized tests.
Backing into it, since the SAT and ACT scores begin to “count” towards college applications in the Junior and Senior years, it’s important for students to be well over their anxieties by then. That means that at the latest, students should begin in the Sophomore year, and take both tests, the ACT and SAT, a couple of times that year. It takes more than one exposure for something to be comfortable, and that’s certainly true for these standardized exams.
However, if you wait until the Sophomore year, your student will not have had much time to compare their results and modify their strategies, so, beginning in the Freshman year is an even better idea. When students can plan ahead and start this early, there is a good possibility that they can take the test “cold” a couple of times each year, without any prep work, and have a good feel for how their mood, time of the year, and test anxieties play out in their score results. This gives them even better opportunities to modify and adjust as they plan for test prep strategies with SAT and ACT prep programs before they “count.”
But, one final factor makes starting even earlier a great idea. There is something about a middle school student’s “fearless” attitude that allows them to go into an SAT or ACT test without any awareness of future ramifications, and if the groundwork on these standardized tests is set when students have no fear regarding them, then the entire standardized test process takes on a different goal and tone. Don’t discount the option to begin tests this early for this reason if you can!
There is no penalty for taking SAT and ACT tests multiple times. Don’t believe that myth! Therefore, depending on where your student is in their educational sequence, plan on adding in SAT and ACT tests as early as possible to gain the best advantage. Study after study has shown that a student’s scores will increase with higher test familiarity, and as their educational foundation is growing, why not also increase their expertise and fluency in all aspects of taking standardized tests.