While the March SAT date is the most popular among students, with some reports claiming that as much as fifty percent of all high school juniors who take the SAT do so in March each year, another popular test date is the May SAT date. Many students take the SAT for the first time in May of their junior year, and one reason is that they did not feel prepared in time to take the test for the first time in March. This may be a mistake on several levels. Not only should juniors take the SAT for the first time well before the May test date and save the May date for a second try at the test, but they should consider saving the May SAT date for the SAT Subject Tests.
By the time the May SAT test date rolls around, the students looking at prestigious and competitive schools should have already taken the SAT at least once. This is why the March test date is the most popular. In order to reach the test score goals that will help them earn admission to the schools of their choice, students should plan out enough time to take the SAT or ACT enough times to achieve those goals. For students who have not yet reached junior year, I often recommend taking the SAT for the first time in December of junior year, and some students would benefit from taking the test for the first time in October of junior year, especially if those students take SAT prep courses over the summer between sophomore and junior year.
According to several studies, current high school students take the SAT or ACT an average of three times before applying for college. This means that a large percentage of high school students are taking the SAT or ACT four or even five times. While students can take both tests during senior year, the number of test dates available is limited. This is especially true for the rising number of students applying early action and early decision. The early admissions programs at most schools require students to submit all application materials, including standardized test score, by November 1st. The remaining schools have set their early admissions deadline on November 15th.
Since many more students are choosing to take the SAT earlier and earlier, they are tending to save the May test date for their second, or even third, attempt at the test. By the time the May test date rolls around, students will have both a better idea of what schools interest them and what scores they will need to apply to these schools. Especially if a student has taken an early SAT without any preparation just to see what score she might get, preparing for the May SAT may be the best time to do so. Many students may find that they have a better handle on their junior year schedule by that point.
The only flaw in taking the May SAT for most students is that those applying to the most prestigious and competitive colleges will probably need to take the SAT Subject Tests at some point. The top twenty-five to thirty colleges with the lowest acceptance rates tend to require students to submit SAT Subject Test scores, and many of the next one hundred most prestigious colleges and universities request SAT Subject Test scores. Additionally, many colleges that don’t normally request Subject Test scores often have advanced programs that request or require the Subject Tests for admission to those programs only.
Students can take the Subject Tests throughout the school year during six of the seven SAT dates, all except the March test date, however, the May or June test dates tend to be the most common dates in which students choose to take the Subject Tests. For many of the Subject Tests, preparations for final exams or Advanced Placement (AP) tests help students prepare for the Subject Tests simultaneously. This is especially true of Subject Tests that match up fairly well to a particular class, such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics, US History, and World History. It is less important for Literature, Math, and foreign language tests.
If a student chooses to take the Subject Tests in May, then the SAT is not an option. A student cannot take both the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests on the same date since they are administered concurrently. Students must choose. Luckily, students can also take the Subject Tests in June, so the most important factor is often finding the timing the works best with the students’ schedules and goals.
Just like with the SAT, students can prepare for the SAT Subject Tests, which are often slightly more challenging than an honors level class. The College Board publishes a few practice tests, and tutors are available to guide students through the material.
The May test date is a challenge because students have so many options. When this happens, I always recommend asking for help. Between teachers and counselors at school and the team of experts available at a someplace like Livius, good advice is only a conversation away.