The summer before senior year typically means a fun time full of pool parties, sunset drives and infrequent glances at college applications. However, some students, such as Kate Konvitz ’20, have to sacrifice these teenage memories for the sake of SAT preparation.
Konvitz said her testing options put her at a crossroads, forcing her to decide between cramming for the exam on top of her regular course work during the school year, and limiting the number of testing opportunities she had by studying over the summer. With a tightly packed school schedule, Konvitz said she had little time throughout her junior year to focus on standardized testing, and instead wanted to focus on prioritizing her schoolwork and extracurricular responsibilities. She said this choice has affected her summer, however, acting as a burden that takes away from the time she could have used to write college applications.
“I think the timing of standardized testing can be a big challenge, especially for Harvard-Westlake students,” Konvitz said. “I had conflicts with half of the offered test days during my junior year due to extracurricular activities, and I was only left with one chance to take both the SAT and SAT II subject [tests] in order to avoid studying over the summer.”
With the SAT and ACT tests offered every other month, Kylie Azizzadeh ’21 said she was able to plan out her testing schedule far in advance in order to minimize her stress..
“I started prepping for the ACT at the beginning of this summer, going into my junior year,” Azizzadeh said. “While this was relatively early, I knew my schedule would be particularly taxing, and I wanted [to get] testing out of the way as soon as possible. It will hopefully allow me to be more focused on schoolwork and relieve some pressure later on.”
Similar to Azizzadeh’s plans, alumna Sophie Levy ’18 finished testing in the fall of her junior year, and she said it was transformative for relieving pressure throughout her junior year and part of her senior year.
“I anticipated that my senior year would be as demanding as it turned out to be, so when it came around, I was really relieved that I had gotten standardized testing out of the way so I didn’t have to worry about that on top of classes, applications, extracurriculars, essays and everything else,” Levy said.
Some students, including Andy Yang ’20, started testing as early as middle school.
“I personally have taken the SAT when I was in seventh grade, and I think that I felt pressure to do so because of the level of competition within students’ academic life,” Yang said. “This is starting at younger and younger ages, which is shown by the fact that honor roll and programs like the CTY Talent Search require the SAT.”
Yang is not alone in taking standardized testing in middle school. In 2006, an NPR report reported that approximately 120,000 students who took the SAT were in seventh or eighth grade.
However, according to Upper School Dean Celso Cardenas, the prime age to take standardized testing to submit to colleges is during sophomore or junior year.
“I think students should really wait until they’re familiar with the material,” Cardenas said. “So some students [who are] more advanced in certain areas may end up taking it in second semester of sophomore year. So that’s the difficulty in this, it’s not black and white. In terms of [taking the test] in junior year, it really depends on the students’ knowledge because we want them to be ready for it.”
These claims are also supported by a 2016 ACT Research and Policy study, which compared students’ performance on the ACT when they were in seventh grade to their performance in eleventh or twelfth grade. The study concluded that, on average, students had a 9.4 point increase as juniors and seniors from their test scores in seventh grade.
Additionally, Jaya Nayar ’20 said that standardized testing is generally a bad norm because it doesn’t reflect a student’s true academic potential.
“I do not think standardized testing is a good practice,” Nayar said. “I think there are often biases in the ways that tests are written that benefit usually white, wealthier students, over everyone else. Beyond that, I don’t think standardized testing accurately represents the capabilities of students since people get nervous taking the test, and it’s a very long time for someone to sit still and think about the topics they’re not necessarily interested in.”
Nayar also said that she has not noticed a significant change in the age group taking standardized testing.
“The earliest I’ve seen is a junior taking the [SAT or ACT] in August, which is pretty normal,” Nayar said. “The latest I’ve seen is a senior taking the test in September or October, but that’s also pretty normal since the senior is usually retaking the test in an attempt to get a higher score.”
Yang said that whether or not there has been a change in the age demographic taking standardized testing, the choice should ultimately be made by the individuals taking the test.
“I think it’s good that standardized testing, even if it might be harder for younger students, is generally open to a large age range,” Yang said. “People should take the test with the factor of age in mind, but whether or not someone should take it at a younger age depends on their specific academic situation.”