When the time comes for high school students to apply to college, they usually have two standardized test choices: the SAT or the ACT.

Plotting a sensible course through the admission process is not necessarily an easy task, though. Many students have questions regarding these standardized tests used for college admission.

Often, they wonder: When should I take the SAT or ACT? Are these tests really that important?

Here are some important do’s and don’ts to keep in mind about timing and preparing for these tests.  

When to Take the SAT or ACT

Timing is crucial but often influenced by pressure from others—parents, teachers, and peers.

It may be surprising, but my advice is:

DON’T rush it!

Common sense—and general opinion—seems to dictate the earlier you take the test, the better. That way you can get it done and move on with the rest of your high school career. Therefore, I see more and more students take the standardized tests during the first semester of their junior high school year.

The problem with taking tests so early in Junior year is that, in reality, these tests are designed for and intended to be taken by high school seniors. Why? Because they are meant to assess their aptitude for completing college-level work.

DO consider the disadvantages of early testing carefully

I have found that the old saying, “slow and steady wins the race,” applies when considering the best time for taking the SAT or ACT. There are important reasons why it must be timed carefully.

If you take the test too soon, you are likely to put yourself at a disadvantage. Since these tests are meant for high school seniors, a junior often does not have the background knowledge or academic maturity necessary to perform their best. Lamentably, that may keep you from scoring as well as you would have liked or cause you to fail altogether.

DO make sure you are ready

My advice? Plan to take the test in the second semester of your junior year in high school. While this is still early (compared to most students applying to college who take the SAT or ACT beginning in senior year), a second-semester junior year test plan will give you ample time to cover most of the school curriculum and gain the knowledge required for taking the test. And, perhaps more importantly, you will have time to develop the skills and confidence to be a successful test-taker.

DON’T give up after the first test!

There are many reasons that contribute to you a lower score the first time you take it. If this happens to you, don’t give up! You still have plenty of time to retake the test and do better. Remember, this is a process that takes time. For the vast majority of students, scores will increase after taking the tests a second or third time.

How to Prepare for Standardized Tests

Of course, more than the right timing is needed to give you the best chance at scoring well. Preparation is important as well.

My recommendations are:

DON’T wing it!

When preparing to take the SAT or ACT it is important to have a strategy. Improvising is not a strategy! You have to have a good game plan in place.

You would be wise to:

  • Set a date for when you plan to take the test.
  • Work backward from that date to begin studying. Plan at least 10-15 weeks for preparing so the information is fresh on your mind.
  • Take up to three practice tests before the real thing.

DO take full advantage of resources

There are plenty of resources available to study for these tests: practice exams, extra classes, prep books, tutoring, etc. However, be aware of focusing too much on getting a perfect score. If you have taken the test a few times and don’t see an improvement, then it is time to move on.

The Importance of Taking Standardized Tests for College Admissions

Yes, SAT and ACT tests are of utmost importance for being admitted to college. Do not make the mistake of taking them too lightly.

While colleges do take your GPA and high school courses into consideration, standardized test scores still make up a substantial part of your college application.


Because many students applying to competitive colleges have an impressive GPA and transcript. Therefore, colleges need another piece of criteria to determine which students they will admit and those that will not make the cut.

Should that worry you?

Not really. Although many well-known colleges use high tests to assess future success at their institutions, those schools may not be right for you. Remember, receiving an average score is not an indicator that you cannot do great work. It is not all about getting into the most prestigious colleges.

Applying for college is about searching for the right fit for you, about finding the place where you will thrive. With the help of an experienced Independent Educational Consultant, you can find that fit.

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