Not Sure When to Take the SAT/ACT? Here’s Your Guide.

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The season of standardized tests is well underway, and if you’re a high school sophomore or junior who is just starting to consider when you’ll take the SAT or ACT, you might be feeling a little lost. First of all, the good news—you have plenty of time and you’re already ahead of the game if you’re starting to plan now. With nearly the entire school year ahead, you don’t need to worry about rushed registrations or missed test dates just yet, and by beginning your planning now, you likely never will.


In this post, we’ll outline a few of the top questions you might have about the timing of standardized tests and we’ll offer our ideal timeline for tackling these tests. To learn more about when you should take the SAT or ACT, keep reading.


Are Some Test Dates Easier Than Others?


Let’s start by throwing this one right out the window. It is a common myth that you’ll be able to score higher on some test dates than on others.


This myth probably originated from the belief that the SAT or ACT is curved. Some people think that these tests are scored on a curve and that you can therefore “hack” your score by taking the test on the date when the lowest scoring population is most likely to test. This, however, simply isn’t true. The SAT and ACT are not scored on a curve, so the other people taking the test and the test date will have no impact on your score. There is no easiest date to take the tests on, so your best bet is to focus on which dates work best for you personally.


To learn more about how the SAT and ACT are scored, check out our posts How Does the Scoring Curve Work for the ACT? and How Does the Curve Work for the SAT?.

Is There Such a Thing As Taking the SAT or ACT Too Early?   


There IS actually such a thing as taking the SAT or ACT too early, and this is due to a couple of different factors. First, in general, the greatest score increases are between your first and second test. Just because you take the test seven times, it doesn’t mean your score will continue to get higher. In fact, you are probably wasting your time after the third or fourth attempt. Taking the test too early could mean that you stall out and effectively waste your time in further preparations.


Second, admissions officers tend to not like seeing students take the tests too many times. We recommend that in general, three test administrations is the most you should take, so if you start taking the SAT or ACT at the end of your sophomore year, you are probably getting ahead of yourself.


Instead of starting to take the SAT or ACT extra early, we recommend that you get the ball rolling by taking the PSAT in the fall of your junior year. As the name implies, the Preliminary SAT is good practice for the actual SAT, and it can provide you with some insight into what to expect on test days. This way, you have some background on these kinds of standardized tests before you actually take your first one, which you don’t really need to do until the second semester of your junior year.


To learn more about the PSAT, check out our posts What Does My PSAT Score Mean? and How to Qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

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Is There Such a Thing As Taking the SAT or ACT Too Late?


Sorry to break it to you, but if you came to this post as a senior looking for reassurance about not taking your tests yet, you came to the wrong post. There absolutely IS such a thing as taking your tests too late, and if you haven’t taken them yet and your senior year is well underway, you’re definitely late to the game. That being said, there’s still time to register for December test dates and if you prepare well and apply regular decision, you just might sneak out a victory.  


If you’re planning for the future, though, first and foremost you need to consider application and scholarship deadlines in advance. Keep in mind that some schools even request that you don’t apply until you’ve taken your tests. Even if you have time before these deadlines, if you wait until the last possible test administration date, you won’t have the chance to retake them. This would be a loss since most students experience the greatest increase in scores between the first and second test administration, mostly due to a decrease in stress, better preparation, or more familiarity with the test.


In general, if you are applying Early Decision, you need to plan on taking your final round of standardized tests no later than the October or November administration deadlines during your senior year of high school. In 2017, these test dates are October 28 for the ACT and November 4 for the SAT. If you are applying Regular Decision, your deadline is likely December or January, with your final chance for an ACT test available on December 9 or the SAT available on December 2.


What’s the Ideal Timeline for Taking the SAT or ACT?


First, take the PSAT the fall of your junior year. This is a great first step and will get you used to the test format, along with giving you an idea of how your scores might stack up.


Next, take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the early spring of your junior year. This usually means a March or April test date. This will give you a good baseline with plenty of time to study and retake as needed. In 2018, the ACT is available on April 18 and the SAT is available on March 10.


Then, take the SAT or ACT for the second time during the late spring of your junior year. These tests are usually in May or June. In 2018, the ACT is offered on June 8 and the SAT is offered on May 5 and June 2. You are likely to see a significant increase between your first and second round of test scores, and this might mean that you don’t need to take the tests again.  


If you’re still not happy with your scores the second time around, pull out all the stops to study over the summer. Consider getting a tutor, buying some study books, or using online tutorials. Then take the test one last time the fall of your senior year. The ACT typically has tests offered in September and October, and the SAT typically has tests offered in August and October.


Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.


To learn more about the SAT and ACT, check out these CollegeVine posts:


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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.