A+ Advice for Parents

To SAT or Not To SAT?

Q: My son, a junior, didn't take the new SAT. Do colleges still value it, even though it has changed a lot? Should he take both the SAT and the ACT, or does one substitute for another with colleges? This process seems like such a grind!

A: The path to college can seem like a rocky road, says Sally Reed, editor of College Bound, a newsletter for high-school guidance counselors. "To make it easier, plot a reasonable timeline for the 'must-do' list -- including college visits -- so that important dates don't creep up on you," Reed advises. "Take a deep breath and ask your son to take the lead. You can advise, but he needs to own the process and preparations and make the decisions on where to apply."

When it comes to the new SAT versus the ACT, "either test is fine," says Jonathan Chiu, national SAT/ACT content director at the Princeton Review. "Colleges are accepting the new SAT as willingly as they are the ACT. There is no bias for or against one test or the other."

Coming up, the SAT is offered on May 7 and June 4. Deciding to take the SAT on either -- or both -- of those dates depends on a few factors, says Chiu:

-- Is he an AP student currently being crushed with AP prep? If so, he'd be better off preparing for the June SAT or ACT instead of the May SAT.

-- Is he carrying a heavy academic load? He may want to focus on great grades through the academic year for the best transcript, skip the May test, and sign up for the June SAT.

-- Do his prospective colleges require SAT Subject Tests? If so, Chiu advises taking Subject Tests in May and/or June. Between the two test dates, May could be more advantageous for students who have a number of AP tests to take mid-May. "The two-week time frame between AP tests in May and the first June Saturday SAT test administration can be a real disadvantage to those students. It's extremely challenging to retain information (like U.S. history) in that lull, when students may be watching movies every day in class post-AP test instead of covering content."

-- If he's applying for Early Decision or Early Action and has the resources to take the SAT multiple times, have him take the test in both May and June -- and possibly even October of his senior year -- to take advantage of colleges that will "superscore." (Superscoring is when a school accepts your highest score for each SAT section, regardless of the date you took the test.)

-- If he isn't comfortable doing math without a calculator, he should take the ACT. And students who feel time-pressured on tests should know that the SAT gives students, on average, 39 percent more time to answer questions, notes Chiu.

Chiu says many students who aren't sure whether they would do better on the SAT or ACT make their decisions after taking free practice tests of each, which are offered by the Princeton Review. The experience of taking each full-length test helps them determine which one suits them best. "Our score reports can help him identify where his strengths and weaknesses lie in each," he says.

To find practice tests, go to: princetonreview.com/events.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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