If a four-year college, especially a competitive one, is in your future, the question is not if you’ll be taking the SAT or ACT, but rather when. Some families want to start planning for test day during the first week of high school. Others, unfortunately, don’t consider testing until midway through senior year. But, as you’ve surely heard, timing is everything. Taking the SAT or ACT at the right time ensures the right levels of readiness while allowing a buffer for retesting.
When should a student take the SAT or ACT? In the absence of extenuating circumstances, the best time to take these tests is 11th grade.
Junior year is ideal for the tests for many reasons, which ACT has skillfully summarized:
- You’ve probably completed the coursework corresponding to the test material.
- You’ll have your test scores and other information in time to help you plan your senior year. (For example, you may decide to take an additional class in an area in which your test score was low.)
- Colleges will know of your interests and have your scores in time to contact you during the summer before your senior year, when many of them are sending information about admissions, course placement, scholarships, and special programs to prospective students.
- You’ll have information about yourself and the schools you’re considering prior to your campus visits, making your visits more focused.
- You’ll have the opportunity to retest if you feel your scores don’t accurately reflect your abilities in the areas tested.
To clarify, 11th graders are not likely to learn anything except a few new vocabulary words that will help on the reading sections of the tests. Since most high schools neglect grammar instruction, students get further away with every year from remembering subject-predicate agreement and apostrophe placement. As far as math goes, most college-bound juniors take Algebra 2/Trig or higher level math, which means they enter 11th grade having already learned most or all of the math tested on the exams.
Since 11th graders have already learned just about everything they’ll get from school for the tests, they should commit to the appropriate level of preparation to pick up the rest of the content and strategy needed for optimal scores. With that plan, students can take the SAT and/or ACT any time that makes sense in junior year. In my experience, earlier in the year is better, especially for students taking many AP classes or serious about spring sports.
So to summarize, take the SAT & ACT in junior year. Now all you need to consider is when to prep…