When Should Students Take the ACT / SAT?

Now, I know what you might be thinking. Students generally take the ACT or SAT in the spring of their junior year. Why should you consider taking it earlier than that, or multiple times? The truth of the matter is that you are almost guaranteed to increase your score by taking the test a second or third time. That’s partially because you familiarized yourself with the format and the material. That does not mean that you can perfect your score by retaking the test as many times as possible. But, you could see a notable difference—and every point counts.

A black and white alarm clock next to an open notebook.

When should you take the ACT / SAT?

That still doesn’t address the “when” of the question. It’s recommended that you take your first SAT or ACT in the fall of your junior year. This allows you to use the summer to study for it. There tend to be fewer conflicts in the fall (like AP tests) that would distract you from studying. This also allows you to receive your scores and learn which sections you might want to study more for the test in the spring.

Should you take the ACT / SAT earlier?

If it is so beneficial to take the tests repeatedly, why shouldn’t you start earlier? Some of the math sections will require knowing about content that often is not taught until junior year, which is also why most high school juniors take it in the spring (either by their choice or because the school mandates it at that time). The same goes for some of the science, reading, and English content to some extent. So taking the ACT or SAT might not be to your benefit during your sophomore year, as you won’t actually know which questions you missed because you were wrong and which you missed because you didn’t understand the material. In addition, studying for these tests can take up much of your time and energy, which should be spent learning as much as possible in your first two years of high school.

The important thing to remember when scheduling these tests is that you do have a life and assignments outside of studying (I know, sometimes it might not seem like it, but you do, trust me). There are going to be other stresses on top of the test, such as exams in your classes, sporting events, concerts, plays, etc. If you are taking your chosen test outside of the “normal” period for it, keep these things in mind. It pays to look ahead at your school’s activities schedule and see what dates work best for you.

When should you retake the tests, if you want to?

In addition, you likely know by the end of junior year what kinds of standardized test scores you need to get into your top pick schools. (You can use College Raptor’s match tool to see how ACT/SAT scores affect your acceptance odds at any 4-year college in the country!) That means if you didn’t score as well as you liked junior year, you can take the test again fall of your senior year. The disadvantage here is that you will likely be focusing on your college applications. That might detract from your ability to focus on studying. Thus, there are also negatives to taking the tests later.

Keep in mind any deadlines.

There are also registration dates for both tests. If your high school does not automatically sign you up for either the ACT or the SAT in the spring, it is important to know these deadlines. Registration is generally a month before the test. Here are the upcoming ACT and SAT test dates for the 2016-2017 school year. Visit the ACT website or the SAT website to register.

As a last note, most colleges will accept either the SAT or ACT. However, some schools might require you to take SAT subject tests if you take the ACT. You usually get to choose which ones you take, although the school might recommend you take tests in the field you wish to major in. For example, you may take the chemistry and biology subject tests if you plan to go into science. There are twenty subject tests available, in categories of Mathematics, English, History, Languages, and Science. Not all of the subject tests are offered on the same test dates, so register for these early.

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