When to Take the ACT/SAT

There are two major factors to consider: When will you have the most time to focus and prepare? When will you be most motivated?

The answer to “when to take the ACT/SAT” remains the same: sometime during junior year. Here’s why: 

Complete Testing as a Junior. Your goal should be to complete all admissions testing prior to senior year. If you can take (and retake) the ACT or SAT and any Subject Tests during your junior year then you are free to devote 100% of your attention to college applications as a senior.  

Find the Best Time for You . Now that we’ve narrowed the testing window down to sometime junior year, you need to find the time that is best for you. There are two major factors to consider: 

  • When will you have the most time to focus and prepare?
  • When will you be most motivated?

Time. For most students, junior year of high school is the most academically challenging. There may be times during the school year when you are so bogged down with school that you don’t have much time or energy left for anything else. Take these times off your potential testing calendar. 

Also try to avoid peak times for any sports or activities. Trying to prepare for a major test at the same time you are spending nights and weekends practicing for marching band, the big theater production, the national qualifier debate tournament, or the basketball playoffs isn’t your best option. 

Motivation. You may not be able to wait until you feel perfectly ready, but you will study and test better when motivated. Studying because you have to or because mom says to isn’t usually motivated studying. My best students come to class with a purpose– “my goal is to get into Notre Dame and I want to improve my ACT by 4 points” or “the coach said I need a few more points then he will offer me a place on the team (and full scholarship!)” or “I need to study before competition season begins.” 

Allow Time to Retake. As you plan your first attempt at the test, understand that most students take the ACT or SAT more than once. You should factor in time to retake the test. 

What’s Missing? I’ve outlined the key factors for planning to take the ACT and SAT. Notice what I didn’t mention? I didn’t suggest you give any thought to what you might learn in school this year. Why? Because a couple more months in English and math isn’t going to make much difference.

The material covered on both the ACT and SAT has a basis in the concepts taught in school (grammar, algebra, vocabulary, geometry, etc.), but five more months in Ms. Binkley’s Algebra II class is unlikely to help your scores. You would be better off finding a quality test prep program and spending four to ten weeks specifically reviewing for the exam. 

The Decision Is Yours. Once you eliminate conflicts and find a time when you are motivated and ready to study, the choice of test date is yours. There is no easier or harder test. Make a plan and go for it! 

College Admissions Expert |

Megan Dorsey is a college admissions expert and savvy SAT prep instructor who has helped thousands of students prepare for college admission. For more information visit

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