Saturday, February 24, 2007

Admission Tips: When Should I Take (or Re-Take) the Test?

If you're thinking about taking the SAT, ACT, or another standardized test, part of the process is deciding when to take it. Here's how to decide.

Take the test only when you are ready.
Standardized tests measure the same skills in the same way every time. The exact questions will be different, but the content you need to know will be the same. So, there's really no point in taking a standardized test if you aren't ready. If you're unprepared, you won't do your best, and you'll want to take the test again anyway. So why bother? If you're thinking about taking the test just "to see what it's like," take a practice test instead and save the registration fee.

Make sure that you have time to prepare.
People who know how the test is put together and the best strategies for the questions have a major advantage over those that don't. So make sure that you budget some time to prepare. Some people have an easier time studying during the school year, but others prefer to study over the summer and take the test in the Fall. Either way is OK, as long as you're ready to do your best. Be honest about the amount of time you're willing to spend preparing, and make the commitment! It'll pay off in points on test day.

Take the test early enough to report your scores.
Getting your application in early is always good, but most admissions offices won't look at an application until that application is "complete," which means it has to include all required test scores. So getting your test scores in early is good. (Just make sure you're prepared!) Taking your test the Spring before you apply will get your scores in on time.

Leave yourself a margin for error.
On test day, you might get sick. Or your car might break down. Or you might just have a bad day. Lots of things that have nothing to do with your ability could affect your test score, and most of those things will lower your score. If your bad day happens on the last possible test date, you're out of luck; you have to live with a bad score. But if you have another test date ahead of you, then you'll have another chance to prove your abilities. That's why it's best to take the test early rather than late. It's good to have a backup in case something goes wrong.

Getting a bad score is not a reason to take it again.
So, it's good to take the test early, but only when you're prepared. Now, what should you do if you have taken a standardized test and aren't happy with your score?

Almost everyone wishes they scored at least a little higher. Unless you score perfectly, it's always possible to do better. But wanting a better score isn't enough. To be worth the preparation time, aggravation, and the new testing fee, you need a strong reason to believe that you'll score significantly better.

Ask "what will be different next time?"
If you totally bombed the first test because you were sick, or something unexpected happened that affected your concentration, then go ahead and take it again. But if you were completely prepared the first time, taking it again isn't likely to make a big difference. Standardized tests are very consistent, so if you don't do anything differently, then you're likely to wind up with about the same score. However, if you didn't prepare well (or at all), then you have much to gain by improving your skills and taking the test again.

SAT Test Dates for the 2003-2004 Academic Year

* October 11, 2003
* November 1, 2003
* December 6, 2003
* January 24, 2004
* March 27, 2004
* May 1, 2004
* June 5, 2004

Sunday administrations follow each Saturday test date, except in October 2003, when the Sunday test date is October 5.

ACT Test Dates for the 2003-2004 Academic Year

* September 27, 2003 (only in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington)
* October 25, 2003
* December 13, 2003
* February 7, 2004
* April 3, 2004,
* June 12, 2004

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