Wednesday, November 7, 2012

When is the Best Time to Take the SAT?

When is the Best Time to Take the SAT? 

I am asked this question regularly, and would like to properly address it.

Kweller Prep Tutoring 

First and foremost, The SAT exam is offered in the following months: October, November, December, January, March, and May and June.

The Exact Test Dates for the 2012-2013 school year are as follows:

October 6, 2012
November 3, 2012
December 1, 2012

January 26, 2013 
March 9, 2013
May 4, 2013 
June 1, 2013

Before we get into finding out the best time to take the SAT, I must address what I call the “Score Choice Scam.” Well, here goes: With the new Score Choice policy (which is very tricky, and I will elaborate on it in another article), students are informed that they may take the SAT as many times as they'd like and just have to submit the scores they want to the schools they choose.

Score Choice sounds easy, right? Nope! Please do not be fooled by the College Board’s sneaky tactics. What ETS (the Educational Testing Service, aka “Evil Testing Serpents”) is doing is squeezing more money out of each and every tester. Think about it. Instead of taking the test one or two times (and paying for the test just one or two times) kids are misled and parents are duped into now taking and paying for the test six or seven times; instead of paying $50 once or twice to take the SAT ($100 in total), kids will now feel safe in taking the test over and over again, even taking it 6 times ($300 in total). 

There are fee waivers, but those are scarce and hard to find—and there is no way that you will get away with using a waiver for 6 administrations of the test. Guidance counselors receive a cap on how many they can distribute and have to do a careful accounting of each fee waiver. A lso, it is imperative to know that the rumors you hear about the benefits of Score Choice are not entirely true.

You cannot keep your SAT scores a secret from many prestigious schools. Many top schools, such as Georgetown University, do not participate in score choice AT ALL (see   

"Georgetown University does NOT participate in the Score Choice option available through the College Board or the similar program through Educational Testing Service (ETS)" and "Georgetown requires that you submit scores from ALL test sittings of the SAT, ACT or SAT Subject Tests.").

The list gets longer. Here is a neat consolidated list of just a few of the colleges that do not participate in score choice—which means they will require ALL SAT SCORES when you apply to their college. Stanford, Cornell, UPenn, Georgetown, USC, and Yale will not accept score choice. There are more schools, which you can easily find through Google.

In fact, many top schools, besides just the Ivy League, want to see ALL student SAT scores, not merely the top ones in each section (sorry to be the one to have to tell you this). Now back to business. Before I reveal the “magic month” (please don’t scroll down and cheat!!!), I need to address the detriments of receiving and relying on bad advice. Students often go to their friends or teachers to ask when is the best time to take the SAT. 

However, most college advisors and teachers tend not to specify a strategic month to take the SAT (or ACT), nor do they explain in detail how the student should figure out when he or she should take the test, leaving the student to figure everything out on his or her own. Unfortunately, most students decide to take it in June of Junior Year, procrastinating until the end of the school year.

Teachers tend to tell students to take the SAT when they are ready. “Just take it when it feels right” is often heard. While the person giving such advice may have very good intentions, I have yet to meet students who, with certainty, felt completely "ready" to take a 4.5-hour long, 10-section exam bright and early on a weekend. In fact, most students leave the SAT wishing they invested even more hours in preparing for the test, no matter how much they studied in advance. Taking the test “when ready” is generally the free crappy advice you get from friends and counselors. Please be wary of this.

To continue, I must define what “best” is. In other words, when is the most strategic time to take the SAT, to potentially get the highest score, to really ace the exam, to apply to college early decision and to have your score ready without paying extra score rush fees? When is best MONTH to take the SAT and why should it be that ONE MONTH over all the others? What is the second best time, and why? Which month will make me the healthiest and happiest, where I can study the months prior to the test and be at ease?

My advice is, in short, take the SAT (or ACT) at the BEST time of the year, when the testing curve is in your favor, and when you will get the most bang for your buck point- wise. Take it once or twice, and absolutely ace it.

You should absolutely be extremely well prepared prior to taking this test, but that does not necessarily mean that you should wait until your senior year of high school to take it. In fact, PLEASE DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOUR SENIOR YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL TO TAKE THE SAT FOR THE FIRST TIME! Huge, huge mistake. You will ruin your summer by studying, have the angry SAT cloud hanging over your head, and have to rush scores, miss early decision and early action deadlines, and probably wind up being a complete mess. I hope this advice convinces you.

With that said, is it true that some months of the year are better than others to take the SAT? The answer is YES. Hands down, the best time to take the SAT is during junior year of high school (11th Grade). My kids will be taking the SAT as practice every year from the 7th grade, but officially, they won’t take the test until 11th grade (unless they are eligible for John’s Hopkins Summer Institute for the gifted at age 12, which requires official SAT scores). So at least we have found our winning year: 11th grade is the ideal time to take the SAT. By then, you would have taken algebra and geometry, can handle trigonometry and functions, and are comfortable with a TI-84 or TI-Inspire (which is the best calculator for the SAT, as it has the CAS algebraic system built into it).

11th grade is also often a students’ first peek into near-adulthood maturity. He or she is becoming ready to leave the nest and go off to college. You will notice a more cooperative child during his or her 11th grade. Kids tend to want to do better academically because college is right at their door.
By 11th grade you have also hopefully taken as many advanced or AP English classes as are offered at your school, and you will have a relatively strong vocabulary. So we can say without a doubt, that 10th grade is too early to take the SAT for the first time and conversely, 12th grade is too late.

You should not prepare for the SAT a month or two before. If you really want to excel, you should have already taken several proctored exams before game day. Many Kweller Prep Students, in particular those who scored in the 99th percentile, prepared intensely 6 months to 1 year in advance and took approximately 20-40 proctored practice SAT tests under very strict testing conditions in the tutoring center I run in New York. We are known for our SAT strategies. S ometimes it pays -- really pays -- to be a "strategic test-taker" and to be aware
that there are some times of the year that are flat-out better than others to take the SAT, and that there is more to the test than just feeling "ready for it." After all, you could feel ready as late as December of Senior Year, but that would be really pushing the deadlines for college admissions.

Here's a month-by-month breakdown of when to take, or rather when I advise you NOT to take, the SAT:


For some reason, the vast majority of high school juniors take the May Administration of the SAT their first time dealing with this test. This is a mistake, for several reasons. First of all, if you take the SAT for the first time in May and are later unhappy with your score, you will not be able to re-take the test until at least October of Senior Year.

What students don’t realize is that if you are unhappy with your May test results, it will be too late to register for the June SAT. Even if you get lucky, you will not be able to adequately prepare for it. Think about it. The May SAT scores will not be released until at least 3-4 weeks later, and by that time, it will be too late to sign up for the June SAT as the registration for the test will have passed.

( The deadline for registering for the June 5th, 2010 SAT is April 29, 2010, one week before the May 2010 SAT will even be given!) Another reason why taking the SAT in May is NOT ideal is because the academic school year is particularly demanding during that month. The SAT is not the kind of test you want to take in addition to doing twenty other things; preparing adequately for this exam truly requires your undivided attention, especially during the weeks leading up to the test date.

In May, many students take AP (Advanced Placement) exams, IB (International Baccalaureate) exams (, complete term papers, prepare for New York State Regents exams and get ready for school finals, science projects and the like. Talk about having a lot on your plate! It is nearly impossible to adequately prepare for the SAT in May given all these distractions and many students wind up re-taking the SAT in October of their senior year because they cannot manage all their significant responsibilities (but then again, who could blame them?). 

Over the summer, Kweller Prep students prepared for the upcoming October SAT as many as 5 days a week -- and all summer long! Needless to say, this was NOT their ideal summer break, and what a horrible way to spend their last summer before senior year. Why did they get stuck taking
the SAT in October? Well, this happens every year. There are a bunch of kids from other tutoring centers like Kaplan or Princeton, and they sign these kids up, suggesting for them to take their first SAT in May -- well, next thing you know, those poor kids get their disappointing results at the end of May, don’t have time to study for June, and boom! They join our summer camp.

Ok so there is theory and reality. You may tell yourself that you will study, study, study after you take the May test every day like crazy until June. But in reality, that won’t happen. I’ll tell you what will. After you take the May SAT, you will want to unwind and the last thing you will want to do is to study.

You will play a “wait-and-see” game to see how you did on the May exam. Bad, bad idea.

New York finally gets its first taste of springy, sunny weather in May. I pull out my flower dresses and all I want to do is play with my puppy outside. The last thing on my mind is studying! That was so wintertime!

After several months of New York City’s bitter cold, the temptation of spending a sunny afternoon outdoors instead of being indoors studying is very great. I say take the test when it's cold outside; when you are likely to stay indoors and prepare so that you are optimally prepared on test day. A cold tester is a focused tester (literally, since colder air increases oxygen intake!). In short, if possible, stay away from the idea of making the May SAT the first time you take the SAT. You will wind up retesting in October, and really regret not taking that test sooner—after getting stuck paying rush fees and missing both early decision and early action deadlines.


Taking the SAT as a senior is flat out painful. Many students get trapped into taking the October SAT in their senior year because they unknowingly take the May SAT as juniors and, as described earlier, do not receive their scores until it is already TOO LATE to sign up for the June SAT. 

(See The deadline for registering for the June 5th, 2010 SAT is April 29, 2010, one week before the May 2010 SAT will even be given.) I have several reasons as to why October is NOT the optimal time to take the SAT. F irst, the SAT is scored on a curve. Now, I am used to taking tests on a curve. I did so throughout college at New York University, and then all throughout Law School at Hofstra. But for many high schoolers, the day they take the SAT will be their first experience of taking a test on a curve, and it's not pretty. Curving a test means that your score is rescaled, and during October, the readjustment of scores is NOT tipped in your favor.

(see:" Normalization also requires that overly high scores be adjusted downward for conformity. Either way, data is distorted and some information is lost. Look at some data, then consider all the implications of ‘grading on a curve’.") 

Moreover, almost all students taking the October SAT are seniors and doing well in October will be much harder than at any other times of the year. I had several students score a 2100 or higher during practice tests, but only hit a 2000 for the October SAT because of the rescaled score curve. This is why I firmly believe that a student who would otherwise score a 2000 on the January administration of the SAT would only get as much as an 1850 in October, because of the stiff competition of the curve. With regards to the weather, boy is it beautiful during the months leading up to October! This means that studying for the SAT throughout the summer will be harder than ever. It takes an incredible amount of discipline to prepare for the SAT when your friends are scheduling beach trips and your families are arranging exotic once a year vacations. Even my most disciplined testers missed a lesson or two throughout the summer, and I couldn't blame them. After a rigorous junior year of high school, who wouldn't want to enjoy his or her final summer  before senior year?

Furthermore, because nearly all the students taking the October SAT have already taken it at least once before, statistically, their scores are likely to increase, as they have already gone through the initial stress of sitting for the exam for the first time.

More prepared testers, pleasant weather, classic senioritis symptoms, and a miserable testing curve are just a few reasons why taking the SAT is October is not optimal. If you can, stay away, or else be prepared to dedicate your summer living at Kweller Intensive SAT Prep to even hope to bring out your full potential.

Nearly every senior taking the SAT in October has taken it once before, and many of them have studied and prepared all summer long.

Personally, I play to win. I’m perfectly happy competing against amateurs.


Taking the SAT senior year is rough -- really rough -- and I would never advise it unless you have no other choice. The real problem with taking the SAT in November of senior year (and there are many more reasons than just the few stated here) is that students are likely to fall behind on the college application process since they’ll be spending the first couple months of school studying, not to mention that the November scores won't even be released until December!

In SAT Land, the early bird truly catches the worm and no student taking the November or December administration of the SAT would be eligible to apply Early Action (EA, which is non-binding) or Early Decision ED (which is binding), since these priority deadlines are usually November 1 or November 15. 

The earlier you apply to college, the better (early applications generally have a higher acceptance rate), and by taking the SAT so late in the game, you not only hurt your chances for early college admissions, but also for scholarship deadlines too. What's worse is that the later you apply to college, the later you will hear back from them. 

Some seniors don't know where they are accepted until as late as June of senior year (!), and the uncertainty of where you are going to college can be unbearably stressful and frustrating. My assistant, a former Director of Admissions at New York University, informed Kweller Prep students that some schools take as many as 50% of their incoming class from the Early Action and Early Decision pool, and as little as 8% from the regular decision contenders. You want to get into your dream school when the odds are the most in your favor, so make sure not to be a late tester, or else you may regret it. Think about Thanksgiving, think about turkey, but please don’t think about the SAT.page10image47376


Oye, what a headache it is to take the SAT in December of senior year! With the holidays fast approaching, concentration is harder than ever. Not to mention all he mid-year academic demands—finals, papers, term projects! What's worse is that the regular decision college deadlines are fast approaching (Usually January 1). The December tester not only has to worry about juggling his or her academic demands, college applications, and preparing for the SAT, but also risks getting locked out from his or her top choice colleges because of the fast approaching deadlines. From the other end of the spectrum, the college admissions officers, who mostly consist of university faculty members and professors, will be administering their own final exams to their students. Their energy will have to be focused on grading their college student's exams and term papers.

This means that the admissions committee will meet more sparsely, and will not function optimally when they do, which will inevitably hurt a December tester's chances of getting into his or her dream school. YES is it true that you hurt your chances of getting into dream school by applying late. The key is to get your application out EARLY. Warn your younger friends!!!! Hundreds of thousands of students from around the country apply to college in bulk, and you have to distinguish yourself. A serious candidate applies early in the game, and college admissions officers both recognize and reward that effort. Also, a student who takes the December SAT will not have his scores released until Christmastime. Colleges are on winter recess and the college admissions committee meets very infrequently at that time. December is definitely not the optimal time to take the SAT.


Well, we have found our winner. There are so many fantastic reasons why January IS the opportune time to take the SAT. The chaos from the winter holidays is over, it's likely to be icy cold outside so you are more likely to stay in and study (hopefully!) rather than go out and shop, the semester has changed, and the school curriculum is less intense.

THE BEST PART, and I do mean THE BEST part of taking the January SAT as juniors is that the curve is in your favor. This means you will get the most bang for your testing buck. I frequently joke about how my January Testers will take the SAT with a room full of 12 year olds. What could possibly be more heavenly than taking the SAT, on a huge curve, while competing with a bunch of 7th graders? Why take the SAT in January of junior year? 

You’re ahead of the masses, and you can reach your highest score because the curve is in your favor. ETS (the college board) will hate me for saying this: A senior who takes the SAT in October and scores an 1850 could have easily scored as much as a 2000 had she taken the January administration of the SAT and prepared the same way for both exams. See for yourself by checking the score reports. Compare the number of questions wrong versus the final score. The January curve is absolutely beautiful. Of course you should take the SAT when you have the highest chance of doing well, and January is optimal testing time because that is precisely when the odds are the most in your favor. Don't Delay! You may not have such a golden opportunity again.

Why are so many seventh graders taking the SAT in January? Well, Johns Hopkins University conducts a National Talent Search and seeks out the finest 7th and 8th graders around to see how they will do on the SAT. (See: "CTY, a world leader in gifted education, conducts national and international talent searches to identify, assess, and recognize outstanding academic talent" and "SMPY pioneered the concept of above-grade-level testing of middle school students, using the SAT to identify exceptionally talented mathematical reasoning skills, then offering rigorous programs for students who exhibit exceptional reasoning ability") 

These kids have 90% or higher school averages, and if they perform reasonably well on the SAT, they can be admitted to the John's Hopkins Summer Program for exceptionally talented youth. N ow, many students should know that a high school average of a 90 or higher does not guarantee an impressive SAT score, which is why it is likely that so many of the middle age students who have exceptional school grades may perform average, and often even below average on test day. January is the best time for a serious and competitive high school junior to take the SAT.

Timing is everything: In 2010, the January SAT was held on January 23, 2010. Every other administration of the SAT is given during awful-- and I mean awful-- times of the year.page14image2008
Except for January, the SAT is almost always administered during the first Saturday of the testing month. In 2008, I tutored a room filled with seniors on October 31st, because the SAT was given on Saturday, November 1. So much for enjoying Halloween! In 2009, the October SAT was given on Columbus Day weekend. One of my top students from New York had to take the SAT in Florida because her mother planned a family vacation months in advance and had no idea the SAT would be given on a holiday weekend. The luxury of taking the SAT in January is that all the major winter holidays have passed. This year, the timing of the January SAT will be absolutely perfect. The week prior to the January administration of the exam will be Martin Luther King Jr. 3-day weekend, and most students will be home from school – a golden opportunity to study. 

Moreover, many Catholic schools (like St. Francis Prep) have faculty workshops on Friday, January 22 and no students will attend school that day. The days before the SAT are critical, and having two 3-day weekends to prepare is a blessing and a luxury that no other administration of the SAT exam offers.
Our team of tutors did some research and came back with this: The January 2010 test was a little easier than average, the May 2011 test was close to average. In order to score a 710 in math, you would need a raw score of 49 on the easier test (January 2010). Conversely, you would need a 50 on the average test (May 2011). 

I am in the school of thought where every point counts, so let’s opt for January testing.

What if you aren’t happy with your January score? Well, you will get your January test results after three weeks of taking it, so you will have plenty of time to study for the March SAT. 
Your experience with the January SAT will also give you ample preparation for the March SAT. You can commence a normal early registration, and by taking the March SAT and getting SATs out of the way, you can finally concentrate on finals, AP exams, and regents.

Sadly, far too few students take the SAT in January of their junior year of high school and miss out on this amazing opportunity. I sincerely hope that this article inspires them to change their minds.

MARCH of Junior Year:

This is perhaps the second best time to take the SAT. If you are unhappy with your January scores, you will have ample time to register for the March Administration of the SAT. We are still surrounded by chilly New York weather and you are (hopefully) less likely to go out as you would in July or August. 

Furthermore, by taking the SAT in March, you are testing before the May and June masses of students, so you are less likely to be taking the SAT in a room filled with your (ever so distracting) friends and classmates. Very few students take the March administration of the SAT. You are less likely to hit traffic, the test center is less likely to be over crowded, and the scores will be released early enough for you to register and prepare for May if needed. This is why taking the SAT in March of Junior Year is my runner-up. Taking the SAT in May wins third place. Stay away from senior year SAT testing, unless you absolutely have to. Even then, only take October and don’t even consider taking the test in December or January. 

The exorbitant amount of stress of juggling everything during senior year simply won’t be worth it.

Good luck navigating the ever so convoluted college admissions process.

Frances Kweller is the founder of Kweller Prep Tutoring and Educational Services in Forest Hills. A lawyer, teacher, tutor, and dreamer, Frances Kweller has prepared hundreds of students to surpass their goals on the SAT and get into their dream colleges. She offers intensive standardized testing tutoring services, college preparation workshops, and strategic advice on the college admissions process. You can reach her at anytime by calling (800) 631– 1757 or e-mail her at

This is free advice. Take it for what it’s worth.

* SAT is a registered Trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product. ** Article copyright of Kweller Prep tutoring and Educational Services of Forest Hills, Intense Prep for Intense Kids. All Rights Reserved.

Kweller Prep Tutoring-­‐ email: 15

See for more. Call Today! 1800-631-1757

Frances Kweller of Kweller Prep Tutoring Services serving Forest Hills, Manhattan, New York, Los Angeles, and Beverly Hills, California.

Kweller Prep 445 Park Avenue Suite 9A New York, NY 10022 Email :
Phone: 1-800-631-1757 

Kweller Prep
104-40 Queens Blvd Suite 1F
Forest Hills, NY 11375

Los Angeles
Kweller Prep
269 South Beverly Drive #1111 Beverly Hills, CA 90212
Kweller Prep Tutoring-­‐ email:

No comments:

Post a Comment