April Maguire 4 min read SAT Info and Tips, Standardized Tests

Which Month Has the Easiest SAT Curve?

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A study by the American Test Anxieties Association reveals that an astonishing 16-20% of students have high test anxiety, while another 18% suffer moderate amounts of anxiety. That’s almost 40% of high schoolers. In light of these figures, it’s no surprise that myths abound about ways to make the test-taking process less fraught. 

 

While you might have heard that taking the SAT during certain months can yield better results curve-wise, the truth is that this exam is equally difficult at all times of the year. The College Board doesn’t curve tests based on student performance, so there’s no greater benefit associated with taking the test in January than in December. Keep reading to learn how the SAT is curved and what steps you can take to raise your scores in the coming months. 

 

How Is the SAT Curved? What Is Equating? 

 

Rather than curving the SAT based on how well students perform, the College Board uses an equating process in assigning scores. In other words, test makers recognize that not all versions of the SAT are equally difficult; some tests just happen to be harder or easier for students. To that end, the College Board adjusts raw scores to accommodate minor differences in test difficulty across various months. The idea is that earning a 1600 should mean the same thing whether you take the SAT in January 2018 or June 2019. Known as equating, this statistical process ensures that scores are fair and accurate for everyone who takes the SAT.

 

Tips for Scheduling the SAT 

 

While there’s no guaranteed benefit to taking the SAT in a given month, students should take care when scheduling this all-important exam. 

 

One of the most important aspects to consider are the admissions deadlines your chosen colleges. After all, you don’t want to risk turning in your scores too late to be considered. Most schools have regular decision deadlines in December and January; the very last test date possible to submit scores on time would be November and December, respectively. Students who want to apply early decision or early action, with November deadlines, will need to take the SAT by October, at the latest. Of course, this can vary by school, so be sure to check with the colleges on your list. 

 

You should consider scholarship deadlines as well when signing up to take the test. For example, some colleges automatically consider you for merit scholarships if you submit a complete application (including test scores) by an earlier date than the RD deadline. At Purdue University, that deadline was November 1 this year. In this case, you would’ve wanted to have received your scores by October as well. For those eligible for the National Merit Scholarship, you also have to submit your SAT scores by fall of senior year, typically October.

 

Additionally, students should make sure they’ve taken all the necessary courses prior to scheduling the test. For example, students should wait to take the SAT until they’ve completed both Geometry and Algebra II. 

 

Studying is also crucial if you hope to excel on the SAT, as getting a high score is often about familiarizing yourself with the test’s format and themes. To that end, students should avoid taking the SAT when they’re especially busy with other activities like varsity sports, AP exams, or school plays.

 

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Ideal Testing Timeline for Junior and Senior Year

 

As a high school junior or senior, you should create your test-taking schedule as soon as possible to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. Below is our ideal testing timeline for students in the junior and senior years:

 

Junior Year

 

Summer

Study for and take the PSAT. This is particularly crucial for students aiming to earn National Merit semifinalist status, granted to top 1% scorers in each state. Semifinalists can go on to compete for finalist status and earn scholarships of $2,500. As a bonus, preparing for the PSAT helps prepare you to take the SAT later that year.

 

Fall

Take the SAT for the first time, so you have a second chance to take it again in the spring if desired.

 

Spring

Take the SAT a second time. Winter break is a great opportunity to study for the test. Along with familiarizing yourself with the exam format, strive to take practice tests online. You can also opt to take an SAT prep class to learn tips for taking the test more successfully. Depending on your schedule of courses and extracurriculars, you may decide to take the SAT in March, April, May, or June. If you’re still not happy with your score, you can even take it again on one of the four spring test dates.

 

Senior Year

 

Fall

It can be difficult to take the SAT as a senior because of the number of tasks already on your plate. However, if you aren’t happy with your scores, you may opt to take the test again during the fall semester. If you plan to apply Early Action or Early Decision, be sure to take your test by October, if not even earlier.

 

How to Prepare for the SAT

 

Between coursework and extracurricular commitments, today’s high schoolers are busier than ever. Still, that doesn’t mean you can afford to let SAT prep take a backseat to your other responsibilities. If you want to succeed on this crucial exam, aim to spend a minimum of 40 hours studying before the big day. However, it’s worth noting that students who prep for 80 to 120 hours tend to earn higher scores. 

 

Along with reviewing typical SAT material, students should aim to take a minimum of two full-length practice tests. Be sure you use a timer to simulate the testing environment. When scoring your test, mark the answers you missed and go back and review them after the fact. Check out these tips on how to find time to study for the SAT every day. 

 

While students may be tempted to practice for the SAT with friends, the truth is that this can lead to distractions. If you do want to study with others, think about enrolling in an SAT prep course. Some schools have free after-school SAT programs. Additionally, students can opt to enroll in a private prep course, though these may come with high price tags. 

 

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.