SATs and ACTs: What you need to know

calculatorYou’ll probably take the pre-SAT (PSAT) in October of your sophomore year. If your school offers it, you will take it during school hours and it will be scheduled for you. Students who score extremely high are eligible for some scholarships. You don’t have to worry about studying for it – it’s mainly to give you a practice run of the real thing.

After you’re done with the PSAT, you should consider taking a test prep course like Kaplan and start getting test prep books. Schedule your first test for September or October of your junior year. You should schedule a second one sometime in November through January, even before you get the first scores.

>>Is Kaplan worth it?

Why not wait until you get your first scores back? Unless you get a perfect score on the first one, there’s always room for improvement. You want to give yourself the best possible chance of getting the highest score. No matter how much you practice, the first official test can be nerve-racking. You’ll probably be more relaxed and prepared the second time around, which will show in your score.

All standardized tests will be on Saturday mornings at your high school or at another local school. The only way around this is if you cannot take it on a Saturday for religious reasons, in which case you have to get a letter from your clergy. (For more information on Sunday testing, check out this site for the SAT and this site for the ACT.) So make sure you plan around your schedule. For example, if you have football practice every Saturday morning in the fall, it might be best to take your first test after the season is over.  

>>Click here to register for the SAT

>>Click here to register for the ACT

Testing centers have a limited number of slots, so register as early as possible. People are always surprised when they try to register a week or two before and the test is full. Then they either have to go to a testing center that’s farther away or wait until the next test is offered.

If you can’t take your first test in the fall of your junior year, at least take it during the school year. Once the summer rolls around, you won’t want to study and you won’t be in a test taking mode.

By the end of your junior year you should have already taken the test twice. Get the test out of the way before your senior year when you will begin the application and financial aid process. Having your test scores on hand when you’re researching colleges will give you a good idea of which ones will be a good fit. It will also give you time to decide if you want to take it a third time. I don’t recommend taking it again unless you are confident you’ll do better or you decide to take a test prep course after your second test. You’ll also be able to focus on SAT IIs, if the schools you’re applying to require them.


As with everything in the college process, the key is to start early. Getting the tests out of the way as soon as possible will let you focus on researching colleges and other parts of your application.


>>ACT vs SAT: Which is better?


>>Should I study for the SAT or ACT?