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When Should I Take the SAT?

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Question: When Should I Take the SAT?
With the College Board's new Score Choice policy, it may be tempting to take the SAT early and often. That's not always the best approach.
Answer: My general advice to students applying to competitive colleges is to take the SAT once in the spring of junior year and once in October of senior year.

However, the best time to take the SAT depends on a variety of factors: the schools to which you're applying, your application deadlines, your cash flow and your personality.

The College Board offers the SAT seven times in a year (see the SAT dates): October, November, December, January, March, May and June.

If you're a senior applying early action or early decision, you'll need to take the October exam. Scores from exams later in the fall probably will not reach colleges in time. If you're applying regular admission, you still don't want to put off the exam for too long -- pushing the exam too close to the application deadline leaves you no room to try again should you fall ill on exam day or have some other problem.

If you're a junior you have several options. One is simply to wait until senior year -- there's no requirement to take the exam junior year, and taking the exam more than once doesn't always have a measurable benefit. If you're applying to one of the country's top universities or top colleges, it probably is a good idea to take the exam in the spring of junior year. Doing so allows you to get your scores, compare them to the score ranges in the college profiles, and see if taking the exam again in senior year makes sense. By testing junior year, you have the opportunity, if needed, to use the summer to take practice exams, work through an SAT preparation book or take an SAT prep course.

The College Board's new Score Choice Option may make it tempting to take the SAT more than twice. With score choice, you need mail only your best set of scores to colleges. However, be sure to read the pros and cons of Score Choice. Some top colleges don't honor Score Choice and require all scores anyway. It may look a bit ridiculous if they see you've taken the SAT a half dozen times.

Also, with all the pressure and hype surrounding admission to highly selective colleges, some students are taking a trial run at the SAT sophomore or even freshman year. You'd do better putting your effort into earning good grades in school. If you're desperate to know early how you might perform on the SAT, grab a copy of the College Board's SAT Study Guide and take a practice exam under test-like conditions.

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