The Dreaded Month of May: How to Handle Standardized Test Overload

It's May 1, and for many students, that means a whole lot of standardized tests.

May can be a dreaded month for many college prep students. Students have both AP exams and the SAT, and those who choose to take their SAT and AP subjects in May will often find that they don’t get the scores they were expecting. It’s generally ill-advised to take on all of these commitments in four short weeks. The SAT is offered many times per year; however, AP exams are always administered in May. If at all possible, students should attempt to take the SAT another month. But there are a few ways that students can survive if they have no choice but to tackle these tests all at once. Students are advised to break up their standardized exams as much as possible. Taking more than one major test per month is generally not a good idea.

When students choose the number of AP exams they will take, they should consider the time commitment required later in the year. Students who are taking multiple AP subjects should start their test prep in January for the best chance of scoring a 3, 4, or 5 on their exams. It would take even the most dedicated student a minimum of six weeks to adequately prepare for any AP exam. Students who are taking multiple exams should adjust their time appropriately. Two AP classes would then become 12 weeks of study, while three would become 18 weeks.

Tackling the SAT in May

If a student decides, for whatever reason, to take the SAT in May, they should consider starting their test prep activities well in advance of spring term in order to maintain mental energy. Students should start their SAT prep in the fall and then take a break around February while they commence their AP test prep, then revisit their SAT studies three to four weeks prior to taking the exam.

Students who want to take the SAT several times—the average successful student will take the SAT one to four times—should consider taking the test in February to obtain a base score and then again in June. It’s possible, with the right preparation, to do well on both exams in the same month; however, the pitfalls outweigh the advantages in almost all cases.

Although the SAT can be taken over and over again, the AP exams are a one-shot deal. Students are trying to be academic superheroes when they tackle all of these life-changing tasks at once. If a student is required to get a 4 or 5 on an AP exam in order to gain acceptance to the college of their choice, they may find that their brainpower has been stretched to the limit and, at the end of the day, end up with a 2 or 3 (a score of 3 is usually the minimum needed for credit).

Don’t expect perfection

Those who decide to take all of their tests in May, perhaps as a way of simply getting them over and done with, should follow a strict regimen of study for that month. They should tell their friends that they will be seeing them later on in June and fully commit themselves to studying. At this point, students should expect to spend between 10 and 15 hours per week studying for both AP and SAT. If they are working with a test-prep tutor, students may also expect to spend four to six hours per week in a directed one-on-one study session. Be advised that students who attempt to take all their exams at once can lose up to 100–200 composite points on their SAT (on the current scale) and 1–2 points on their AP exams due to mental fatigue.

Although entrance into colleges and universities is becoming more competitive each year, students should not expect perfection from themselves. Even rock-star students need a strategy, and that strategy is balance.

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