Ideal SAT/ACT Testing Timelines

High school students and their parents often have a lot of questions about testing timelines: When is the best time to take the SAT or ACT? Should I start test prep in 10th grade? Wait until senior year? How many times should I take the test?

The answer to each of those questions is that every student is unique, which is why we work with our students to develop customized plans that best fit their individual needs.

However, it can be helpful to provide some general timelines, so we’ve provided an ideal testing timeline for three different categories of students. Read more below to find out what category you or your student fits into and when it makes the most sense to start the SAT/ACT testing process.

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TYPICAL STUDENTS: Students who are taking Algebra 2 or geometry in 11th grade.

Which SAT/ACT Dates to Target?

  • No earlier than March or April of 11th grade.

Why?

  • The SAT and ACT contain a good deal of Algebra 2 and geometry. Students taking these classes (usually Algebra 2) during their junior year should wait until they’ve been through the majority of their 11th grade math class in order to give themselves the best chance of maximizing their potential.

Is this too late of a target?

  • No. If a student first takes the SAT in March, he can take it again in May, June, August, October, November, and December. Seven opportunities before college application deadlines (five before early action/early decision deadlines) is more than sufficient for a student to maximize his potential. The ACT schedule is similar, with six test dates between March and December.

When should test prep start?

  • Students should ideally take a diagnostic SAT and ACT anytime from the spring of 10th grade through late fall of 11th grade. Prep will ideally start in the fall or winter of 11th grade.

 

ACCELERATED STUDENTS: Students who are taking pre-calculus in 11th grade. Generally, these students take several honors and/or AP classes and get mostly A’s and B’s.

Which SAT/ACT Dates to Target?

  • Any test from late October through March.

Why?

  • There’s a lot of flexibility here. Students have the skills to start preparing as early as the summer before junior year for a late fall test, or they can wait until the winter to start preparing for spring tests.

Why so much variation?

  • Students at this level might want to get the SAT or ACT out of the way early so they can focus on their classes and extracurriculars. They might want to wait until later in the year when they’ve continued to develop intellectually. They might want to schedule test prep around a sports season or other major commitment.

When should test prep start?

  • Students should take a diagnostic SAT and ACT anytime from the spring of 10th grade through late fall of 11th grade. Test prep might start anytime from the summer before 11th grade through late fall of 11th grade.

 

VERY ADVANCED STUDENTS: Students who are taking calculus in 11th grade. Generally, these students take all honors and/or AP classes and get almost all A’s.

Which SAT/ACT Dates to Target?

  • Ideally, an SAT or ACT in the first couple months of junior year, or even in the summer before junior year.

Why?

  • Typically, this is the only type of student who is ready to achieve her best SAT or ACT score so early in her high school career. She usually has a grueling academic schedule and often a jam-packed extracurricular schedule as well. In the spring she’ll have AP tests and possibly SAT Subject Tests. The earlier she can get finish SAT and ACT testing, the better.

When should test prep start?

  • Ideally, students will take a diagnostic SAT and ACT in the spring of 10th grade or the summer before 11th, and will begin test prep in the summer before 11th grade.


Keep in mind that these timelines might be ideal, but are certainly not required. If you look at these and feel behind, don’t worry. Even if you’re entering your senior year and just starting, it’s never too late—the SAT is offered in late August, October, November, and December; the ACT is offered in September, October, and December.