When Is The Best Time To Take The SAT?
Once you enter your junior and senior year of high school, you need to start thinking about taking the SAT and/or the ACT for your college admissions. The SAT and ACT are two standardized tests that are meant to assess your college-readiness. Colleges require their applicants to submit either an SAT or ACT score so that they can compare all of their applicants using an unbiased metric.
If you decide that the SAT is the best test for you, it’s important for you to start studying well ahead of time. Many SAT questions are tricky by design and most students who do well on the SAT have spent months reviewing both the material and the mechanics of the exam itself–i.e. What kinds of questions are on the test, how you should approach each type of question, etc.
Since studying for the SAT requires a large time commitment, you need to schedule your SAT test date so that you will have adequate time to study. You also need to make sure that you are not going to be too busy to study during the few months before your exam. Basically, there are a lot of factors to take into account when scheduling your SAT test date. Here are the primary things you need to consider before registering for the SAT.
You shouldn’t be worrying about taking the SAT during your freshman year. At this point in your high school career, you haven’t even learned all of the material that is going to be tested on the SAT exam. After all, the Math section of the SAT can test up to a pre-calculus level, and the reading and writing section test vocabulary that you may not have ever heard.
In 9th grade, you should really focus on gaining the knowledge you will need for the SAT by doing well in your classes. You can start to think about your PSAT towards the end of this year, but other than that, you really don’t need to devote time to test prep yet.
By the end of your sophomore year, you should start to think about taking the PSAT. The PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, is a preparatory version of the SAT that won’t count towards your college applications.
Many students take the PSAT either at the end of 10th grade or the beginning of their Junior year. Students often use their PSAT score to decide whether they like the SAT as opposed to the ACT, how much they need to study for the actual SAT test, and how much they still need to learn. The PSAT is also the exam you must take in order to qualify for National Merit recognition and National Merit Scholarships.
The PSAT is similar to the SAT, with a few minor exceptions, so studying for the PSAT is a great way to jumpstart your SAT studying. You should study for the PSAT a few months before the actual test date. If your school offers your exam at the end of your sophomore year, you should start studying about three months before the exam. If your PSAT test isn’t until your Junior year, you can study for the PSAT during your sophomore year summer.
Once you reach your Junior year, you can and should take the SAT whenever it works out best for you. Here are some factors you should consider when deciding when to take the SAT in 11th Grade:
If you’re trying to take the SAT during the school year, you need to determine if you can realistically devote at least 2-3 hours per day studying for the SAT. As busy high school students, it may be difficult to carve out that time. It may be beneficial to wait until the summer months to take the SAT just so you’ll have some free time to study.
You could also schedule your SAT test right after a long break like Thanksgiving or Winter Break (for more information, see Juniors: Use Winter Break To Make an SAT/ACT Prep Plan). That way, you’ll at least have a few weeks of guaranteed study time.
Need help figuring out how to carve out time to study for the SAT? See How To Find Time To Study For Your SAT Every Single Day.
Have you taken, or are currently enrolled in, Algebra 2 or Pre-Calculus? Have you learned words like “egregious” and “scrupulous”? Have you had practice writing timed essays and responding concisely to prompts? If so, you probably have the knowledge to tackle the SAT. If not, you may benefit from waiting until closer to the end of your second semester.
Available Test Dates
Is there a test date available that will give you enough time to study? Is that test date convenient for both you and your family? Have you registered in time? These are all factors to take into consideration when you finalize a test date?
Your Test Prep Plan
A great way to figure out whether you are leaving yourself enough time to study for your SAT test is to make a comprehensive list of everything you need to study. If you can make a test prep schedule that allows you to comprehensively review everything on that list well before test day, then you may be looking at a viable test date. If not, move on. For some help forming that test prep schedule, see Time Management Tips To Make the Most of Your Test Prep Time.
As a general rule, you should try to take the SAT at least once before the end of your Junior Year. That way, you are not scrambling during your senior year to take the test just so that you can send a score to the colleges, regardless of whether that score is high or low.
If you haven’t taken the SAT by the time you reach your Senior Year or you haven’t obtained a score that you are comfortable sending to colleges, you need to take the exam during the first semester of 12th grade. If you take the SAT during your second semester, the scores may not come back in time for you to send them to colleges, and your college applications will be considered incomplete without them.
There are usually a few different test date options during the fall semester of your Senior year for you to choose from. Here are some factors to take into consideration when deciding which of those fall semester test dates you are going to sign up for:
Whether You’ve Taken the SAT Before
If you’ve already spent months during your junior year studying for a previous SAT exam, you can start your studying from a more experienced place and potentially not have to study as much/as long for your next SAT test. If this is the case, you should consider taking one of the earlier test dates. However, if this is going to be your first time taking the SAT, you should give yourself as many months as you can to study before you take the test.
Once you’re a Senior, you’re going to have your usual busy high school schedule plus a bunch of college applications on top of that. Think critically about when you’re going to be the busiest with all of your fall semester tasks, and try to schedule your SAT test date outside of that.
College Submission Deadlines
Usually, colleges will allow applicants to send in their SAT scores a few weeks, or even a few months, after the application deadline and still be considered. This allows students some extra time to take those last chance standardized tests and get their scores back. Make sure that you schedule your SAT early enough to where you would get your scores back in time for your college applications.
For More Information
For more information about the SAT, see our previous blog posts:
Need some more help with your SAT Prep? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
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