Sophomore

Q&A: When should I take my first real SAT?

Q: Hey, Kristina,

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keep_calm_featured

I am currently ending my Sophomore year in high school.  I have a lot of friends who are Juniors and Seniors, and I’ve seen them get totally freaked out about the whole college and SAT thing.  It seems like a LOT to take on.  Some friends tell me to get the tests over with as soon as possible, since there are so many other things to do, like Subject tests and application essays and keeping up grades.  Should I spend this summer cramming and take the SAT this October or November? When should I take my first real SAT?

– Already Overwhelmed Rising Junior

A: Dear Overwhelmed,

First of all, thank you for writing in to ask this.  I get this question all the time from insanely bright and precocious students, so the fact that you are contemplating taking the SAT during the Fall of your Junior year only bodes well.  :)

It’s clear you’re already thinking ahead to a “3 Year Plan”, which means you have more “executive function” than most gals your age – heck! – maybe even more than Emily Thorne from Revenge!  (In case you’re curious, “executive function” is introspective psychobabble for having insight to see the big picture of what needs to get done in a complex situation, and then breaking said complex situation down into smaller actions and mentally organizing them so they actually get DONE. The complex situation in question could be getting into college, planning a stellar birthday bash, or taking down the Grayson’s.)

I’m glad you have friends who have gone down the college route before you, so you know it’s no joke!  That said, you should be incredibly strategic about when you take your first real test, whether it be the SAT or the ACT.  (If you don't know which test to take, click here to get your free Pre-Tutoring Guide.) It’s not just a Saturday (or a Sunday if you observe the Sabbath) out of your social calendar that’s at stake – it’s the weeks and months of prep time culminating to that Saturday morning. You want to make sure you are harnessing your time, energy and mental focus so that your performance peaks when you have the best chances of nabbing that fantastic score.  You want the stars to align! And you don’t want to do anything to psych yourself out.

That said, I highly discourage you from taking the test for the first time during the Fall of your Junior year.  Do you have any idea why…?  It has to do with statistics…

Bell Curve pink

Bell Curve pink

You see, the SAT and ACT are graded on a bell curve, meaning that there is a “standard distribution” of the scores.  That’s stat’s speak meaning that you basically ARE competing with the slew of students who take the test the same day as you.  The College Board or ACT Board take a peek at how EVERYONE did that day, and use their findings to determine how many raw score points you need to get a 700 or a 32.  And since this is a standardized thing, colleges don’t care if you were competing with geniuses or doofuses that day – they just care about your 2200.  Make sense?

Thus, if you take the test in October, against whom do you think you’re competing??  That’s right! EVERY FREAKIN’ SENIOR WHO’S EVER WALKED THE EARTH. They are all taking the test their 2nd or 3rd time, vying for a higher score to seal the deal on their dream schools.

Do you really want to compete on the bell curve against thousands of students who not only have an extra year of schooling under their belts, but also have had multiple practices taking the test?  I thought so…

November would probably be just as bad, since Seniors can still take this test for early decision schools.

December is full of regular decision Seniors.

January is somewhat of a crap-shoot – the desks could be filled with slacker Seniors who are treating this as their last “hail Mary” before having to turn in their college apps regular or rolling decision, or it could be filled with idiot savant Juniors who would get a 2400 or a 36 without a tutor and thus, not be effected by a testing curve anyway. (They’d just ruin the curve for you!)

Your best bet?  TAKE THE TEST IN MARCH at the very earliest.  This gives you the majority of the year to study little by little, not feel rushed, and also, to compete with people your own age and level of expertise – fellow Juniors.  In addition, you know you have May, June and the Fall of Senior year as backup SAT test dates, and April, June, and the Fall for backup ACT test dates, so there’s no pressure…

Wait - you didn’t expect to take the test only once, did you? ;)

So, even though this information didn't cost you a cent, it's not free.  If you found this at all helpful, do me a HUGE favor and share this with 3 of your friends who can benefit! :)

From Listless to Ivy-Bound: How to Conquer the Infamous Sophomore Slump in 5 Easy Steps

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After the novelty of high school wears off (that’d be Freshman year), you might feel as if you’re in a long tunnel with no light in sight, trudging along with seemingly no direction, no goal, no end.  But lots of drama. Welcome to the Sophomore Slump!

It’s not your fault that you might feel this way: popular culture emphasizes this pattern with every major movie, book series, or show that comes out…

For example:

Remember how subdued “New Moon” was in the Twilight series? Being the 2nd book – no longer the introduction to the crazy world of Edward/Bella/Jacob/vampires, yet not far along enough to see the bigger themes of saving hybrid babies, conquering Volturi, and general good vs. evil – one could say this edition has its own unmemorable version of the “Sophomore Slump”.

It was the same thing with Harry Potter.  We all remember horcruxes, quidditch, and Sirius Black, but how many of us would say Chamber of Secrets was our favorite?  How many of us even remember it at all?!

You see, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, being book (and movie) #2, had its own “Sophomore Slump”.

Need more proof of how this is a racket ingrained in our culture?  Ask any friend who is a middle child!  (Or ask yourself, if that’s you.)

So it must be settled then: Sophomore year is just inconsequential and pointless, right?

WRONG! And nothing could be further from the truth.

Sophomore year is a very special time, and this uniqueness actually comes from the origins of the word itself. 

“Soph” means “wise” in Ancient Greek. Think “Sophocles”, one of the 3 greatest Greek playwrights from ancient times.

The root of “more”, on the other hand, means “fool” – just like the word “moron” ;)

So as a Sophomore, while you are “wise” enough to not be a clueless Freshman anymore, you are also a –

JUST KIDDING!  You are NOT a “moron” – you just have room to grow.

What does this mean for you, right here, right now?

You need to turn this lackluster year into a launching pad for a superlative high school career that can open doors to your dream college.  Here’s how:

Step #1: Find Your Focus

You may have tried out lots of clubs and activities Freshman year.  Now that you have those experiences under your belt, you can “wisely” determine which ones you want to pursue seriously during the rest of high school.  Colleges love to see commitment, passions and initiative (read: leadership), so if you hated fencing last year, you still have time to start bowling and maybe make it to team captain by Senior year.

Step #2: Use Your Course-load To Your Advantage

Lucky for you, the coursework you’re taking this year is not going to match the demanding nature of what you’ll encounter next year as a Junior, so celebrate!  This means it’s easier this year to score killer grades than it might be next year.  So get them while they’re easy!  Nailing top grades Sophomore year pumps up your cumulative GPA, so even if you struggle in Junior year Trig, you’ll have your stellar Sophomore grades to help bring up your average.  Also, rocking out your coursework this year will catch the eye of your teachers: if they see you excel while your classmates are slacking off, they will give you the benefit of the doubt (and killer college recommendations) later on down the line.

Step #3: Consider Taking SAT Subject Tests and/or AP’s

This may or may not apply to you, but if you are taking any AP classes or otherwise demanding courses, see if there is a corresponding SAT II Subject Test that you can take at the end of this year, while it’s fresh on your mind.  If your score sucks, you don’t have to submit it, but if you do well, you can relieve some of the pressure you’ll have Junior year.

If you are already taking an AP class (or a few), aim to take the AP test at the end of the year.  During admissions, colleges only see the AP scores you earned Junior year and earlier, so an extra AP score (or 4) looks really REALLY impressive.

Step #4: Read, Read, Read!

Want to know the most foolproof way to get an SAT Critical Reading score above 750? BE A VORACIOUS READER. Reading high quality texts (the “classics”, articles from the New York Times, New Yorker magazine, for example) is the most painless way to expand your vocabulary naturally and learn to understand sophisticated writing styles… the same type of dry writing you’re probably going to encounter on Test Day.  If you never crack open a book except when you have to for school, you can still improve your score with lots and lots of elbow grease during your Junior and Senior years, but it is very doubtful that you will increase it to the really impressive 750+ range.

Step #5: Visit Colleges

Say what??  Yep, I said it.  I know you may not know which colleges you even want to apply to yet, but visiting during the summer between Sophomore and Junior years is one of the best ways to start figuring out what you like and what you hate.  I recommend scheduling a handful of college visits in June and July – not August, when everybody is scrambling last minute to check out schools before admission deadlines.  Also, do you really think it’s “wise” to wait until next year and miss out on several days of Junior year AP US History and Physics, when you’re already prepping for the SAT, the ACT, SAT II’s, and your demanding course-load is killing you??

I thought so.