Most high school student are advised to take the SAT in spring of their junior year and the March SAT test date is a big favorite of many college counselors.
The problem with this advice, when given without taking a few specifics into account, is that a lot of students are very busy in spring.
While spring testing may be the right fit for you, we have to dive deeper to truly determine if that really is the case.
There are 3 questions that can help you determine your perfect, low-stress testing timeline.
- What level math are you studying?
- What does your activities calendar look like?
- What grade are you in?
1. What level math are you studying?
The math sections of the SAT touch on concepts from arithmetic up to Algebra 2, with the lion's share of questions coming from Algebra I and 2.
If possible, we prefer that students have at least one semester of Algebra 2 under their belts before they begin preparing for the SAT.
The most important thing is that students take 2 exams by June of their junior year. If you won't be enrolled in or completely through Algebra 2 before June of junior year, you'll still want to take the SAT before the end of the school year.
- If you've taken Algebra 2 as a freshman or sophomore, you can entertain any test dates that occur once your course is fully complete.
- If you'll take Algebra 2 in junior year or later, take your first SAT in December or March of your junior year.
2. What does your calendar look like?
- Do you play a fall sport?
- Are you involved in the spring musical?
- Do you volunteer on a seasonal basis with a favorite organization?
- Will you be taking AP or IB exams in the spring?
One of the reasons that testing and test prep have such a bad reputation is that most families don't realize how flexible it can be.
The SAT is offered seven times a year in the following months: August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. You have plenty of opportunities to select a test date that is advantageous to you.
But keep in mind that the test date is a finish line. Ideally, the marathon started 2-3 months earlier when SAT prep began. Just as you can avoid testing during your busy season by carefully selecting your test dates, you should likewise plan well to avoid preparing during your busy season too.
- Your ideal testing window should be planned during a downtime in your schedule.
- Don't forget test prep! When planning which SAT test date to take your first exam on, back up 8-12 weeks from the actual test date and consider how busy that window of time will be for you because prep takes more time and is more intense than testing itself.
3. What grade are you in?
Since SAT scores are valid for 5 years, you could begin testing as early as 8th grade.
And with 7 SAT test dates per year over 5 years, that means there are 35 test dates you can choose from. However, for the sake of ease and everyone's sanity, I narrow this window a little bit.
However, the ideal window for low-stress SAT testing opens in the spring of sophomore year and closes the summer after junior year.
Keeping your level of math and your calendar of activities in mind, you should plan to take the SAT as early as possible within this range after preparing to ensure that you have a little stress as possible on this journey.
You may be a great candidate for testing in spring of your junior year. Or maybe the summer or fall of your junior year is better because of your commitments in the winter and spring.
Can you test during your senior year too? Absolutely! But ideally senior year testing is for adding a few additional points to an already solid SAT score. Having SAT scores you're proud of by the end of your junior year ensures that you can finalize your college list the summer between junior and senior year with real exam results - not wishful-thinking results - as a firm basis for clear-eyed decisions.