Why Your High School Freshman Should Take This October’s SAT

Parents are surprised when I recommend high school freshman take the October SAT college entrance exam. The first response I get is usually, “But freshmen can’t take SATs, right?” Actually freshman can and do take the high school SAT, and for a very good reason. It is a true-to-life way to find out what ninth graders need to learn the next three years to get ready for this traditionally important, sometimes critical admissions requirement at the end of secondary school. The reality of this is rarely as clear to students before taking the test as afterwards. 

Actually taking the test is the surest way to see if nervousness, confusion, and test-taking skills will impede a student from scoring commensurate with their best ability. No practice session can replace experiencing the real thing. I’ve seen students’ scores, attained during practice, tank when they step up to a real administration. Some college admissions officers look for candidates with the forethought to take this exam early. They seek applicants who are strategic in this way, showing a seriousness of focus on education, a desirable trait. 

The next thing I usually hear is, “But freshman won’t do well, right?” My answer is, “Y-e-s, but it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Freshman scores will be viewed just as such, and scores earned later will supersede these, if they are even one point higher. If freshman scores are unexpectedly low, everyone knows it is time to roll up sleeves to start needed interventions while there is still ample time for implementation. If the scores are high (gifted kids are typically able to figure out more than grade level or even coursework would predict) then more options, like early entrance to college, can be explored, enabling families to take into account newly revealed prospects.  

“Finally,” they ask, “why October?” The answer is the Question and Answer Service. This service is the only way students can see actual questions from the very exam they took under pressure. It is only offered a few times a year in the United States and once a year internationally. The small fee is well worth it, if the student sits down and goes over each missed question meticulously. (This can be done with or without a parent or tutor.)

The goal is to figure out why the student missed that particular question. Was it a geometry question and they have not had geometry yet? Good, now at least the student knows one reason why they need to study geometry. Was it a two-step problem, and did the student solve the first step and impulsively choose that wrong answer from among the five multiple choices? (Yes, that wrong answer is always there! In test-preparer jargon it is called the “distractor.”) Now we’ve learned something! A student making this type of error needs to come up with and test out strategies so this same mistake is not repeated when it counts. 

This takes time and often money. The fees for taking the test are cheap compared with the cost of popular test-prep classes, tutors, and coaches. It can be the most effective money spent. Just knowing where to focus resources can be priceless. I repeat: my heartfelt recommendation to every freshman is to take the SAT as early as possible in high school – with the additional Question and Answer Service – and that is in the October of freshman year.

Hurry. The deadline for the Oct. 11 SAT exam regular registration is Sept. 12. For a small extra cost the late registration deadline is Sept. 30. For more information see http://sat.collegeboard.org/SAT/public/pdf/sat-answer-verification-servi....  

Colleen Quinn Buchanan, a learning specialist on Capitol Hill, helps parents know when and how to take steps to assist their children in school. She offers private educational assessments and school observations to craft learning plans that capitalize on innate talents and burgeoning interests. Her primary role is to synchronize all of the learning supports for a student, both inside and outside the school building. She comes to private practice after years of work in schools across the Washington region. A long-time resident of Capitol Hill, Colleen is the mother of two grown children.

Colleen can be reached at LearningSpecialistontheHill@gmail.com or by phone at 202-827-5669.