Admissions Tests 101: What To Take When

Private secondary school and the SAT and ACT are offered throughout the academic year, but when is the best time to take them?

The answer is simple: earlier than you think.

ISEE & SSAT

Parents usually start thinking about the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam) and SSAT (Secondary School Admissions Test) in the fall, right before the private middle and high school application deadlines. The best time to start preparing for these tests, however, is in the early spring, several months ahead of the application deadlines.

Here's why: The contents and formats of the ISEE and SSAT entail more preparation than most parents anticipate. They require memorizing hundreds of words and reviewing math that students may have forgotten or never understood to begin with. In addition, despite No Child Left Behind and "teaching to the test," most students are not adept standardized test takers. By starting early, students can ensure that they have mastered the test's content, learn test-taking strategies, and take simulated practice tests that will enable them to improve their stamina and hone their test-taking skills.

Getting a head start on the ISEE is especially important, since students are permitted to take it only once within a six-month period. Students who want to take it twice should take it for the first time in June and then again in December or January.

Although there are no limits on when students can take the SSAT, by starting early your child will have the option of taking it a couple of times.

SAT

The best time to start preparing for the SAT is the summer between sophomore and junior year. Since junior year is the busiest year of high school, the more your child gets done this summer, the better. Almost all students need to improve their vocabulary, review grammar and math, and practice writing persuasive essays. Using your child's sophomore year PSAT (or PLAN) score sheet as a guide, determine what areas your child needs to focus on. If possible, have him begin attacking these over the summer between sophomore and junior year, and when he takes the PSAT again in October of junior year you'll get an update on his progress.

Although when and how many times students take the SAT will vary, most students should take the SAT two or three times starting in January or March of their junior year. May and June are also popular test dates. Although it is better to finish with SAT testing during junior year, so that your child can focus on his applications, many students take the SAT one last time in October of their senior year. (The SAT is also given in November and December.)

ACT

Students should take the ACT two or three times starting in February of junior year. Although as with the SAT, it is better to finish taking the ACT during junior year, taking the ACT one last time in September is an option.

SAT Subject Tests

The best time to take SAT Subject Tests is when the material is freshest in your child's mind. That means it makes sense to take Subject Tests in June of junior year, right after the AP exams and while preparing for final exams. By taking the Subject Tests in June, your child can avoid spending the summer studying for [and worrying about] the tests and devote the fall to filling out applications, interviewing, and polishing his essays. However, if need be, he can take them in October of his senior year.