When To Take Standardized Tests and Why
Unlike standardized tests administered by your state, there’s no assigned date to take the SAT or ACT. These tests are still largely necessary to earn acceptance into colleges, so you need to have a score before you send out applications. Other than that, you’ll have many dates to choose from.
It is easy to jump to a decision about when to take these standardized tests. One school of thought is to take the test as soon as possible so that you have many chances to retake the exam. Another is to put off the exam as long as possible so that you have lots of time to prepare.
In practice, both of these extremes are hardly a good fit for anybody. A good fit for most students falls somewhere in the middle, but how do you determine where in the middle works for you?
When Should You Take Your SAT or ACT?
The SAT and ACT are done on certain days that you have to plan for; you can’t just pick a day when you’re not busy. My SAT was at 9am on a Saturday. This is normal for most students, and you should prioritize a good night’s sleep and a decent breakfast before your test, even if it means a few less hours of studying.
Most people plan to take their SAT or ACT in March or April of their junior year. This is a popular choice because it provides a good happy-medium between having enough time to prepare and having opportunities to retake the exam. Even if these students want to make early decision or early action deadlines in November of senior year, they might still have time to retake the exam one or two times if they test in March or April.
How to Improve Your Standardized Test Scores
This happy-medium plan is a less ambitious plan than some students will need. If your goal is to earn admission into a highly competitive or even selective college, or just want to get the exam out of the way, you should attend test prep classes and take the exam early during your junior year, possibly even over the summer between sophomore and junior years.
While an early attempt plan will give you less time to prepare, getting the right help, like a tutor, can make it possible for you to ace your exam early so that you can have even more time to retake the exam and get your score just right.
Another exam to consider are the Advanced Placement (AP) exams. AP exams have prerequisites, and you need to plan which APs you’ll take long in advance. If you want to take AP Literature and Composition, you’ll have to get into Honors English sophomore year and earn mostly As. If you want to take an AP Calculus, you’ll need to take honor pre-Calculus, honors Algebra 2, and geometry in high school.
Planning a class this far in advance may seem overwhelming, especially if your freshman year has come and gone. Keep in mind that you can take AP classes so long as you’ve completed the prerequisites, if there are any. Talk to your guidance counselor at your school about your options.
No matter what, if you take an AP class, your AP exam will be in early May, and you should take it. You can still pass an AP class and receive your needed high school credits if you choose not to take the AP exam, but your AP exam will make your application shine, and you can even earn college credits in that subject area. If you skip the exam, college admissions officers will treat it as if you took an honors level class rather than an AP class. Study hard and take your exam! It can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection when it comes to applications.
Scheduling Your Standardized Tests
You should plan your SAT or ACT around your potential AP exams. If you want to do the popular March or April plan, keep in mind that you will have your AP exams shortly after that, and your study time is not infinite. Very few students are allowed to make up the AP exam. If you are very sick, you may be able to take it over the summer, but if you oversleep or get a bad score, you won’t be able to take the exam unless you retake the entire AP class from scratch.
Whatever test schedule you choose, it’s never too early to start planning your college application process and thinking about which colleges you’ll apply to. It’s very easy to get hung up on numbers during the application process, especially when talking about exams, but your college experience is all about you. Make sure you make it a good fit for you and your goals!
Author: Hastings Davin