test driveMany parents believe that having their children take a "trial" SAT---that is, an SAT in November or December for which their junior-year students sit without preparing---is a good idea. For several reasons, this is a dangerous assumption. Below, we explain why taking an SAT cold cannot possibly help, and may very well hurt, your child.

  1. There is already a test designed to answer the question, "How would my child do on the SAT if he/she took it cold?": it's called the PSAT. The PSAT is an abridged version of the SAT normally taken in October of a student's junior year. If your child takes the PSAT seriously, the results (which are returned in December) will provide a fair estimate of his or her predicted baseline SAT score. Importantly, PSAT scores are not considered in college admissions decisions.
  2. When making admissions decisions, many colleges consider the best scores students submit. However, the same schools often require students to submit all of their SAT scores. Suppose your child takes the test cold and does poorly; colleges may very well see those scores next to the other, hopefully better scores. Why give schools reason to think twice about your child's abilities?
  3. When it comes to the SAT, confidence is of the utmost importance. If there is any way to gain confidence on the SAT (or on any standardized test, for that matter), it is through familiarity with the test's content and structure. By having your child take the SAT without preparing, you are all but ensuring that his or her first SAT experience will be a miserable one. If the first SAT intimidates your child, subsequent SATs most certainly will as well. This can only work against your child's progress and improvement.
  4. The cost of the SAT is $49. There is simply no reason to spend money having your child take an SAT for which he or she has not diligently prepared: it's a waste. Unbeknownst to most parents and students, the College Board sends every high school free copies of the SAT Preparation Booklet, which contains an official, full-length practice test. (The test can also be downloaded from College Board's website.) If you want your child to take a "real", "full" test under simulated test conditions, get a copy of this test and have him or her take the test timed at a library or in a classroom with other students taking the test. Again, it's free, and colleges will never see the score.

The bottom line is this: the apparent benefit of having your child take a "trial" SAT is far outweighed by the costs (both material and mental) discussed above. Use the PSAT and the free College Board resources at your disposal for your child's "cold run"; you'll avoid an unnecessary amount of stress in the future.


Photo by Ford APA