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


Deciding which standardized tests to take and the best time to take them can be confusing and overwhelming. You will need to develop a plan of action early on so that you don’t “burn out” during the college application process.

Which standardized tests should I take?

I recommend that all students take both the SAT and the ACT. Why do both? Every college in the country will accept either test, and they have no preference for which set of test scores you submit. The SAT is more of a reasoning test, while the ACT is more of an achievement test, so some students do much better on one over the other. It is impossible to tell beforehand the test on which you will score higher, so it is in your best interest to take both. The SAT has three parts: Critical Reading, Math and Writing. The ACT has four main components: English, Math, Reading and Science with a fifth, optional Writing component. Most colleges do want to see the optional Writing scores if you choose to take the ACT.

When should I take these standardized tests?

The best time to take your first round of standardized tests (both the SAT and the ACT) is in the spring of your junior year. When you have taken the tests once and see the one on which you score higher, you may want to take that test a second time in May or June of junior year, or in the fall of senior year.

What are SAT subject tests?

These are 1-hour achievement tests in five general subject areas. Some colleges, mostly the more highly selective ones, either require or recommend that students take these in addition to the SAT. You need to look up the colleges in which you are interested in to determine which subject tests each requires. These subject tests are offered on the same test dates as the regular SAT. A student can take up to three tests on a particular test date. The best time to take subject tests is right after you have completed the course in a particular area.

How many times should I take each test?

Once you take the SAT and the ACT, you will be able to see if your score is higher on one over the other. You may want to choose the one on which you scored the best and take it a second time. Look up the colleges in which you are interested in to see how your scores compare to the mid-50% of students they usually accept. In rare incidences, you may choose to take a test for a third time. After taking a test three times, your score is unlikely to improve with additional attempts.

How can I avoid “test burnout”?

It would be wise for you to look at all your academic obligations for junior and senior year. In addition to taking the SAT and ACT, many of you may take AP exams in May. You need to allow plenty of study time to keep your grades in every subject as high as possible. Prepare a calendar with all of your commitments and time your standardized test-taking dates with these in mind.