Standardized tests are an important—and stressful—part of your application, and trying to figure out when is the right time to take them may be confusing. So just when should you sit for the SAT or ACT?

Taking the SAT or ACT Early

It is important to remember that the age-old adage “the earlier the better” doesn’t necessarily apply here. The older you are when you take the SAT or ACT, the better you are likely to perform on the test. So, you probably won’t achieve your best possible score if you take it as a freshman. However, you are technically allowed to take take the tests as early as you want. Doing so may give you a starting point to find out the areas in which you can improve. Starting early also enables you to retake the test, although given that the the SAT is administered around seven times per year and the ACT is given around six times per year, you should have ample opportunity to do so even if you take it later on, as long as you don’t wait until the last possible sitting. It is also worth keeping in mind that you generally shouldn’t take the SAT or ACT more than three times, because you are unlikely to improve your score substantially after the second time, and admissions officers tend not to like seeing students take the tests too many times.

Taking the ACT or SAT Late

If you are applying Early Decision, plan on taking standardized tests no later than the October or November administration deadlines your senior year of high school. This year, those dates are November 5th for the SAT (register by October 7th) and October 22nd for the ACT (for which registration has closed). If you are applying Regular Decision, your deadline is likely December or January. The 2016-2017 admission cycle, those dates are January 21, 2017 for the SAT (register by December 21st) and December 10th for the ACT (register by November 4th). NB: There are late deadlines as well, but you will have to pay a late fee if you don’t register by the initial deadlines.

Be sure to check the policies regarding standardized test deadlines of the schools to which you are applying. Some colleges may prefer that you complete all testing prior to submitting your application.

There are many disadvantages to waiting until the the last possible minute to take the SAT or ACT. First, you may have to pay additional fees to rush your scores to the colleges on your list if you wait too late. As mentioned above, there are fees associated with waiting too late to register as well. Additionally, if you take the test during the final possible administration for your purposes, you won’t be able to retake it. That means you are stuck with whatever score you receive, when you could have potentially performed better if you took the test a second time—in fact, many students (though not all) do receive higher scores in their second go-around, due to a decrease in stress, better preparation, or more familiarity with the test.

The PSAT / NMSQT

Another important decision to make is when you should take the Preliminary SAT (PSAT). You are not required to take the PSAT as part of your college admissions process, but many students choose to do so any way, since it offers you a good way to practice for the SAT and discover where you should focus your improvement efforts. Additionally, the PSAT also functions as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (NMSQT), meaning your scores will be used to determine if you are a National Merit finalist.

You may take the PSAT earlier, but only the scores you receive on the PSAT you take your junior year may qualify you for a National Merit award. Some students choose to take the test in their sophomore year for additional practice as well as their junior year.

Another advantage to taking the PSAT is that when you take it, as well as the SAT or any AP test, you have the option of opting into College Board’s Student Search Service, which shares your contact information with schools at which your academic profile is similar to that of their typical applicants. If you participate, colleges will contact you with important information, which can help with your college search and honing your final list.

The PSAT is administered by your high school once a year. This year, your high school may choose among the following dates:

  • Primary: Wednesday Oct. 19
  • Saturday: Oct. 15
  • Alternate: Wednesday Nov. 2

College Board’s recommendation is the primary date. If you want to take the PSAT, you must do it on the date your high school designates.


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The Takeaway

While you can usually take standardized tests as early as you would like, we at CollegeVine recommend that you take the PSAT in the fall of your junior year and the SAT or ACT at its first administration in the spring of your junior year. Doing so allows enough time to retake the test as many times as you need or want to, and ensures that you have reached your maximum (or near-maximum) potential score because you are older and have been in school longer than you were as a freshman or sophomore. Taking the test too early is not necessary and can cause unnecessary stress.

The dates SAT and ACT dates for the 2016-2017 cycle are as follows:

ACT Registration Deadlines

Test Date Registration Deadline (Late Fee Required)
September 10, 2016 August 7, 2016 August 8-19, 2016
October 22, 2016 September 16, 2016 September 17-30, 2016
December 10, 2016 November 4, 2016 November 5-18, 2016
February 11, 2017* January 13, 2017 January 14-20, 2017
April 8, 2017 March 3, 2017 March 4-17, 2017
June 10, 2017 May 5, 2017 May 6-19, 2017

Visit http://www.act.org/ for more information or to register for the ACT.

SAT Registration Deadlines

2016-17 SAT Administration Dates and Deadlines
SAT Date SAT Subject Tests Available Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline Deadline for Changes
Oct 01, 2016 See SAT Subject Tests available on this date Sep 01, 2016 Sep 13, 2016 (for mailed registrations)

Sep 20, 2016 (for registrations made online or by phone)

Sep 20, 2016
Nov 05, 2016

Register

See SAT Subject Tests available on this date Oct 07, 2016 Oct 18, 2016 (for mailed registrations)

Oct 25, 2016 (for registrations made online or by phone)

Oct 25, 2016
Dec 03, 2016

Register

See SAT Subject Tests available on this date Nov 03, 2016 Nov 15, 2016 (for mailed registrations)

Nov 22, 2016 (for registrations made online or by phone)

Nov 22, 2016
Jan 21, 2017

Register

See SAT Subject Tests available on this date Dec 21, 2016 Jan 03, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

Jan 10, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

Jan 10, 2017
Mar 11, 2017

Register

SAT Subject Tests not offered on this date Feb 10, 2017 Feb 21, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

Feb 28, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

Feb 28, 2017
May 06, 2017

Register

See SAT Subject Tests available on this date Apr 07, 2017 Apr 18, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

Apr 25, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

Apr 25, 2017
Jun 03, 2017

Register

See SAT Subject Tests available on this date May 09, 2017 May 16, 2017 (for mailed registrations)

May 24, 2017 (for registrations made online or by phone)

May 24, 2017

Visit collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat for more information or to register for the SAT.

Looking for help preparing for your standardized tests? Check out our Academic Tutoring Program for SAT II and AP exams or our comprehensive ACT courses.



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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works in publishing. She also writes, dreams of owning a dog, and routinely brags about the health of her orchid.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine