Seven: the number of times the ACT and SAT are each offered every year. As you consider the school and personal activities that quickly fill up your schedule, it can be challenging to find the best times to take these tests, especially when you should take either test three or more times to achieve your best possible results! How do you know when you should take the SAT or ACT? 

Here are a few questions to help you figure it out.

When should I take the SAT (or ACT) for the first time?

Students should take the ACT for the first time during the fall or winter of their junior year of high school, at the latest. This gives you an opportunity to overcome your first-time nerves and prepare for additional tests in the spring and summer of your junior year.

If possible, take either a practice ACT test or the PreACT test in 10th grade to become familiar with the types and formats of questions on the ACT. The PreACT will also give you a predictive ACT score that can help you know where to focus your studying.

How many times should you take the SAT or ACT? 

It’s best to take a test twice your junior year (including a mandated test date, if applicable) and twice during the fall of your senior year. Taking the test multiple times helps your overall chances of increasing your score. (Some students may find one test easier and/or score higher, so trying both is a good idea, too!)

According to an ACT study, repeat-testers’ latest scores had an average composite score 2.9 points higher than their peers who only took the test once. In the study, 57% of those who took the test again saw an increase in their scores, and students who took the test multiple times tended to score consistently higher as the number of times they took the test increased.

Note: If you are a student who is eligible for Federal Free and Reduced lunch programs, both the ACT and the SAT offer waivers for multiple tests and unlimited score reports. 

When should you take the ACT or SAT?

While it’s best to take a test twice in junior spring (including a mandated test date, if applicable) and twice in senior fall, it will vary based on your personal circumstances. Take into account your academic load and extracurricular activities. If you have a big game the night before you plan to take the test, you might not receive the score you want. Or maybe you’re in a performance group, band, debate, or other activity with a busy season. These activities, while all beneficial, can shift your focus from an upcoming standardized test, so make sure you plan around them.

Whatever you do, plan ahead! Don’t push all of your testing to the end of your senior fall—remember to give yourself a cushion in case of sudden sickness, accidents, or other unforeseen events that might affect your test preparation and performance. Give yourself the best chance for the best results to maximize those scholarship dollars!

Which test dates should you choose? 

The test dates you choose depend on your college application timeline. Many colleges open applications (and scholarships!) July 1 or August 1, so it can help to test twice and put up a solid score in your junior year so that your score results are available prior to sending in your application. For example, if your college of choice has a scholarship deadline of August 1 your senior year, you will want to schedule at least three testing dates starting in your junior year, rather than waiting until the spring.

Most colleges accept the December test for students enrolling the next fall (9 months later).  However, some schools stop accepting scores after October, and some accept through February, so look at each school’s website or call the admissions office to avoid any unhappy surprises!

1. Does your school offer a test? 

Another thing to consider is if your high school offers the ACT or SAT (generally in the spring semester). If they do, that means you get a free testing opportunity. Make the school-offered test the second test you take. Sign up to take the ACT or SAT (whichever your school offers) in the fall, prior to your school’s test, so that you’re prepared for the format of the test, the timing, and the content. It is also a great idea to take the test on the national Saturday date closest to your school’s testing date—this way you get double the testing out of your preparation!

2. Take advantage of summer test dates

Summer test dates are also a great option. You have lots of time to prepare and can focus more energy and effort on your studying. The ACT is offered in June and July, and the SAT is offered in June and August. 

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So when do you take the SAT and ACT? Start your junior fall, and take the ACT or SAT at least four times to get your best score (and more scholarships). Think you’re ready? There’s one more step after you choose your test dates: maximize your scores with SAT and ACT test prep. Practice and prepare so you can do your best on the test!

INFOGRAPHIC

SAT or ACT: Which Test Should You Take?  

This infographic compares the two tests to help you make an informed decision when it comes to the ACT vs SAT.