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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 09/30/2010

Why kids shouldn't take SAT, ACT too early

By Valerie Strauss

This post was written by college admissions consultant Bruce Vinik, president of Vinik Educational Placement Services, Inc., in Cabin John, Md.

By Bruce Vinik
It happens at this time every year. The phone calls begin to pour into my office from panicked parents who feel that the college admissions process is slipping away from their children ... and from them.

If these parents were expressing concern about their 12th graders, their panic would be understandable. After all, high school seniors are now in the midst of filling out applications and writing essays. But no.These calls are from the mothers and fathers of 11th graders.

In my last posting in July, I expressed my concern that the entire college admissions process is creeping earlier and earlier into the high school years to the detriment of students.

As part of this admissions creep, increasing numbers of students are taking the official SAT or ACT in the fall of 11th grade. This is not a healthy development.

The SAT and ACT are designed to be taken by second semester juniors and first semester seniors; this is what colleges expect.

Most students who take the tests in the fall of 11th grade are doing themselves a disservice. Very few juniors in the early part of the school year are ready or willing to make the commitment that good test preparation and test taking require. College is so far off (at least it seems that way) that there is no immediacy to their test taking. They would be better off waiting until the late winter or early spring when most of them first begin to think seriously about going to college.

In addition, by taking the SAT or ACT in the fall, 11th graders are depriving themselves of several months of classroom education and maturity that can help them become better test takers.

What kids learn in the classroom and about themselves between the fall and spring does matter. While test taking experience is certainly helpful, there are ways of getting it without raising the stakes through official fall testing. Most juniors will take the PSAT in school in a few weeks; this is excellent preparation for the SAT. Students can also try a practice ACT at home.

What’s more, any student who takes the SAT or ACT for the first time in early spring will have multiple opportunities to retake the tests before the admissions process ends during senior year.

Finally, by jumping into standardized testing before they need to, kids run the risk of burning out. In my experience, students who start the college process earlier tend to tire of it earlier. At the very time they need to be fully engaged during senior year, these kids start to fade from exhaustion. The results are often not pretty.

If you are the parent of a high school junior and are beginning to get worked up about college admissions, take a deep breath and relax. There’s no need to charge ahead right now.

After all, there’s plenty of time to panic next year.


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By Valerie Strauss  | September 30, 2010; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bruce Vinik, College Admissions, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  act, college admissions, sat  
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Where do you find these nonsense peddlers? Your attempts to appear contrarian are a pale disguise for the weak positions you hold. I took the SAT in 6th grade to get into the Duke talent identification program. It looks like they still do that [1]. I thought it was a great idea. I had never heard of the test before, but I got an 1120 and was accepted, giving me a chance to study many advanced subjects that weren't available in my school.


Posted by: staticvars | October 1, 2010 12:01 AM | Report abuse

While I agree with Mr. Vinik's test taking timetable in theory, in practice it is difficult to implement.

My 11th grader is taking the ACT in December because she is concerned that Spring does not allow enough test taking opportunities to get everything accomplished. In the Spring she needs to reserve time to take the SAT and the SAT subject matter tests and possibly retake the SAT depending on her success on the 1st go round. If she wants to apply early to a program then she has to have all her test taking accomplished by August of her Senior year. Mr. Vinik, I would welcome your feedback if we have the schedule wrong given my daugther's objectives.

Posted by: mpmiles | October 1, 2010 9:59 PM | Report abuse

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