At Signet, we recommend that our students plan out their standardized test prep timeline for the SAT, ACT, and SAT Subject Tests (STs) to begin their sophomore year and to be completed by the end of their junior year.
We encourage students to finish their testing before senior year so that they’ll have more time and energy to spend on their college applications. It’s also helpful to have test scores in place by the end of junior year in order to jumpstart the college selection process. However, we know this timeline isn’t always realistic for all students. So, if you’re in your senior year, here are some guidelines to create a testing plan for yourself. First, let’s start with the basics. Here are approximate testing dates for the SAT, SAT STs, and ACTs:
SAT & SAT STs
If you intend to apply to a college early action or early decision, you will need to have taken any and all required standardized tests before you submit your applications, usually by November 1st.For students needing to take both the SAT and SAT STs, this means you only have one viable date–early October–to take an exam. Because the College Board does not allow students to take the SAT and SAT STs on the same date, students who need to take both will only be able to apply early to schools that do not require the SAT STs.Taking the ACT in September, however, may still allow you to apply early, as many schools will waive SAT ST requirements if you submit the ACT with its optional Writing section. So, if you’re intent on applying early but don’t have your SAT STs done, you may be able to submit with just an ACT score. Some schools will also accept the October ACT for early applications.Before you go buying prep books and booking your test date, however, you should check with the specific colleges to which you’re applying to confirm their policies. You should also make sure to focus on which test is right for you - if you score poorly on both tests, or on your practice ACTs compared to your practice SATs, you are probably better off waiting until the regular deadlines.
For regular decision applicants there is a bit more flexibility. Here are some general guidelines:
- Take your tests as early as you can while still being prepared. Waiting until the last minute isn’t good, because you’ll have no backup if you do poorly or circumstances outside of your control get in the way (like getting sick on the day of the test).
- If you’re planning to take December tests, check in with the schools you’re applying to in order to make sure they’ll accept scores from the December sitting (most will, but it’s worth checking).
- If you have to prioritize studying between the SAT and SAT STs, generally speaking you should focus on the SAT, as it carries much more weight in the application process.
- Doing well on any standardized test requires work. If that work will detract significantly from your regular schoolwork and grades, you may want to look at other options like test-optional schools or a gap year. If your grades drop in your first semester of senior year, that will have a significantly negative effect on your candidacy. If you’re in this situation and not sure what to do, call us and we can talk through a specific plan for you.
Finally, any advice on senior year testing must include some guidance for people who have completed their tests but are re-testing in senior year to achieve a higher score. If you’re a re-tester, here are some guidelines:
- Think carefully about spending time on retesting. Most of the time, a 20 or 30 point difference on the SAT or 1 point on the ACT won’t be worth the opportunity cost of studying. On the other hand, a significant increase could make a big difference in your candidacy.
- Just retaking a test without studying very rarely leads to significant score increases. So, if you’re retaking, you should do so only if you’ve put in real work to improve your score.
- Prioritize the SAT or ACT over the SAT STs.
- On the SAT or ACT, the difference between a nearly perfect score and a perfect score is negligible. Trust us--our team has admissions officers who have read thousands of applications. If you’re just trying to get 50 more points to get a perfect score, stop. Stop now and go do something more meaningful with your time.
If you’re testing in your senior fall, it’s important that you spend a bit of time coming up with a comprehensive testing and study plan. We hope that the guidelines above will help you do that. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us–our experts can help you through every step of the process.