Should You Take The August SAT?

When College Board announced that an August SAT date would replace its traditional January test, it generated a fair amount of excitement as the change provides students with the opportunity to prepare for and take an official SAT free from the academic rigors of junior year and first-semester senior year.  For years, busy students have used the summer before junior and/or senior year as a time to study for standardized tests; however, the efficacy of this approach was compromised with a month or more gap between the student’s prep and the September ACT and October SAT test dates.   Now, with the addition of the August date, it is possible to eliminate the gap, and many students are interested in exploring this option.  Is the August 26 SAT date right for you?  The answer depends on several different factors.

Seniors and the August SAT

The August SAT is a huge benefit for seniors who will be looking at some form of early application: Early Decision, Early Action, Priority Deadlines, etc.  The need to submit completed applications by October and early November deadlines puts pressure on students to get their test scores in advance of those early deadlines, and it is estimated that students who take the August 26 SAT will receive their scores on September 14.  The late registration deadline for the October 7 SAT is September 27, so students who are not satisfied with their August SAT scores will still have the October test date available to them.

Some seniors may also opt to use the August test date to take or retake a Subject Test.  Subject Tests provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a variety of subjects and may be required or recommended for certain universities and majors.  They also provide admissions professionals with additional information with which to evaluate the candidate.  Though it is always best to take a Subject Test at the end of the relevant course (which means May and June are ideal), the August SAT date is good news for students who want to re-test or who didn’t have time for a Subject Test in the Spring, provided they study.  The College Board offers practice questions for all Subject Tests through its website (, and there is strong crossover between AP and Subject Test content.  The Subject Tests that will be offered in August are: Literature, U.S. History, World History, Math Level 1, Math Level 2, Biology E/M, Chemistry, Physics, French and Spanish.

Juniors and the August SAT

For rising juniors who have completed Algebra 2 (or its equivalent) in their sophomore year of high school, the August SAT is a great test to lock in gains from a summer SAT prep class or to serve as a baseline from which to plan future study.  As long as a student has taken the relevant math, there is no downside to starting testing early in junior year.  In fact, many advanced students are happy to get testing out of the way early and students who prepare for the August or October SAT will also be prepping for  October PSAT and potential National Merit status.  Those students who do finish testing in the first semester have more time to study for the AP and Subject Tests that dominate the second.

Many counselors advise that students wait until later in junior year to commence official testing, data does not support the notion that “maturation effects” occur over the course of junior year, with a few caveats.  One, there is anecdotal evidence that students who take AP Language classes report that there is a maturation effect when it comes to the SAT’s analytical essay, though the SAT essay will not be a determining factor in the admissions practice.  Secondly, students who take AP U.S. History may find that the Great Global Conversation passages that are a part of each and every SAT are more familiar and easier to read as a result of their coursework.  The bottom line for juniors is that the decision of when to test (and re-test) should be the result of careful planning that includes a realistic look at extracurricular activities, AP course load, family plans and other factors that impact preparation.

It is noteworthy that the addition of August testing comes at the expense of the January SAT, leaving a gap in the year when it comes to SAT testing.  After the December 2 SAT, the next official SAT will be offered March 10.  Juniors need to be aware of the SAT and ACT dates and registration deadlines for the full year in order to make informed decisions (click here for a planning tool).

Summer Prep Is Not For Everyone!

It is a fact that the most effective test preparation is that which concludes right before the test date and which is sustained, meaning over the course of weeks.  Many students will not be willing or able to study in July and August for the August 26 test.  They may be working, attending summer school, volunteering or doing all of the above.  Other students need the mental break of summer in order to recharge their batteries.  Even if students enroll in a prep course, it will have limited effect if students don’t complete their assignments or practice tests, or are in “summer mode.”  As we tell our own students, “seat time” doesn’t get the job done.

Thoughtful planning is the key.  

Whether a student chooses to integrate summer testing into the testing plan is a personal choice.  For those students who do want to take advantage of the August 26 SAT test date, make sure to sign up early as College Board will have one-third fewer test centers available in California for this test, as compared to the June and October tests.

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