Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?


Our counselors answered:

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

Jill Karatkewicz
Counselor East Hampton High School

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

There is no single answer that will fit all students. Traditionally, the standardized test "process" begins in sophomore year when students can take the PSAT (practice for the SAT) and/or the PLAN (practice for the ACT). The PSAT can be taken once more during the fall of junior year. Following this, most students make a plan to take one or both tests during the second semester of their junior year. If the student has had the opportunity to take both the PSAT and PLAN, they could use their scores and experiences from these tests to help determine which regular standardized test is best for them. If they have only taken one (or none), it would be my advice to take both the ACT and SAT at some point prior to the end of the student's junior year (e.g. April ACT, May or June SAT). By doing so, the student can evaluate which test resulted in a more favorable score and make plans to retake a test in the fall of senior year, if necessary. Most students take the SAT and/or ACT two times. Studies show that taking three or more tests does not typically result in a significant increase in scores. Any student looking to apply to a highly selective college will also want to be mindful that some colleges will require them to take 2-3 SAT Subject Tests as part of their admission process. Subject Tests can not be taken on the same day as the regular SAT Reasoning Test.

王文君 June Scortino
President IVY Counselors Network


most colleges accept SAT and ACT, but I personally believe most students prefer SAT instead of ACT. it is better if the student can test first and pick the right test to prep. no one should take it more than three times. if you allow yourself with enough time to take it test three times, the best time frame is over two years period.

Jolyn Brand
Owner & CEO Brand College Consulting

The SAT vs the ACT

Some students perform better naturally on one test over the other. The only way to find out for sure it to take both. Start during your junior year so that you have time to prepare and study for the retakes. Most students will need to retake one of these tests at least once. The last chance to take them is usually fall of senior year.

Megan Dorsey
SAT Prep & College Advisor College Prep LLC

No Standard Answer for Standardized Testing

Your test plan will be unique to you, your strengths, and where you’re likely applying. Most students take the PLAN or PSAT in 10th-11th grade. All juniors should take the ACT and SAT at least once. These tests are different; one is not easier than the other. Once you determine which test format best matches your strengths, retake it to improve your scores. Because colleges and universities will use students’ best scores, most opt to take tests two or three times. In addition, students applying to some highly selective schools may be required to take SAT Subject Tests, and international students may need additional tests such as the TOEFL.

Rana Slosberg
Owner Slosberg College Solutions LLC


I recommend that students take an SAT I practice test and an ACT practice test and see which one they do better on. They should focus on preparing for the test they did better on. Typically, I suggest students take the test twice: once in the middle of the junior year and once in the end of the junior year. In addition, students should check if the schools they are applying to require that they take any SAT II Subject tests.

Tam Warner Minton
Consultant College Adventures

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

I believe you should take both the ACT and the SAT at least once. Choose the one you do best on and spend time preparing for another test date. I agree with the Education Conservancy here, you really don't need to take a test more than twice. Take the testing seriously, but not too seriously. It isn't the end of the world if you are not a great test taker. Check out colleges that are test optional!

Benjamin Caldarelli
Partner Princeton College Consulting, LLC

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

After the PSAT, which I would take as sophomore for practice and as a Junior for the National Merit competition, either the SAT or ACT if not both. Most of my students decide which test they are going to focus on and take it twice. Unless you prepare in a drastically different way, taking the test a third time usually does not result in a higher scores. Also, the most selective schools require two or three SAT subject tests, and as many AP tests as possible.

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Which Standardized Test? What Does Youir School Want?

While few things in the application process are more nerve wracking than standardized tests, with more and more schools reducing their reliance on them, an applicant can now navigate the path to college without overdoing it on the test sittings. While the SAT is arguably a bit more about basic intelligence, the SAT II's and the ACT reflect better how effectively a student learns so they may better showcase some students' strengths. Utimately, it is important to be sure you know what the schools need since the requirements vary widely. Then it is probably a good idea to talk with a teacher or your counselor to help assess your profile and see which approach best highlights your strenghts

Lora Lewis
Educational Consultant Lora Lewis Consulting

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

Almost all schools accept either the SAT or ACT. Some students find that one test works better for them than the other. If possible, take the PSAT and PLAN tests your sophomore year to get a sense of which test you're more comfortable with. If you can't do a "pre-test", visit the SAT and ACT online to try some sample questions and get a sense of how the tests are organized. Ideally, you should take the SAT or ACT in the spring of junior year, leaving time to re-take the test in late spring of junior year or early fall of senior year if necessary. Re-taking the test can be helpful, but taking it more than two or three times rarely results in improved scores and may even backfire and result in lower scores overall. If you're applying to colleges that require the SAT Subject Tests, it's helpful to take tests in subjects you're currently studying as close to the end of junior year as possible. The information will still be fresh in your mind and you won't have to go back and bone up on skills and concepts after having been out of class for several months. Keep in mind, though, that you can't take the SAT reasoning test on the same day that you take the subject tests. Be sure to construct your testing timeline carefully so that you have adequate time to complete all tests, especially if you are planning to apply early decision or early action, as the colleges will expect all testing to be completed by the November administration.

Carita Del Valle
Founder Academic Decisions

Standardized tests: Which ones? When? How many times?

Unfortunately the best answer is it depends! Each student's desires for higher education is different and once this is determined then we can decide the strategy for standardized testing. Usually one time for each is important then we use the data and move forward.