Imagine: you’re in Social Studies. You hear a fellow 7th-grader sitting next to you say “Ugh, I have to take the SAT this weekend.” What is this person talking about? Why would you take the SAT in middle school? Is there even such a thing as a 7th grade SAT score?
If you're a parent, you may have heard of various advanced programs for gifted and talented children that require taking the SAT. But is it worth it to have your child take the SAT so early? Why start the stress around college applications earlier than high school?
In this article, I’ll go over the pros and cons of taking the SAT in 7th grade and the programs you can get into with high 7th grade SAT scores.
Is Taking the SAT This Early Useful?
As with many questions, there’s not a simple yes or no answer. Whether or not you should plan on taking the SAT in 7th grade depends on why you are taking the SAT.
Taking the SAT Early Is Not Useful If...
You're taking it to get into college. Unless you're applying to college extremely early (age 15 or so), most schools will want to see a more recent assessment of your abilities. Not only is there content on the SAT that just isn't taught until high school (e.g. certain Math topics), but there is also a huge amount of development and change that happens in the adolescent brain.
Colleges don't ask you for your middle school grades when you apply to college; they're more interested in who you are when you're applying (rather than who you were in middle school). It's pretty unlikely that any school will look at your SAT score from when you were 12 and think “Ah, that’s what that person is like now.”
We generally recommend starting SAT prep no sooner than 9th grade, even for the most ambitious students. If you're a younger student, it's usually more productive to focus on doing well in school and building a solid foundation for the math and reading skills you'll need on the SAT.
Taking the SAT Early Is Useful If...
You want to familiarize yourself with the test. Sometimes, anxiety over the SAT can make the test into more of an obstacle than necessary. Taking the test early can turn the unknown into the known, which you can then plan for.
You have the necessary funds to pay to take the test and are curious about it. You probably won't be able to get a fee waiver if you’re taking the SAT for personal enrichment, but if want to see what it's like to take such a lengthy standardized test, go for it.
You want to take part in special programs for talented youth. These programs often require taking the SAT/ACT as either a prerequisite for the program or as part of the program. The SAT isn’t necessarily the only qualifying test you can for these programs - often, programs will accept other assessment measures like IQ tests or school standardized tests - but it is a test you can study for, and there are many high-quality resources out there to help you, even with 7th grade SAT prep.
What Programs Require Taking the SAT Early?
There are several programs that provide advanced academic and mentoring opportunities as well as recognition for students who did well on the 7th grade SAT. It's important to note that these programs will not judge your score the same way a college admissions officer might. The programs recognize that you’re younger than the average SAT-taker, so they're not looking for perfect scores by any means; instead, they want to see how well you compared to other students your age.
Below, I've compiled a short list of programs that require (or recommend) you take the SAT in 7th grade for you to look through.
Duke TIP 7th Grade Talent Search
Participation in the Duke 7th grade talent search qualifies students for various summer programs and recognition ceremonies. As part of the talent search, you’ll take the SAT; you can also take the SAT to qualify for the talent search in the first place. Find out more about the Duke TIP SAT score requirements here!
CTY at Johns Hopkins
Taking the SAT can also qualify you for programs at the Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins. These programs range from summer courses to online classes with advanced content, with awards ceremonies for exceptionally high-scoring young students. If you take the SAT before age 13, you may also be able to qualify for CTY's Study of Exceptional Talent. You can also take the SAT through CTY's talent search program. To learn more about the SAT requirements for CTY, read this article.
There are several other programs that provide younger students with the chance to take the SAT and participate in summer enrichment programs. We've already written detailed articles about Stanford EPGY, Summer Institute for the Gifted, and NUMATS on our blog, but there are several other programs for talented adolescents that are worth looking into:
- Academic Talent Search at UC Irvine
- Joseph Baldwin Academy (JBA) at Truman State University
- Western Academic Talent Search (formerly the Rocky Mountain Talent Search)
- VAMPY at Western Kentucky University
- Vanderbilt's Programs for Talented Youth
- Talented and Gifted Program at Southern Methodist University
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Why Do These Programs Use the SAT?
"If these programs are for younger students, why does the SAT matter at all?" you might be wondering. "Wouldn't some other kind of assessment be better?"
In fact, there are three key reasons that programs for talented young students use the SAT:
1. The SAT Is a Widely Available Test
You don’t have to set up a special session with a counselor to take an IQ test - you can just go to a testing center near you and take it.
2. There Are Years of Data on the SAT
Programs for gifted and talented youth have been using the SAT as a standard for many years, so they can easily compare your score against past (non-high school) students' scores.
3. The SAT Measures Important Skills
The SAT tests students' critical reading and mathematical intelligence. Both of these skills (particularly critical reading) are important for taking advanced courses because they're not just knowledge-based, but skill-based. Rather than testing you on well you can memorize facts (like a history test), the SAT tests you on how well you read and think.
Many of the programs I mentioned above use SAT scores not just as a criterion for allowing students entry to the programs, but as a way to place students in the appropriate level courses.
How Is Your SAT Prep Different as a 7th Grader?
An important part of 7th grade SAT test prep is knowing to aim for a lower score than if you were in high school and applying to college. For the most part, you simply haven’t learned everything you’ll need to learn for the SAT: your vocabulary is smaller than a high schooler's, and you haven't learned all of the math yet. Create a realistic target SAT score by filling out our worksheet and replacing "colleges you want to apply to" with "programs you want to apply to."
SAT prep for middle schoolers should be lower pressure because the stakes are lower. While the summer programs I mentioned above may provide enrichment, they aren't nearly as essential to your future as college is. Furthermore, the programs aren't looking for the same kinds of scores as colleges are; the programs have collected many years of data on what score range can be expected for gifted seventh graders, and will not be comparing you against much older students.
Finally, an important logistical detail for those who want to take the SAT in 7th grade is that you can’t register online for the SAT if you're under age 13; because of Internet privacy laws, the CollegeBoard requires all students under the age of 13 to register for the SAT by paper. This mostly just means that you have to plan farther in advance if you want to take the SAT as a 7th grader - you can't just decide a couple of weeks before the test that you want to go for it.
SAT for 7th Graders: Yes or No?
You should take the SAT in 7th grade if you want to familiarize yourself with the test and decrease anxiety, satisfy your curiosity, or take part in any of several programs for gifted and talented youth.
If you're just taking the test to apply to college, you should wait to take the SAT until you're older.
Maybe you don't need to take the SAT in middle school, but should you start preparing for it then? Read more about prepping for the SAT as a 7th grader in this article.
Let's say you do take the SAT in 7th grade. How can you compare yourself to other seventh graders, rather than high schoolers? PrepScholar co-founder Dr. Fred Zhang has done the math for you on what a good SAT score for a 7th grader is.
Want more articles on test-taking that are specifically for 7th- and 8th- grade students? Check out the "early achievers" section of our blog!
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.