When Should I Take the SAT?
The SAT is offered seven times per year: August, October, November, December, March, May, and June (see specific test dates here).
Although you have considerable freedom regarding when to take the SAT, being strategic could help you achieve your best score, not to mention save you some money. The decision of “when” depends mostly on two things: your academic situation and your preparedness.
Here are some considerations to help you optimize fitting the SAT into your high school timeline.
Your Academic Situation
Factor in whether you’re planning to take AP exams, which are offered in the first couple weeks of May. Will you want to study for and take the SAT during that period (maybe because you’ll be in full-force testing mode)? Or do you think APs will detract too much from your SAT study time and stamina?
The SAT has been designed to test topics you have learned in school, so you may be more prepared at the end of junior year than you are sophomore year. The more time you spend reading, writing, and doing math in school, the more prepared you will be to demonstrate your knowledge and skills on the SAT.
Your College-Related Aspirations
- Depending on the colleges you are applying to and the majors you are interested in, you may need to take SAT Subject Tests. These are offered on all the same dates as the SAT (except no subject tests in March), so planning accordingly will ensure you don’t run out of test dates. Also, not all subject tests are offered on each date, so check the College Board website for more details.
- If you are applying Early Decision or Early Action (typically requiring a November 1st deadline), you will want to make sure to have your highest SAT score ready to submit by November. To meet Regular Decision deadlines, December is the last accepted test date for almost all colleges and universities.
Some words on test preparation
You each have your own initial levels of motivation, knowledge, learning speed, and test-taking prowess. Some people score high right away, while others continue to improve over a couple years. Try not to compare your progress to others’, but rather compare yourself to your past self, remembering that every bit of self-improvement is a victory.
The SAT’s length, timing, question type, and format take most people some time to get used to. But once you’re familiar with the test, the good news is that it can only vary so much from one version to another, so you will absolutely benefit from careful preparation. You have control over your score--the more work you put into preparing, the higher your score will be--hence the reason to start prepping early.
So when should you take the test?
The general recommendation is to take it only when you are academically and mentally ready. When you think your practice test score has peaked, register for the test. Taking it before this point costs money and will not help your college application.
After you take the test for the first time, you have the opportunity to study more and then take the test again. (Fun fact: The College Board reports that 67% of students improve the second time.) A third time could be good too (some days we just feel more focused and/or get test questions we find easier).
Finally, for your reference, the most popular times to take the SAT are at the end of junior year and again at the beginning of senior year.
Given how important the SAT is for college admissions, and given that you have the power to increase your score, why not start planning and preparing now? You’ll be grateful you did on that fine day you find out your amazing score!
Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.