I remember looking at the handful of SAT test dates that one can take during a year and worrying about, firstly, how I could fit in more studying and test-taking around my already-packed high school schedule and, secondly, which date would be most advantageous to me given that I would be bell-curved against the other students taking it on that date. Advice such as “June is terrible because every other student will be taking it during summer” or “October is when all the smart kids sit for the SAT” and “December is definitely the best month because the smart ones would not have left it to the last minute so only the average ones will take it then” often inundated already stressed out high school students. Yet, was there really any truth in choosing test dates strategically to gain a testing advantage?
[Continue reading to find out whether the SAT test date matters…]
1. No Statistical Advantage. Unfortunately, researchers have found that there is no statistical advantage in picking the ‘right’ test date. This was discovered to be simply a rumor that had spread across the world like wildfire, feeding off the anxiety of students and their parents. One company called Applerouth compiled a data set of 7,400 official SAT and 2,900 ACT results and found that there was no such notion of preferential test dates. Instead, the seemingly ‘ideal’ test date fluctuated every year from being October to June to April and so on.
2. Variation in Tests. However, this does not mean that there is no variation in the tests over the year. Every year, certain tests are objectively more difficult than others and, within a given test, some sections might be more challenging than others. Yet, this does not disadvantage a student who might have chosen a test date that came with a more difficult test. Instead, to make the process as fair as possible, the College Board uses effective statistical equating processes to balance out the harder tests and sections by a different curve. What this means is that your score will not be negatively affected by a tough SAT test. Instead, as with any test you take, your score will aim to as accurately as possible give a reflection of your knowledge and ability. This is why many colleges trust the SAT as a relatively fair standard by which they can learn about a student’s academic ability.
3. Final Insights and Tips. In conclusion, there is no statistical advantage in choosing one test date over another although it must be acknowledged that there is a wide variety of opinions amongst students and parents. One might argue that most students taking the October and November tests are more likely to be seniors who have already taken the tests than students in March or December. Yet, as with any SAT test, one will always find an amalgamation of students who have taken the test before, have prepped intensively, or have not prepped at all. So the next time you hear someone taking about easy or hard test dates, perhaps you could let them know that this is merely a rumor and they should, instead, choose a date that works well with their schedule and preparation time.
About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!