First SAT or ACT: Why Students Shouldn't Test Blind

"Mason is going to take the SAT in December. You know, just to practice."

"We don't want to stress Jenna out. She's just going to take this first ACT to get a feel for it, then we'll do some test prep before she tests again. We really want to relieve the pressure for her."

"It will be good to get a baseline SAT score for Luke before we pay for test prep. Then we'll know exactly what he needs to work on."

Parents, have you ever said or thought anything along these lines? I can tell you that, in my 10+ years of test prep experience, I've heard these comments many times. The sentiments are so student-focused, so nurturing, so full of good intent.

And so wrong.

It took me a few years to see the wrongness of these comments, which all point to the idea of testing blind. I mean, what's wrong with taking off the pressure? Or with having a baseline before paying for prep?

Let's start with the understanding that, as a parent reading this blog, you clearly have your student's best interest in mind. You want what is best for your student. As a mom of two (granted, preschoolers), I get it. Doing what's right for our children is of utmost importance. At LCC, we are student-centric. But here's a case where good intentions are paving a road to...well, maybe not hell, but at least not a good place. Now that we all agree that we want what's best for your student, let's look at some common ideas about that first SAT or ACT.

1. The "Baseline" Argument

Do you know what's good for getting a baseline? A practice test. Practice tests are offered at a range of price points, including completely free (think Khan Academy for the SAT or the ACT's free student booklet). You can also pay a fraction of the cost of the real SAT or ACT to have a test prep company (LCC included) administer, grade, and analyze a practice test. Practice tests do not end up on the student's official score report, and they can be taken at the student's convenience. They are purely used as a diagnostic, or "baseline," tool.

2. The Low-Stress Argument

Do you know what's low stress? Taking a test you're prepared for. Do you know what's high stress? Taking a test you're not prepared for. One of the primary goals of test prep is to lower the stress of the SAT or ACT. At LCC, we interact with students with a tone of positivity, encouragement, and confidence. Any test prep professional will take this approach.

Do you know another high stress situation? When a student waits to complete test prep until the fall of senior year. Yes, of course, late is better than never. But that feeling of all-the-eggs-in-one-basket can lead to a level of anxiety that a student might not experience if he has prepped before a junior year test. With junior year prep, students can think, "I'm going to work hard on this, learn all I can, and practice as I'm instructed. I'm going to go into that test with confidence. I know that I can always take it again at the beginning of senior year." This mentality takes some of the pressure off, and this mentality is achieved with early test prep.

3. The "Just Practice" Argument

Would you have your student go in for a real driving test just to practice? Why not? A driving test, like the SAT or ACT, can be taken multiple times. As with the SAT or ACT, there are plenty of tools available to prepare for a driving test. Why, then, would you treat the SAT or ACT differently? Frankly, taking a real test "just for practice" is not a good use of your money or your student's time. A better use of time and money is engaging a qualified and recommended test prep instructor who can connect with, motivate, and teach your student to test effectively.

The best time to practice is before the real test, not during it.

Going back to our premise: we all want the best for your student. And we owe it to our students to think more deeply about what "the best" really looks like.

UPDATE JANUARY 7, 2019: In light of recent stories like this one, we’d like to add a further argument for not testing blind. Students who improve above a certain threshold have their scores flagged, investigated, and sometimes cancelled. If the first test is not the student’s best effort and if test prep is extremely effective, this scenario can certainly happen (and has happened to our students before!). Seriously: don’t test blind!