This article was published in the Wall Street Journal on March 28, 2018. Unfortunately you need a Wall Street Journal subscription to access it or you can access it for free using Apple News. The author takes that pessimistic view that Early Decision is bad for students. I have the opposite perspective. If you know where you want to apply, then apply early and maximize your chances of being accepted. I applied early to Princeton and was accepted. After attending the school and meeting my classmates, I am almost certain that early decision gave me the statistical advantage I needed. At top schools like Princeton and UPenn, Early Decision applicants are two to three times more likely to be accepted than Regular Decision applicants.
A few parents have wanted to review the presentation from CBA Guidance night on 9/14. I have posted it here for your convenience.
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Although you will take the exam during your junior and senior years of high school, you should start preparing months or even years in advance.
For the Critical Reading portion of the exam, reading comprehension and vocabulary skills do not develop overnight. By fostering these skills during freshman and sophomore year, you will feel much more confident about your abilities as the official test date approaches.
For the Math portion of the exam, a majority of the concepts tested, approximately 65%, were learned before high school and another 30% should be mastered by the end sophomore year at the latest (with the completion of geometry). By waiting until the end of your junior year to start preparing, you are distancing yourself from the majority of the concepts being tested.
IDEALLY, STUDENTS SHOULD BEGIN SOME FORM OF SAT TRAINING DURING THEIR SOPHOMORE YEAR AND CERTAINLY NO LATER THAN THE BEGINNING OF JUNIOR YEAR.
If you start preparing early, you will find that even if you have labeled yourself as a "bad test taker", you can achieve some impressive results on this exam.
IDEAL SAT PREPARATION TIMELINE
The world of standardized testing can be intimidating. Parents and students are often unsure about which exam to take and there are many rumors and misconceptions floating around about both exams.
The candid answer that I give most families is: STUDENTS SHOULD TAKE BOTH EXAMS.
A common misconception is that the ACT is easier because it focuses on topics that are more relevant to a student's high school curriculum. Although initially this may seem to tip the scale in favor of the ACT, things are not quite so straightforward for two reasons:
1) The ACT includes concepts pertaining to Trigonometry, Chemistry, and Biology, making the test more technical and requiring students to have learned more concepts before tackling the exam.
2) The time limits for each section are extremely condensed, causing students to feel rushed and struggle to finish many of the sections.
Below is a table comparing the two exams.
In only one situation would I highly recommend focusing on just one exam. IF A STUDENT RECEIVES EXTENDED TIME DUE TO AN IEP OR OTHER SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT, THEY SHOULD FOCUS THEIR EFFORTS ON THE ACT. Since much of the challenge of the ACT is related to its fast paced sections, extra time allows students to overcome this formidable aspect of the exam.
As I always say, the key to performing well on standardized tests is to educate yourself about the exams and start preparing early. With enough time, students can successfully identify weak areas and drastically improve their test performance.
Standardized test scores are a key component of the college admissions process. Although there is never one set number for any particular school, the chart below will give you a general idea of the median requirements for some well known schools. As you will see, competitive schools require competitive scores.