The College Board recently got into a lot of hot water when it revealed a plan to offer the SAT in August — but only for students enrolled in an exclusive $4,500 Princeton Review prep course at Amherst College. (After years of denying the effectiveness of test prep, the fact that it was now all but endorsing it was particularly galling to many.) In the end, the College Board rightly decided to cancel the exclusive summer program, but what they really should have done was make a summer SAT test available to everyone.
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A summer test date would be an unequivocal gain to over-stressed high school students everywhere. Currently there are no test dates between the first weekend in June and the first weekend in October, so most students take the SAT sometime in the spring of their junior year. Students aiming for more competitive schools also have to take SAT Subject Tests, which are given on the same few weekends each spring. If the students aren’t satisfied with their scores by June, they’re faced with a four month hiatus before they can take the test again. Worse yet, the next test date — October — doesn’t even get their scores back before they have to send off applications for Early Decision or Early Action schools. A summer test date would let them let them take advantage of a time when they’re less distracted by school and would help them make more informed decisions about Early Decision and Early Action applications.
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Summer test dates would also benefit students who can’t afford prep courses and need to prepare on their own, since they will have more time to take practice tests and use the growing variety of excellent-free practice resources available online. Also, many institutions that help economically disadvantaged students prepare for the SAT would be able to build better programs for their students during the summer.
So with all of these advantages, why hasn’t College Board implemented a summer SAT already? The most commonly cited reason is logistics: it would be difficult for schools to staff and run a test when they aren’t in session. But most schools have a variety of programs, including summer school, happening during the summer. It’s possible that the test would initially have to be rolled out on a smaller scale, but ultimately schools could quite easily find ways to overcome logistical obstacles.
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Juniors already have so many priorities to balance. They have to take a variety of high stakes tests (SATs or ACTs, SAT Subject Tests, AP Exams). Junior-year grades are the most important for college admissions. Students are expected to start filling leadership roles on sports teams and in school. And on top of all that, they have to deal with the myriad of challenges and demands of adolescence. We’re even beginning to see reports of students at highly competitive schools increasingly using prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin just so they can maintain the focus and energy they need to deal with these various challenges. A summer SAT date would help mitigate the stress of junior year by giving students another shot when they have time to properly prepare.