Kate Sundquist 7 min read ACT Info and Tips, SAT Info and Tips

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

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 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. Your choice of when to take the SAT should NOT be based around which test date is said to be easiest. It is a 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 when to take the SAT or ACT based on what work best for your schedule.

 

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?.

 

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

 

For best results, we recommend the following timelines. You can follow the one for the SAT, the ACT, or combine the two until you identify which test format works best for you.

 

The SAT Preparation Timeline

 

1. Take the PSAT 8/9 in your freshman year and the PSAT 10 as a sophomore to get used to standardized testing.

 

2. In the summer before your junior year, take a practice SAT to learn your baseline score. This test can be something you administer yourself at home, or you can attend a formal practice test at a prep center (Princeton Review offers free, proctored paper-and-pencil practice tests).

 

3. Study to take the official SAT for the first time in the fall of your junior year. This usually means an October or November test date.

 

4. Sit for the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior. If possible, aim to complete your SAT preparation before the PSAT/NMSQT test date to increase your chances of qualifying for a National Merit Scholarship.

 

5. If you’re not happy with your first score, study to take the SAT again your junior spring.

 

6. If your score still needs some work, prepare to take the SAT one final time in late summer/early fall of your senior year.

 

The ACT Preparation Timeline

 

1. Take the PreACT in your sophomore year to get used to standardized testing.

 

2. In the summer before your junior year, take a practice ACT to learn your baseline score. This test can be something you administer yourself at home, or you can attend a formal practice test at a prep center (Princeton Review offers free, proctored paper-and-pencil practice tests).

 

3. Study to take the official ACT for the first time in the fall of your junior year. This usually means an October or November test date.

 

4. Sit for the PSAT/NMSQT as a junior if you want to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. You should do some PSAT specific studying if you’re aiming for National Merit status, as the PSAT is different in structure and content from the ACT.

 

5. If you’re not happy with your first score, study to take the ACT again your junior spring.

 

6. If your score still needs some work, prepare to take the ACT one final time in the summer before your senior year.

 

Only take the SAT or ACT in your senior year if you are sure your score will increase substantially. Typically, we recommend finishing up your testing before then just because this time tends to be busy with other college application tasks.

 

Remember that these are just guidelines. If you have extenuating circumstances, when to take the SAT or ACT could be a little different for you. It may make sense for you to skip some of these steps or move your timeline around a bit. For example, if you have substantial commitments your junior year, consider taking your exam at the very end of sophomore year. Or, if you take an SAT practice test and discover it’s not for you, try the ACT instead.

 

Whatever approach you take, we strongly recommend against sitting for the SAT or ACT more than three times. You are unlikely to see substantial increases in your score after three attempts.

 

Last Tip: Recognize that studying for the SAT or ACT is a serious commitment. The more focused you are during your preparation the first time around, the less likely you are to have to take it a second or third time. You save a lot of time and stress in the long run by setting aside two or three months and studying intensively up front. For more tips on how to build the best prep schedule, check out 10 Tips to Prepare for the SAT and What Parents Need to Know about SAT and ACT Studying Prep

 

When Exactly Can I Take the SAT or ACT?

 

The SAT is offered roughly once a month during the academic year, with a winter break separating fall and spring test dates. Here are all the dates the SAT is being offered for this school year, along with registration links:

 

SAT Date Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline Deadline for Changes
March 14, 2020

Register

February 14, 2020 February 25, 2020

(mailed registrations)

March 3, 2020

(online or by phone registration)

March 3, 2020
May 2, 2020

Register

April 3, 2020 April 14, 2020

(mailed registrations)

April 21, 2020

(online or by phone registration)

April 21, 2020
June 6, 2020

Register

May 8, 2020 May 19, 2020

(mailed registrations)

May 27, 2020

(online or by phone registration)

May 27, 2020
August 29, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released
October 3, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released
November 7, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released
December 5, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released
March 13, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released
May 8, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released
June 5, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released Not yet released

 

The ACT offers exams on a similar monthly schedule throughout the academic year:

 

ACT Date Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline (for a Fee)
February 8, 2020

Register

January 10, 2020 January 17, 2020
April 4, 2020

Register

February 28, 2020 March 13, 2020
June 13, 2020

Register

May 8, 2020 May 22, 2020
July 18, 2020

Register

(No tests offered in New York for July)

June 19, 2020 June 26, 2020
September 12, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released
October 24, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released
December 12, 2020 Not yet released Not yet released
February 6, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released
April 17, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released
June 12, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released
July 17, 2021 Not yet released Not yet released

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

 

There IS actually such a thing as taking the SAT or ACT too early. When to take the SAT or ACT is due to a couple of different factors.

 

It’s important for you to become very familiar with the content of these standardized tests, and your high school curriculum will cover it over the course of all four years. So, if you take the SAT or ACT early in your high school years, you are missing out on a lot of prep that your peers will get in class.

 

Additionally, admissions officers tend to not like seeing students take the tests too many times. 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. We recommend that in general, three test administrations is the most you should take.

 

Instead of starting to take the SAT or ACT extra early, we recommend that you get the ball rolling by taking the PSAT or PreACT in your sophomore year. This way, you have some background on these standardized tests before you actually take your first one.

 

Then, the summer before your junior year, study for the real SAT or ACT, so you can take the test in the fall. This will give you ample time to retake the test in the spring or summer, if needed, and help you avoid having to test during college applications season in the fall of your senior year.

 

If you want to aim for National Merit Semifinalist status, granted to the top 1% scorers on the PSAT/NMSQT, you should factor in studying for the PSAT the summer before your junior year. This will in turn help you study for the SAT. For more on the PSAT, check out our posts What Does My PSAT Score Mean? and How to Qualify for the National Merit Scholarship Program.

 

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 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 2020-21, these test dates are October 24, 2020, for the ACT and November 7, 2020, for the SAT. If you are applying Regular Decision, your application deadline is likely December or January, with your final chance for an SAT test is December 5, 2020, and for an ACT exam is December 12, 2020. 

 

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.