When to Take the ACT or SAT – Testing Timeline

sat act testing timeline

Wondering when to take the ACT or SAT test? This testing timeline for sophomores, juniors, and seniors will optimize your study time and help you plan your tests strategically during high school.

In this post, we are going to look at some general guidelines for sophomores, juniors, and seniors: when to take the SAT and ACT, when to start studying, when to retake the test, and how to improve your score! Let’s take a year-by-year look:

When to Take the ACT or SAT: Testing Timeline

Sophomore Year

September 

September is a great time to take a look at the structure and timing of the PSAT, maybe even take a practice test if you’re feeling nervous.  

October 

October is when students take the PSAT. This test will give you a sense of where you stand for both the SAT and the ACT, especially in the math section – your score will help you determine whether you should focus on the winter or spring of your Junior year for your first SAT and/or ACT. 

Your PSAT score will help you determine whether you should focus on the winter or spring of your Junior year for your first SAT and/or ACT. 

What to Expect on the PSAT

April

In April you need to determine if you are planning to take any subject tests at the end of this year.  

Did you take any AP classes that have an equivalent subject test? Subject tests are offered on most – but not all – SAT test dates, and you can take up to three subject tests at one time. But you cannot take both the SAT and a subject test on the same date.  

The tricky part is that you probably won’t know to which schools you plan to apply – which means you will not know if they require subject tests or not. But if you think you might apply to a school that requires one or more subject tests, then sophomore year might be the right time to take them given that you will have fewer demands on your time than in your junior year.

May

May is when those AP tests will take place, and one subject test in May or June if you choose to take one.   

Junior Year

June/July/August

The summer before junior year is a very important time. It is the ideal time to begin preparing for the SAT or ACT.

The summer before junior year is a very important time. It is the ideal time to begin preparing for the SAT or ACT.

If you think that you might be eligible for National Merit Scholar when you take the PSAT in October as a junior, then you definitely need to use the summer to start preparing.   

And if you are unsure about your skills, have any test anxiety, or other concerns, then you should definitely use the summer to start prepping.

Generally, students find that junior year has their hardest or heaviest course load. This means it will be difficult for you to find time to prepare for the SAT or ACT during the year.  So to take some of the edge off of the prep you need to do you want to start with something like Olive Book’s ACT and SAT online course the summer before your junior year.  

Winter/Spring

There are many test dates for the SAT and ACT all year long. Here is a good rule of thumb when choosing when to take the test:

If you took Algebra 2 in your sophomore year, then the winter of your junior year – say December, January, or February –  is the best time to take the SAT and/or ACT for the first time.  

If, on the other hand, you are taking Algebra 2 in your junior year, then the spring of your junior year – say March, April, or May – is the best time to take the SAT and/or ACT for the first time.  

Now most students find that they have to take one or both tests more than once. So if you plan to take the test again, then you need enough time to practice more and take the test again given the dates offered – plus, all this has to happen in a timely manner to meet your application deadlines. This is why taking the test once or twice your junior year will put you in a good place come your senior year.  

act sat testing timeline

How to Improve Your Score

Now, just taking the test again, does statistically improve your score… a bit! But if you really want to see significant improvement in your score, then you need time 

(1) to work on your weaker areas, 

(2) to improve on frequently asked questions, and possibly 

(3) improve your timing.  

Again, an SAT/ACT prep course like Olive Book’s or another helpful source is crucial to help you stay on track as you study and really see improvement. So this will take some time… but you will be so glad that you started your prep the summer before your junior year.

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Also, keep in mind that you might have AP tests in May, around the same time as the SAT test date and/or you might need that May or June SAT date to use for subject tests. Again, different schools have different requirements, and there are many schools that do not require any subject tests – but there are also schools which require more than one.    

So really this is about balancing your time, the dates available, and knowing what tests you need for the schools that you’re interested in! 

Senior Year

Summer/Early Fall

The summer before your senior year is for starting your applications and essays.

Your Guide to the 2020 Common Application

But summer before senior year is also for studying so that you can take the SAT and/or ACT that one last time and get the score you need for your top college choice. 

Maybe you did not use Olive Book during the summer of your junior year, well, fear not! You can always use the summer before senior year to zero in on the areas that need a score lift, complete some meaningful practice where you learn the concepts that are tripping you up, and take the test and get the score improvement you are looking for!

The summer test dates and early fall dates will make most early decision or early action deadlines and they will definitely meet regular decision or rolling admittance deadlines.

It is best though to save test dates your senior year for the final push to make your goal score.  Unless there are additional circumstances, it is best for you to take the SAT or ACT for the first time your junior year.  

It is best though to save test dates your senior year for the final push to make your goal score.  Unless there are additional circumstances, it is best for you to take the SAT or ACT for the first time your junior year.  

No matter what year you are in, there is time to do the hard work needed to get the score you want. Though, if possible, start early and give yourself some breathing room to take the test a couple times and spread out your test prep. You got this!

Get a better score. Get into a better school.

Olive Book’s online ACT and SAT courses are all you need to boost your score. Check them out:

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