You’re ready to have a conversation about taking the SAT or ACT ... but where, when, and how should you start? As you begin planning, what should be your first step? When is the best time to sit for your first official test? How many times can you—and should you—take a college entrance exam?
Read on for the answers to your biggest questions as you start figuring out your ideal testing schedule, then download your own copy of our recommended testing timelines here.
What's the first step?
Before figuring out the number of official exams you’ll aim for and when you'll take them, it’s helpful to know your starting point. The easiest way to determine your starting point is to complete a full-length practice test. Ideally, you should do both a practice SAT and a practice ACT. Diagnostic exams will point you in the right direction and save you time in the long run: you can more conﬁdently decide which exam you should prep for and the path you should follow to reach your goal scores.
At ArborBridge, we use your diagnostic exam results to help determine which exam showcases your strengths, and we’ll even create an individualized schedule with tutoring and practice test benchmarks so that you can make the most of each attempt. To set up your free diagnostic exams, click here.
How many times should you take the SAT/ACT?
While there’s not necessarily one magic number every student should shoot for, many students take the SAT/ACT multiple times, and the majority of those students improve their scores after their first attempt. Retaking the SAT or ACT is completely normal—in fact, we recommend students plan to sit for 2-3 official exams to maximize their point increases and familiarity with the exam.
Each official test is a valuable experience because you gain a better sense of how you perform under pressure and have another opportunity to identify tricky concepts to review before your next attempt.
Plus, if any colleges you’re applying to superscore, you may be able to combine your highest section scores across different test dates for a higher overall total.
Factors like scholarship requirements and average test scores at the colleges you’re applying to can serve as other compelling reasons to retake the SAT or ACT.
Of course, we don’t recommend overdoing it. Rather than cramming in every possible test date, you should focus on meaningful and targeted studying in a way that also allows you to devote sufficient time and energy to your schoolwork and other commitments. When in doubt, consult your college counselor for help figuring out if it makes sense for you to take the SAT/ACT again.
When should you take the SAT/ACT?
The key to a successful test prep plan is to strike a good balance between studying, taking practice tests, and sitting for official exams. You can leave yourself enough time to achieve this balance by planning backwards from your college application deadlines. Students applying Early Action or Early Decision may need to wrap up testing by November or earlier. (And don't forget that the applications themselves will require a good amount of work.)
While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to testing, the following timelines can serve as a good starting point:
Standard timeline: begin in the fall of junior year.
There's no doubt that 11th grade is the most crucial year for standardized testing (it's also the most crucial year for grades). Students should remain mindful of testing throughout the year and carve out time for studying well in advance.
Early timeline: begin in the spring/summer of sophomore year.
Some students will, on occasion, take their diagnostic exams and begin light studying in 10th grade. This timeline allows you to fit in more practice tests and offers the potential for greater improvement, although students should be aware there are a number of math concepts that come up on the SAT/ACT that you likely won’t yet have covered in school.
Late timeline: begin in the spring of junior year.
Some students are unable to start prepping until the second half of junior year, and that can be okay, too. This timeline is a good fit for students who are already close to their target scores or have significant time commitments limiting their availability for prepping.
Remember, your test prep timeline will depend on your academic schedule, individual needs, and a handful of other factors. Talk with your college counselor and reach out to us here if you need help planning out your ideal timeline.
Need more individualized advice?
The recommendations above are general suggestions. If you have specific questions, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.
ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.