The October SAT is a popular testing administration among high school seniors because it is one of the last opportunities they have to polish their academic image before applying to college. However, high school juniors should also consider taking the October SAT. Although high school counselors recommend taking the SAT during the spring of their junior year, there is no sound logic to this recommendation. The argument is that spring of junior year is an ideal time to take the SAT because most students have taken Algebra II, the highest level of math tested on the SAT.
But if students know SAT prep strategies, they need 0 knowledge of Algebra II to ace the exam! In addition, spring of junior year is one of the busiest times of high school – AP exams, finals, junior prom, etc.. I personally recommend finding a time that you are not very busy with classes so that you can focus on SAT prep. For example, most students are not super busy in September when school has just started, which is the perfect time to study for the SAT and take the October SAT!
The other major benefit for juniors preparing for the October SAT is that they will also be prepared for the PSAT. The SAT is administered in the first week of October and the PSAT is administered in the second week of October. The PSAT is just an easier version of the SAT: fewer sections, easier math, and no essay. If you prepare for the SAT, you will be over prepared for the PSAT. You can kill two birds with one stone by not having to study separately for the SAT and PSAT.
The PSAT is important because it is also the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.
By scoring high on the PSAT, you can be designated as a National Merit Scholar. Not only is this a big honor to have on your college applications, but many universities have half-tuition and full-tuition scholarships reserved exclusively for National Merit Scholars. For example, my alma mater USC, automatically gives National Merit Scholars a half-tuition scholarship. This means they’ll give you $100,000 (over 4 years of college) just because you scored high on the PSAT!
You only have one shot to take the PSAT: October of junior year. If you took the PSAT as a sophomore, the score does not count towards qualifying for National Merit. How high you have to score for National Merit depends on the state you live in. More academically competitive states have higher cutoffs to qualify for National Merit.