When should I take the SAT or ACT?
This is one of those questions I get asked on a weekly basis by parents and students alike. While most high schools require that all juniors take the ACT or SAT together on a certain Wednesday in the spring, I typically recommend that my students begin the process much earlier.
The first thing you need to do is identify which of the two tests is the best fit for you. Let’s get one thing out of the way—which test you focus on is up to you. No college has a preference for one test over the other. Now, just because your sister or your classmate preferred the ACT doesn’t mean it’s the right test for you. Maybe you’ll be more comfortable with the SAT. Every student should experiment with both tests in order to determine which test is the best fit for them and then focus on that one test.
So, if you haven’t identified which test is best for you until the spring of junior year, you’re simply not left with enough testing dates to test and re-test before applications are due.
I recommend experimenting with both tests in the fall of your sophomore year, then using the next year or two to study and retake.
Of course, I will be the first to admit that there is no one-size-fits-all standardized test plan. Each student must figure out what works best for them in terms of which test to take and how many times to take it. Some students take the test once, a whole lot take it twice, and many students take the tests three or more times.
And don’t forget to prepare for whichever test you choose to take. There are many benefits to using a test prep program. I think most of us know that having strong test scores is a great way to increase your chances of being admitted to your dream college, but what many of us don’t realize is what an important role your test scores can play in paying for college. Colleges want to reward you for working hard and doing well on the SAT or the ACT, and they often do that by awarding applicants with merit-based scholarships based upon your GPA and test scores. So, in a way, doing well on your ACT or SAT can translate into a paycheck from the college you attend. In order to earn that paycheck, you’ve got to put adequate time and effort into studying for the tests and doing your best to bring up your score.
Working with a Student Services Consultant can be a great way to have someone in your corner to offer you advice when it comes to navigating your way through the standardized test maze.
But, that’s a topic for another day. What I want my readers to know today is this: the early bird gets the worm. Okay, so that might not be the best proverb for this situation but it gets the point across. Start testing early, don’t wait. And don’t forget that it’s best to sign up for test dates well in advance. The deadline to sign up for the tests themselves is generally about a month before the test date, so plan ahead!