When Should My Child Take The SAT/ACT For The First Time?

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Here is a parent’s guide for all types of test-taking students:

The Naturally Strong Test-Taker

These are the kinds of kids who need little preparation for standardized tests, yet they score in the 90th+ percentile without skipping a beat. If your child is this type of student, they can take the SAT or the ACT for the first time as early as the beginning of their junior year. This allows them to prepare for the test the summer before junior year and take the test in the beginning of the year before school work and extracurricular activities start to pile up and take its toll.

If they are unhappy with their score and want to see a score increase, they can easily take it again later in the year (December, March, etc.) and even for a third time at the beginning of senior year. To confirm your readiness to take the SAT or ACT for the first time, always make sure to do practice tests (for both the SAT and ACT) to determine which test to take and when to take it.

The Student Who Plans to Apply to Highly Selective Colleges

Most students who apply to highly selective colleges (admit rate less than 25%) will take the SAT or ACT at least twice, sometimes a third time in order to get the highest score possible. In order to do that, you have to plan ahead. Test preparation could begin the summer before junior year. Students can take the November, December, or March SAT.

Just keep in mind that if they take the November and December SAT, they won’t have their PSAT (Preliminary SAT) scores back before they take it. December and February are popular dates for students taking the ACT for the first time. Whether they take the SAT or ACT on the earlier end, they will still have time to possibly take the test one more time before the end of junior year, and possibly even a third time at the beginning of senior year.

The Traditional College-Bound Student

If a student plans to apply to a four year college with higher admit rates, they can take the SAT or ACT for the first time in the second half of junior year. This will give them more time to take an SAT prep class. March, May, and June are ideal for the SAT; April or June for the ACT. This still gives a student a chance to take one of the tests a second time at the beginning of senior year. The SAT is now offered in August. And the ACT is now offering a test in July, but the first test of the school year is in September.

The Recruited Athlete

If your child is hoping to be a recruited athlete, collegiate coaches will start asking for test scores the first time they communicate with them. They want to get a sense of how competitive your son or daughter will be in the applicant pool. Recruited athletes tend to feel the pressure and end up taking the SAT or ACT earlier than they sometimes want. These students may need to do a lot of test preparation during the summer before junior year to prepare to take an earlier test. Many athletes will end up taking a fall test in order to give a collegiate coach some scores to consider.

The longer an athlete can wait, the better, especially if they are not a naturally strong test-taker. If your kid ends up taking a fall test and plans to re-test, make sure they give themselves time to prepare. Students who take standardized tests month-after-month don’t see significant increases in their scores. The more time you have in between tests, the more your score will improve as long as you are continuing to prepare with an SAT preparation tutor.

No matter what, here are a few reminders:

• Try to stick to one test: the SAT or the ACT. Colleges have no preferences, and they only require one of them.
• To determine which test to take, plan on taking a practice SAT and a practice ACT. Compare the results by using a conversion chart, like the one on prepscholar.com.
• It doesn’t hurt to retake the test. Most colleges will take your highest score on each section of the SAT. More and more colleges are doing the same for the ACT.
• Three is the magic number. Colleges don’t like when a student takes the test more than three times. Granted, many times you don’t have to report all of the times you took it. But the fact is that after three times, your score rarely improves dramatically.
• The best scores are usually from students taking the test a final time at the beginning of senior year. It means that part of the summer before needs to be spent preparing, though.
• And when all else fails, there are hundreds of test optional colleges to consider.

No matter what type of college a student plans to apply to, they should take the SAT or ACT at least once. Junior year is the best time to take it for the first time. That leaves the door open for the student to take it again which never hurts.


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