When to Take Which Exams
Hopkins' advice regarding the SAT Reasoning Test:
Hopkins policy has long been that students take the SAT Reasoning Test in May of the junior year. Some students opt to take it as early as January or March. The test is timed for the spring of junior year, and there is ample opportunity to retake the test in the fall of senior year when the added schooling, maturation, and test-taking experience a student has will help. Our experience has taught us that the two PSATs, and the later options for taking the SAT in the senior year, offer ample opportunity to be prepared to take the SATs, and at a time when students can expect to do better because they are in a position to have simply learned more. The older a student, and the more education the student has, the better the SAT score should be.
Hopkins' advice regarding SAT II Subject Tests:
Students usually will have taken at least two or three SAT Subject Tests by the time they finish applying to colleges, with the first Subject Tests coming in June of their junior year. Please note that for some students, a more appropriate plan is to take fewer than two or three Subject Tests, which may be perfectly appropriate, while for many others, taking four or five, or even more Subject Tests is the right course.
There is no one right way to college; there is only the best and most appropriate way to college for each student.
Students take Subject Tests when they are most prepared in a particular subject, usually at the end of a course, in June, when studying for the final exam also offers students excellent preparation (e.g. US History), or in the fall of the senior year when a student has gained as much experience with a subject (e.g. Literature) as possible. The subjects tested include two levels of mathematics, sciences, foreign languages, history and English Literature (the old Writing SAT Subject Test has recently been “rolled” into the SAT Reasoning Test, so there is no more Writing Subject Test). For a complete description, you can go on line to www.collegeboard.com/parent, click on SAT Information and then click on Subject Tests in the left-hand column.
Although quite rare, some students may be ready to take a Subject Test as early as ninth grade. Usually, at Hopkins, the first Subject Test that students are ready to take is Chemistry at the end of the 10th grade (with many students finishing Chemistry 110 that year). Students are not usually prepared enough in other subjects that early in their career to start taking Subject Tests. On the June test date, after the junior year at Hopkins, students might well be ready to take US History, Physics, Latin (we find best taken after Latin III), and Math. The sequence of testing would be worked out between college counselor and student.
A “typical” (using that word advisedly) pattern of SAT I and Subject Tests for a Hopkins student might look like the following:
A “Typical” Pattern of SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject Tests for a Student at Hopkins
JUNE: Subject Test in Chemistry
MAY: SAT I
JUNE: Subject Test in Physics, US History (having finished US History, Physics), and Math 1C (having just finished Math 5 or Math 15), or Math 2C (having just finished Math25, or higher).
OCTOBER: SAT I
NOVEMBER: Math, either 1C or 2C, if not taken earlier, or move up to 2C, if warranted, or retake the math test of last June, if appropriate. Foreign Language Listening version, if the student has a good familiarity, even fluency, with the language.
DECEMBER: Foreign Language (if the student is in a third year accelerated, fourth year, or fifth year foreign language; we find that usually the more years of foreign language study, the better the score).
You will note that this Hopkins student, as described above, has had the opportunity to take several different Subject Tests, well more than the more common three or so, and has taken the SAT Reasoning Test two times.
Note that the student had the chance to re-take Math (as well as other subjects in the fall); generally, as with the SAT Reasoning Test, colleges will pay more attention to your higher score in situations where you have taken a test more than one time. Also, the student could have chosen to hold off on Math until the fall if he/she was finishing up Physics and US History the previous June, making June the best time to take those tests.
This student could have opted for a third SAT in December had he or she wanted that test more than the Subject Test in foreign language, or the student could have been done with standardized testing altogether after November, or the student could have taken the SAT Reasoning Test in November and the SAT Subject tests in October.
As you see, there are many, many combinations of timing and testing from which students must choose; that’s where we come in as college counselors. Each student will presents a particular blend of interests, strengths and feelings. It does take some thought and experience to get the testing arrangement that makes the most sense for you.