When Do I Need to Take my SAT or ACT?

Standardized tests have existed in the United States since the mid-1800s. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) played a major role in the increased usage of the tests. The SAT and ACT are two common standardized tests used by students who plan to obtain a higher education. Students take these tests because colleges and universities use such a test to determine if the student should be admitted into their school.

One of the most important things you’ll do in your high school career is to take the SAT, ACT, or both. For most high school students, preparing to apply for college starts in their sophomore year or earlier. Starting early with test prep and practice testing can help you earn better scores.

The Timing Is Up to You

If you took the SAT as a freshman and scored a perfect 1600, you can still use this to apply for any school. However, this is not the case for most high school students. You will likely take the PSAT during your freshman or sophomore year, which serves as a benchmark for the real test. Students won’t use their PSAT scores on college applications, although high scores can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship, so it’s worth giving the test your best shot.

Students can take the ACT during one of the six times it’s offered per year in September, October, December, February, April, and June. The SAT is given seven times per year in October, November, December, March/April, May, June, and August.

Start Early

Most successful students start preparing for the SAT or ACT early in their high school careers. Study for the PSAT before you take it in your first two years, and then use the score to figure out what areas need extra work. Those who did well on the PSAT might want to take the SAT soon after, while the subject material is fresh in their mind and test-taking skills are sharp.

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If you struggle with math, consider hiring a tutor or studying more heavily to improve your scores on that section. Online and local tutors are available throughout the United States. Study materials are also available from the test writers. You can find free personalized study guides for the SAT at Khan Academy. For free personalized study guides for the ACT, visit ACT Academy.

Consider the Implications of Taking the Test

Your SAT and ACT scores are important for applying to the college that you hope to attend, but in some areas, the scores carry additional weight. For example, students in Arkansas could qualify for an annual scholarship toward college expenses if they have a GPA of 3.5 or higher and exceed the SAT or ACT scoring threshold. Taking the test earlier in your high school career could help you qualify for a scholarship sooner, which might play a role in what college you attend.

Retake as Needed

The majority of high school students take the SAT and/or ACT in their junior year. This way they can retake the test in their senior year if they feel the need to do so. You can take the SAT or ACT as often as you’d like. However, it does take several hours to complete, and there is a fee associated with each testing. Some schools provide fee waivers for the first two times students take the SAT and/or ACT. Don’t hesitate to take the test as many times as you want, since schools only look at the highest score.