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Most Efficient Test Taking Planning (When to Take What Test)

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20-04-04 10:52

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Most Efficient Test Taking Planning (When to Take What Test)
   
The guiding principle to when to take what test, for college admissions preparations, is efficiency and recycling. For this article, I am assuming that the student is in high school currently. For students not in high school, but want to get a jump on preparation for high school and college admissions in general, I will go into that in another article.
Don't put this off
If you put off preparing for college all to your junior year, you'll have 1) 3-5 AP tests to study for (actually, the more the better the higher ranked the university being applied is), 2) 2-3 SAT II subject tests to study for, 3) SAT I or ACT tests to study for with retakes, if needed, 4) extracurricular activities to finish up and supplement, 5) college and university applications to start and try to finish, and all the while 7) maintaining your GPA in the most difficult courses your high school has to offer, if you can help it, and you'll have 8) a massively long essay (usually about 10 pages, or 4000 words) you'll have to write in your junior year, as required by law in most US states and by most schools using the American curriculum in many of the overseas international schools. So, last minute cramming is not easy, or even possible. If you're applying for universities under rank 40 or so, you can concentrate on just taking the ACT (Or, TOEFL if an international student, and college applications, GPA, and long junior-year essay), which is a lot less.

Look at your current course load
Now assuming you are shooting for very top tier US universities, or even just top tier University of California schools, which favor many APs and SAT II test scores too, look at what your course load is currently and use that as your basis of deciding which SAT II and AP tests to take. Even if you're a freshman, all the better, since you want to get a jump on preparations. Typically, you will be taking some science class, some math class, and some social science or history class, and an English class.


The Sciences
Think about the science class first and decide whether you like that subject or not. As long as you don't abhor it, you should think about studying for its SAT II subject test equivalent: It will help you with your course work for your grades, and you only need to study a little more in problem solving to take the SAT II subject test for that course. Now, as a general rule, some students don't do well in Biology or in Physics very well at all, but they'll do well in the other. Chemistry seems to be neutral for most students, since it's not super hard math, and it's all fairly surface level science covering a LOT of material. Biology is a lot of ground too, but it's a lot of memorizing, and some students aren't good at memorizing, or Physics is fairly heavy duty math and many students don't have a handle on where to apply what equation. Plan on taking whatever AP subject test too for that course, since most science courses don't have a massive prerequisite requirement to take that AP course (except for AP Physics C, which requires calculus knowledge). Study for that AP subject test in addition to the SAT II subject test, the high school subject you are studying. It's a lot, but ultimately, it's the same material. Take the May AP test (assuming it's not cancelled, or whenever they delay the test to with the current Covid-19 outbreak), and then sign up for the June SAT II subject test.

Math
For math, if you're doing Algebra 1 or 2 or Geometry, but haven't finished Precalculus yet, you should think about taking the SAT II Math 1 test. It's a lot harder to get a perfect 800 score on this test, since many students take Math 1, instead of Math 2, and many get high scores. So, if you miss even one, your score drops about 50 points from 800, while for SAT II Math 2, you can miss 4 or 5 questions and still get an 800 perfect score. Many students take Precalculus during their junior year or sophomore year, so if you're a sophomore studying Algebra 2 and you're more than half way through the material, you may consider SAT II Math 2 and take that as preparations for the Precalculus you're going to take next year anyway. Or, if you're not that brave or confident, the safe course is to take SAT II Math 1. This will help you with your final examination review too, as a bonus. Here too, study for the AP subject test, along with the SAT II subject test and the high school subject studying you're doing.

The Social Sciences
The social sciences are great for SAT II or AP study, since unlike the math and sciences, they don't require any prerequisites to study for them. So, AP Psychology and AP Macro/Micro Economics are king in this category. You will need some basic algebra for AP Economics, but that shouldn't be a problem, unless you're very weak with math. These two subjects, most people know with exposure to news and normal life experiences, so they quite approachable. You don't need to be taking these courses to take these AP subject tests, and they're great for your sophomore, and even freshman year. They're one more thing you can do to take the load off of your junior year. The AP US History, AP World History, and AP European History are great to take if you're already taking, and are probably already taking, these courses now in school. Take the SAT II version of the tests too, if you're more social sciences and humanities oriented than STEM oriented in your academic comfort levels.

English
AP English Literature is fairly difficult, because teenagers in the US who are good at the humanities are also VERY good at English Literature. So, some of you as a second language speaker of English may have a hard time scoring well in this test, even if you're not bad at the subject in school. However, AP English Language and Composition is not as commonly taken, so the scale for this test is very doable and not as difficult. Even if you are very good at English, this test may be a good second test to take in addition. If you're not so confident in English, but you get As and some Bs in school, you should consider AP E Lang.

Your first SAT I or ACT test
The ACT test allows you to take the test as often as you like, and you send only the score you like, according to how ACT reports its scores. However, when you send an SAT I score, you send ALL your SAT I scores and your SAT II scores too. There is a thing called Score Choice, which lets you hide your scores from colleges, but it's a little tricky using it. I'll talk about Score Choice, and the way of hiding or holding your scores on all college admissions tests in another article.

For now, though, your first SAT I or ACT test should be at the end of your first semester of your junior year (November or December, but preferably December, and October or December for ACT), the second should be the end of your junior year (May or June, but preferably May, April or June for ACT), and the third should be at the end of that year, the end of your first semester senior year (August, if you're considering early decision or action application, or December preferred if you're not, for ACT September or December). The months are recommended for their relative lack of competition with other SAT I test takers, of the two dates given in parenthesis above.

Steven Huh is currently president of Steven Academy in San Francisco. He graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign as an English Literature major, taught at Daewon Foreign Language High School English expository writing, SAT I writing, SAT I Reading Comprehension, and served as its Director of College Counseling from 1998 to 2002. He also was president of Steven Academy in Seoul, Daechi-dong from 2003 to 2018. He is currently a member of NACAC (National Association of College Admission Counseling) and International ACAC (International Association of College Admission Counseling).