Answer: Varies for each student!
There is no single "right" time to take your first official SAT or ACT exam, but there are certain factors which can help you to create an appropriate testing plan. First, I'll outline a few assumptions and basic information:
1. Your child will most likely prepare for his or her official SAT or ACT. This can require between 6-12 weeks of work.
2. Your child will most likely need to take the SAT or ACT more than once.
3. The SAT is offered in October, November, December, January, March, May, and June (details)
4. The ACT is offered in September, October, December, February, April, and June (details)
5. The average student should take the test at least once by the Spring of Junior year
1. Consider the Data. If your child has taken a PSAT, this is a good starting point. In addition, you may consider having your child take a practice ACT exam in order to compare relative potential on each of the two tests. (This is very simple and your child can self-administer and self-score such a test by visiting act.org) Remember, all colleges accept either the ACT or SAT, and no preference is given to either test. Determining early in the game which test to focus energies on can save time and effort down the road.
2. Current Coursework. The Math portions of the SAT and ACT include basic Algebra, Geometry, Algebra 2, and a small selection of Trigonometry questions. If your child has not yet completed at least half a year of Algebra 2, you may want to wait until he has done so in order to maximize potential.
3. Student Schedule. Preparing for standardized tests requires work that is comparable to adding an entire course to your child's busy schedule. Choose a time during the school year (if possible) when your child has fewer commitments. If your child has a Fall and Spring sport, for example, start prep during the late fall/early winter months and take the first test in early winter!
4. Student Goals. Does your child have Ivy dreams? Still unsure about post-high school paths? Either way, it's important that you inform yourself about the testing requirements of the types of schools to which your child will eventually require. A rule of thumb is that Ivy League and top tier schools will require 2-3 SAT Subject Tests in addition to SAT and ACT scores. Most other schools require only the SAT or ACT. Make sure to keep this in mind as you put together a testing schedule.
5. Student Learning Style. You know your child better than anyone. Some students benefit from being exposed to material over a long period of time, while others reach their peak quickly then burn out. While preparing for tests will almost always yield higher scores, the structure and length of that preparation varies depending on individual styles. In addition, students with IEPs or 504 plans may be eligible for special accommodations on the
Though this all may seem sticky and complicated, the simple process of mapping out a testing calendar and plan can help to eliminate some of the stress!
Sample Testing Calendar for a Jackie, a student with Ivy dreams
Sample Testing Calendar for Luke, a college-bound B student
Sample Testing Calendar for Annie, a college-bound B/C student with learning differences/IEP
Jen Rosier is owner and Founder of PrepU and owner of Tutor Doctor Suburban Boston. An expert in admissions and test prep, Jen is all about simplifying and de-stressing the admissions process. Oh, and helping families afford an education!