A Guide to When to Take the SAT and ACT

Photo of a calendar with a red push pin on the 20th.

A Guide to When to Take the SAT and ACT

Published April 20, 2023

Photo of a calendar with a red push pin on the 20th.

While many test-prep professionals publish suggestions for when to take the SAT and ACT, I’ve found that the right answer to when to take the tests really depends on the individual. It’s all about your student’s schedule, level of preparedness, and work style

Before you schedule standardized tests, go through this quick list of questions with your student. The right timeline will be revealed! 

Test Optional

Let’s start at the beginning. Yes, it’s true that not all schools require standardized testing because of the “test optional” policy.  

Does test optional mean you can forget about testing? Most parents and college admissions consultants agree that the term “optional” in college admissions really means “absolutely”—absolutely take the tests in order to have a better chance at admissions, merit awards, private scholarships, state government grants, and even college class placement.

The Washington Post ran a story with the headline: “Admissions Tests Aren’t Optional So Long as They’re Tied to Financial Aid.” The article went on to explain that “‘test optional’ often really isn’t. Many students who opt out often discover too late that financial aid and merit scholarships are based on tests they chose not to take.”

Calendars Rule

It’s all about schedules. Check your calendars and consider:

College application deadlines. Have you researched them for the schools your student is most interested in applying to? Be sure to see if test scores are needed for early action or early decision. If so, then scores need to be available in time to meet those application deadlines. 

Is there enough time to take the test more than once before college applications are due? It’s common for students to eliminate the luck factor by taking the test multiple times. That’s because there is natural variability between tests, and the College Board admits that it’s normal to be eighty points above or below one’s “true score” on any given test. 

A student may get a great score improvement in one section and suddenly develop an all-consuming desire to spend time on test preparation. If this inspiration should strike, it’s a great idea to clear schedules and commitments. A few weeks of inspired effort is worth years of lackadaisical preparation. Don’t rely on the idea that your student will be “one-and-done.” 

Will your student have the time to focus on test preparation? Look ahead and figure out when they’ll have at least a month or two to adequately prepare for it. Specifically: 

  • If you’re considering the fall test: Does your student transition well or does he need time to ease into a new school year? 
  • What about sports commitments? 
  • APs? 
  • Extracurriculars?
  • Is the summer free or does your student have camps and traveling? 

Work Style

Everyone has a different way of approaching studying and prep work. Ask your student: 

How they think they do when working under pressure. Some students thrive under the pressure; some don’t.

If they prefer working with someone, or independently. How your student preps for tests throughout the school year is a good clue. 

If they’d like for someone to check in on their progress. Sometimes, just knowing that another person will be there for them to double check dates and goals is reassuring and helps them stay on track.

The Digital SAT

Whatever timeline you come up with, keep in mind that the last opportunity to take the paper-based SAT is the end of 2023. It’s being replaced in the U.S. with the new Digital SAT in March of 2024. 

Bottom Line: Don’t let someone else’s test-schedule formula dictate yours. Answer these questions and create a plan that’s right for your student.


Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend. 

You Might Also Like

How I Fought to Remove Compulsory Test Scores on Transcripts

A Guide to Preparing for College Admissions Testing

Is Test Prep Necessary in a Test-Optional World?




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