Test Prep

Should You Take the SAT or ACT Before Your Junior Year?

iStock

My go-to advice for anyone planning to apply to college is almost always the same: start early. The more knowledge you gain, the more informed you’ll be when it’s time to craft your list of target schools — things like cost of attendance, selectivity and average SAT or ACT scores can all play a role in determining where you’ll apply. However, there’s one question I get asked time and again for which I would have to say don’t start too early.

“Should I take the SAT or ACT as a first-year or sophomore in high school?”


The short answer is “No.” The long answer is, as with any part of the college application process, complicated. Here are a few reasons why it’s usually a better idea to wait to take the official SAT or ACT until a bit later.

More Time = More Knowledge

Most students undergo their first test administration during the spring of junior year. That’s because a lot of the concepts tested require knowledge you won’t gain until that point in your high school curriculum. Now, I’m not saying that no one should take these tests early — if you’re enrolled in advanced classes for your grade and feel comfortable with the material, go for it! — but a good way to gauge whether you’re ready is to take a free practice test for the SAT or ACT beforehand. Doing so will tell you whether the concepts you’ve yet to cover in your classes will hold you back from getting the score you want.

More Tests = More Expensive

Another reason to wait is a financial one. Registration for either test comes with its own set of fees — all of which add up! Besides the standard registration fees (which can range from around $50 to around $70), you’ll be charged upwards of $12 for each score report you send to your prospective schools. Sure, the first four are free of charge (well, included in the fees), but those choices have to be made before the test itself, meaning you could be submitting a subpar score. Plus, even assuming you already know which schools you want to attend, consider how likely it is that your opinion may change by your junior or senior year.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take the test more than once — in fact, it’s totally acceptable to take the SAT or ACT a few times — but you should arm yourself with the skills necessary to hit your target score before even your first go on either test. Think of it as taking an uneducated guess in a science experiment — you’d rather shed some light on the test than make a mistake in the lab, right?

More Practice = More Perfect

In short, rather than just diving head-first into the standardized testing game, I recommend you spend your first two years of high school gathering as much information as you can. From course work to outside test prep, you can build a personalized strategy with which to approach the SAT or ACT. In particular, determining the sections where you need more conceptual knowledge, what kinds of passages cause issues, and where you need to work on your pacing can help set you up for success on test day.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to test prep, whether you need content review, go-to section approaches or just general testing tips and tricks, we have you covered with our line of books including Cracking the SAT and Cracking the ACT.