What’s the best time to take the SAT? What about the ACT?

There are seven SAT test dates and six ACT test dates throughout the calendar year. And colleges accept test scores from any test date, taken at any point in high school.

So how should you schedule test dates and test prep so that your child will reach his or her full potential without interfering with the other pieces of a college admissions profile like grades and extracurriculars?

You should schedule SAT or ACT test dates and test prep using these guidelines:

  • Schedule two or three test dates within three to four months of each other
  • This span of three to four months should occur when your child is relatively free so that he or she can commit to consistent prep
  • Most students should wait to take the SAT or ACT until after Sophomore year. Both the SAT and ACT test content that students don’t learn until sophomore year, including Algebra II and Geometry.
  • Most students shouldn’t wait to take the SAT or ACT for the first time until the winter of Senior year. Most students should give themselves the leeway to take the SAT or ACT two or three times

Now, let’s talk specifics.

The best time for many students to take the SAT or ACT for the first time is June before Junior year.

However, students should plan to take the SAT or ACT two or three times, within close proximity of each other. Here’s what the complete timeline looks like:

Your first test sitting should be in June of the summer before Junior year.

Your main prep window should be during the summer before Junior year.

Your second test sitting should be in the fall of Junior year.

Your third test sitting, if necessary, should be in the winter of Junior year.

This is the ideal timeline for most students because preparing for the SAT or ACT requires a period of relative free time. For most students, that’s the summer. To create a test-taking timeline according to your specific schedule, use our Guide to Choosing Test Dates.

 

How many times should I take the SAT or ACT?

Most students who are in a competitive college admissions process take the SAT or ACT two or three times. Regardless of how many times you end up taking the SAT or ACT, from a scheduling standpoint, you should plan time to take the SAT or ACT three times. This is very important for the following reason:

The main factor preventing students from performing at their peak ability level is stress due to external pressures, such as scheduling constraints. One external pressure that creates a tremendous amount of stress is taking the test at a late date such that this is the last or almost-last chance. This removes the option of retaking the test again. Even if you’re not going to take the test later, just knowing you have the option will typically improve performance, and it definitely improves quality o