Now that you've decided on which exam to take, the natural question arises..."When should I take the SAT/ACT?" Many college/guidance counselors will say that you should take it in the spring of your junior year....regardless of the type of student you are. This makes zero sense. Even though many high school students take the exam in the spring, that doesn't necessarily mean you should do the same thing. Let me give you a hypothetical example in which taking the exam during the spring of your junior year would be a horrible idea. Let's say you're a super competitive student who gets top grades and will be taking several AP/IB or honors classes junior year. Your goal is to attend a highly ranked/selective college. Let's go through 3 reasons in which taking the exam for this scenario during the spring would be a bad idea:
Junior year is the hardest year of high school. As the year progresses, junior year only gets harder...especially for you since you're taking all these advanced classes. Spring of junior year will arguably be the most stressful time for you, because of AP/IB exams, finals exams, research papers and other projects. Do you really think it would make sense to study and take the SAT/ACT on top of all that? Absolutely not. It would definitely make more sense to take the exam earlier junior year (fall or winter) when you have more time.
Secondly, On top of the SAT/ACT, many selective schools will require you to take one or two subject tests. If you take the SAT/ACT during the spring, you may have a hard time fitting in the subject tests, especially if you to take the SAT/ACT a second time. By taking the exam earlier (Fall, or Winter), you will have more time to study for and take these exams.
Lastly, many students who apply to selective schools want to complete everything on the early side. You're going to be in this boat as well as you probably don't want the SAT/ACT looming over your head senior year when you'd rather be focusing on college applications. Additionally, you may want to apply early application to a certain school...all the more reason to get the exam over with before senior year begins.
Ok...so this scenario may not apply to you, but it nevertheless proves the point that taking the SAT/ACT spring of junior year does not apply to every single high school student. It’s important to take into account your particular circumstances when considering your test schedule. Below are six factors you should consider when selecting exam dates:
1. Preparation Time
The majority of students who cram for the SAT or ACT usually fall short for one reason: There is simply too much material to cover in a short period of time. Starting to prepare days or weeks before the exam won't help you. Don't think in terms of days or weeks...think in terms of months. You will need 2months at the very least to realize your full potential on the SAT or ACT. This is why it’s important to schedule test dates that allow you adequate time for test preparation.
2. Retaking Exams
When you're ready to schedule you're first exam, you should have a good idea of when you're going to take it a second time as well. Most students who take the SAT or ACT for a second time see an improvement in their scores. By taking an exam twice, students can also take advantage of what is known as superscoring. Superscoring refers to the process by which schools take into account your highest scores across multiple test dates. For example, say the first time you take the SAT you receive a Reading score of 600 and a Math score of 650 for a total of 1250. Then, you retake the exam for a Reading score of 650 and Math score of 550 for a total of 1200. Institutions that practice superscoring will take the highest combination of scores, which in this case would be a score of 650 for Reading and 650 for Math for a total high score of 1300. While you don’t necessarily want to sign up for back-to-back test dates, it’s important to take the test for the second time in relatively close proximity to the first. After all, the test material and process of taking the exam should still be somewhat fresh in your mind.
3. School Workload
Like the hypothetical example discusses before...If you're likely to take a heavy course load that includes honors, AP, or IB classes, your schedule will only get tougher as the school year progresses. Given that AP and IB exams take place in May and are quickly followed by final exams in June, you will probably have too much on your plate for the SAT/ACT. Instead, you may want to take the test in the fall or winter of junior year so you can study the summer between sophomore and junior year without other distractions.
4. SAT Subject Tests
We already discussed in the hypothetical scenario that many selective schools require applicants to take one or two subject tests. By taking the SAT or ACT in the fall of junior year, you will have more time to incorporate the subject tests into your schedule strategically.
5. College Applications
Remember that much of the fall/winter senior year is spent working on their college applications. It’s stressful enough to have to work on multiple college applications without the SAT and ACT looming. This is especially important if you're applying early decision and have less time to prepare their applications, since these are typically due in either October or November of senior year. Additionally, the grades you receive the first quarter of senior year are the last grades that get sent to colleges. You don’t want your GPA to suffer because you are worrying about exams and unable to focus on coursework.
6. Math Level
A common misconception is that the SAT and ACT feature higher-level math, such as precalculus and calculus. On the contrary, the highest level of math both exams feature are geometry, algebra 2 and a bit of trigonometry. You’ll want to make sure you’ve taken these particular subjects before registering for the exams.
The main thing to remember is not to sign up for a test date simply because it’s when other students take the exam. Students have different extracurricular activities, course loads, goals and personalities. If you choose the right test date based on your circumstances, you’re taking the first step toward successfully planning for the exam.