If you’ve been keeping up with my articles lately, you’ll notice a trend: the new SAT and ACT calendar is subtly changing how students organize their test prep timelines. Each company—the College Board (owners of the SAT) and ACT.org (the non-profit that owns and administers the ACT)—has recently added a summertime test date. Specifically, the SAT has added a late August test date, while the ACT has added a mid-July test date.
In years past, it used to be that students really got a forced break from test prep in the summer, one that started the moment those early June SAT and ACTs were finished. The break in the testing schedule all but required them to go to camp, internships, summer jobs, and foreign travel—you know, live life and develop their interests, without the fear of missing out on their test prep and “falling behind.”
Now, however, there’s a different story.
Because of the new schedule, there isn’t a break from testing. There’s an SAT every 1-2 months, from the first test you take spring semester of junior year until the last college application is due (March, May, June, August, October, November, December). And it’s the same for the ACT, which has test dates spread out evenly every 1-2 months year round (February, April, June, July, September, October, December).
So, this poses the question: if the Test Prep Fairy isn’t going to grant me a break, how will I know which tests to take without burning out?
So glad you asked! Because, as YOUR Test Prep Fairy, I have some answers. You CAN get the mental break you need. In fact, you have to actively TAKE your break. It just requires consciously planning ahead (surprise, surprise—that's pretty much the secret of staying sane through test prep and college applications, though I know it's easier said than done, especially without expert help!).
Here are some parameters to help you out, direct from my decade of experience helping students achieve the scores they need.
How Many Tests to Plan For
1) Regular SAT or ACT: Plan for 2-3 sittings. This score is the most important standardized test score you'll send to any college, and between Super Scoring and improving your test-taking skills, three sittings can be worth it.
2) SAT 2 Subject Tests: Allow for 1-2 sittings. If you don't get the score you want on the first sitting, you'll have time to study content and strategy before going back to try again.
When to Get On the Testing Train
1) If you need extra time to learn all your content and strategies for the SAT or ACT, then maybe you don’t start taking them the first opportunity early spring. So, instead of the March SAT or February ACT, maybe you begin YOUR testing in May (for the SAT) or April (for the ACT).
2) On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re super advanced—like, hot-shot junior curve-breaker advanced—it’s plausible you could start your testing cycle December of junior year for either test.
3) If you’re in the middle, plan on your first sitting being on March for the SAT and February for the ACT.
When You'll Need to Be Finished with Testing
1) If you have Early Decision or Early Action schools, plan to have all testing for those schools finished by September or early October.
2) For regular decision schools, you could entertain late October, November, and possibly December, depending on the application due dates.
3) Remember that you’re also writing all your college applications during the fall of senior year, so you might want to be finished by the time the school year begins!
Other Important Considerations
1) SAT 2 Subject Tests
If you need to take Subject Tests AND the regular SAT I, you have to divi-up the 7 SAT test dates to make sure you have 2-3 shots at the SAT and 1-2 shots for Subject Tests. (Remember, the March date is for the regular SAT I only.)
If APs, finals, and final projects conflict with the June test dates of the SAT or ACT, you might consider skipping it and doing the summer test date instead.
3) Big Summer Plans
If you KNOW you have a prestigious music camp every July and August, you’re not going to be able to take those summer test dates…which means you should probably NOT sit out June or early fall dates.
Trust me: it’s SO MUCH EASIER to continue prepping than it is to prep, take a test, stop, and then get going again. If you can help it, taking your tests in a row will cut down on your overall study time.
As you can see, there’s always a give and take. (If constructing a testing timeline that maxed out your scores and kept you sane were easy, you wouldn't be reading my blog!)
For instance, if you need more time to prep before you start taking your tests, AND you have Early Decision applications, AND you have band camp all July…well, you’re not gonna be able to take off the June test dates for finals, or you won’t have the necessary 2-3 test dates before your applications are due.
Or if you can start early spring and need to divvy up your test dates to take both the regular SAT AND your Subject Tests before Early Action deadlines, you have a choice: take off June for finals, take off August for summer plans, OR take off October to work on applications…but you only get one.
In other words, you DO get to take a break, but you have to consciously select it in advance, and not change your plan!