When to Take Standardized Exams

When to Take Standardized Exams

The SAT, SAT Subject Tests, ACT…. three standardized exams that add stress to the already stressful lives of ambitious high school students.  Many students wonder when they should take these exams.  Most students take them all in their junior year, but other opt to take them over the course of their high school careers.  When to really take the exams really depends on three important factors: a) how prepared you are, b) which test date will lead to the least stress, and c) by what time colleges need scores.

A) How Prepared You Are:

Being prepared for an exam is obviously very important.  It is better to take an exam when you are ready than to take it too early and do terribly on it.  How can you tell if you are prepared for a standardized exam?  Take a practice test!  Practice tests will help you asses your strong and weak points.  If you score well on practice exams, you should take the exam as soon as possible if you can.  If you know that you can be even more prepared and ready, study some more and make sure you keep up the practice.  If you took an AP class for a certain subject, you will probably be ready to take the SAT Subject Test for that corresponding subject by the end of the year.  Preparation via both studying and take practice test is vital!  It will ensure success on the actual exam and make you stress less about the impact of your scores in the college admissions process.

Most students take the SAT or ACT at the end of their junior year.  However, taking the exam before may also be a good option.  If you have practiced for either or both exams, take it once you feel you are ready.  Taking it in January or March for the first time will help you assess you skills.  This way, if you do decide to take it in June like most juniors, you will be even more prepared than those who are taking it for the first time.  This applies to both the SAT and ACT.

B) Which Test Date Will Lead to Less Stress

The SAT and ACT exams are offered many times a year.  Take them during months you know you wont be too busy with extra-curricular activities.  You do not need the extra stress.  Too much stress will hurt your test performance (unless you are one of those people who enjoy the extra stress).    Don’t be forced to take an exam really early if everyone else is taking it really early.  Maybe that may not be the best time for you if you are too busy with other things.  On the flip-side, taking the test earlier might save you some stress down the road.  It varies for every person.  Take it when you know the only thing that will occupy most of your efforts is the standardized exam.  Give yourself ample time to practice as well.

C) College Deadlines

Some seniors take the SAT/ACT exams early in their senior year.  Make sure your testing dates are accepted by colleges by specific deadlines!  Each college has different testing deadlines.  For most ED applications, the last day to take a test is in November.  Do not take the test later than the last date if you want to do ED!

Remember: one should take a test if they are as ready as they can be given the circumstances in their lives.  Do not fear the exams and decide to take them at later dates!  That will hurt you later on and you never know how stressed out you will be then!  A number doesn’t define you.  But they do matter to colleges.

In short:

  • Take the SAT  or ACT at least twice.  Practice makes perfect.  If you get a 2250 or higher though, there is really no need to take the exam again as that is a competitive score for even the most selective schools.
  • Take the SAT Subject Tests when the information is fresh in your head (even as a freshman).  Take at least one practice test.  Do not wait to take it at a much later date.  Review the material by using review books!  Also note: if you score a 750, there is no need to take it again to get 800.   No college wants a number obsessed individual.  An 800 on the SAT Physics won’t help bring world peace.  Neither will that 750 or 700.  Once you score above a certain number, it wont make a difference.

Best of luck!