Ah, yes. The SAT and ACT. Two of the most significant examinations you will take as a high school student interested in going to college. Next to your cumulative GPA, your SAT and ACT test scores are the most important variables college admissions consider in your application. For this reason alone, you need to be conscious of when to take these exams and how to prepare.
So when is the best time to take the SAT and ACT? Like most things you'll experience throughout your academic career, planning for the SAT and ACT well ahead of time will often lead to higher test scores. If you wait until your college applications are due to take your first SAT or ACT, you'll likely perform at a fraction of your best. In turn, you might not get accepted into the schools you were targeting to attend.
Each test has between 6-7 test dates throughout the year. There are a number of factors that shape the best time to take the SAT or ACT. Below are couple key considerations to keep in mind to help you decide when to take these critical exams.
1. College Admissions Deadlines
The most important factor that will help instruct when you should take the SAT or ACT is your college admissions deadlines. For most students, the standard college application deadlines are around January and February of their senior year. This would make the final SAT or ACT attempt in December of their senior year of high school. For students applying in the early admissions cycle around November of their senior year, the last test date will be sometime in September or October.
Keep in mind that these are the last attempts of taking the SAT or ACT. Most high-achieving students looking to get accepted into a competitive university will often take one or both of these exams at least twice to maximize their score. As a result, many students attempt to reach their SAT/ACT target goal by the end of their junior year, sometimes taking one or both tests as early as December of their junior year.
Considerations around when to take the SAT and ACT also include applying for academic scholarships. There are a number of SAT/ACT score-based scholarships that have deadlines well before college admissions deadlines in January and February. As a result, students may need to adjust when they take the SAT or ACT to ensure they have their scores before applying for certain scholarships.
2. Foundational Content & Readiness
Both the SAT and ACT cover subject matter of general concepts taught in high school. For this reason, a student's scores will typically be higher after they have taken specific classes that cover such foundational material on the tests.
For most students, the best time to take the SAT or ACT is after having taken foundational math classes like Geometry and Algebra II, which is typically sophomore or junior year. Both the ACT and SAT test heavily on concepts of algebra and geometry. Students who have yet to cover these subjects in high school will lack readiness in the math section, and thus are more likely to perform poorly on these areas of the test.
The mathematics section is perhaps the most important area to have foundational understanding and exposure in high school before taking the ACT or SAT. As for the reading and writing sections, most students will have had enough experience in early English and grammar classes to have earned a core understanding of the concepts presented in the SAT and ACT.
However, to excel in the reading and writing sections of the SAT and ACT, dedicated test prep and studying beyond what is learned in school is advised. The test questions themselves are structured very differently from what is often encountered in the classroom. In turn, much of SAT and ACT prep involves learning these special types of questions and having a firm grasp on the format of the test.
To see upcoming 2018-2019 SAT test dates, click here.
For 2018-2019 ACT test dates and information, click here.