Should a 7th grader take the ACT or SAT?

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(MoneyWatch) Should a seventh grader take the ACT or SAT test?

That's the question I received this week from the mother of a young middle-school student who wants to know if it's too soon to take the college entrance exams. The question isn't as crazy as it might seem. As she wrote, "My daughter is in 7th grade and has recently received a letter from her school stating that she qualifies to take the ACT or SAT through Duke University's Talent Identification Program."

More specifically, the reader wants to know:

1. Will the test results be part of her daughter's school profile?

2. If her daughter does poorly on the test, will it count against her when she is ready to apply for college?

3. Should she let her daughter take the test and, if so, is the SAT or ACT a more appropriate exam?

Middle-schoolers who take the SAT don't have to worry about their scores being held against them.The College Board purges the scores of SAT test takers in the 8th grade or below at the end of the testing year. As a result, no college will ever find out what this child's test results were, unless she wants to share them. Young test takers can request that their scores be made part of their permanent record.

Students that age also don't have to worry about colleges seeing their early ACT scores. The test maker will only share them with colleges if the child requests it. About 40,000 middle-schoolers take the ACT every year.

ACT vs. SAT

There is no way to tell whether a middle-schooler will do better on either of the main college entrance exams. Students usually don't get a sense of how they will do on either test until they sit for the PSAT or the ACT Plan, which students are more likely to take in their sophomore and junior years in high school.

If this teenager wants to get a better idea about which test she might perform better on, she could take sample tests available through the ACT and College Board. (Here's aprevious post that addressesthis SAT vs. ACT issue.)

Why a preteen should take the SAT or ACT

The only preteens who should be taking these standardized tests are those who want to participate in certain academic programs for gifted middle-schoolers that some universities sponsor, including Duke's Talent Identification Program that reached out to this family.

Here are other well-regarded programs that require early SAT or ACT testing for participants:

- Center for Talented Youth (Johns Hopkins University)
- Iowa Talent Search (Iowa State University)
- Midwest Talent Search (Northwestern University)
- Rocky Mountain Talent Search (University of Denver)

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