Creating an ACT/SAT Testing Plan
There is no other way around it–for college-bound students, 11th grade is the year of lots of testing. The list usually includes PSATs, ACTs, SATs, and perhaps even APs and SAT Subject Tests. Count on it: you will spend many hours taking these exams and filling in multiple-choice bubbles with no. 2 pencils. One of the best things you can do for yourself (and if you are a parent or guidance counselor, your students) is go into the testing with a plan.
SAT vs. ACT
The biggest decision to be made is whether to focus on the SAT or the ACT. Sure, there are test-optional schools, but it is best to also have the option to apply to schools that require testing. For almost all of these schools, the SAT or ACT is going to be required. However, these are fundamentally different tests, and you may find that one that is more to your liking than another. So how do you figure out which test is better suited for you?
Probably the best way to determine this is by taking practice tests for both tests. You can find a free, official SAT practice test on Khan Academy’s website and ACT gives students access to free, official ACT practice test questions. If you are still unsure, you can certainly take both tests as “a test” to determine which suits you best.
When to take the tests?
I usually recommend that students take at least one testing in the spring (March or May for the SAT, and February or June for the ACT). This will give you a little bit more wiggle room if you need to take SAT Subject Tests in June. This will also give you a “baseline” score going into the summer; if you want to increase your score, you have plenty of time to prep for a fall testing.
Below are the dates for both the SAT and ACT:
Students can register online for all of these test dates.
How do I know if I need to take SAT Subject Tests?
This really depends on what your college list winds up looking like, so keep that in mind. However, if you really want to play it safe, you can aim to take two subject tests in June. June is an ideal time to take subject tests because it is at the end of the school year. For example, you will have a had a full semester/year of Chemistry before you take the Chemistry Subject Test.
If you are an ACT test taker, you typically don’t have to take Subject Tests (but again, there are always exceptions, such as Georgetown, which asks for THREE SAT Subject Tests).
If you are looking at schools that might ask for subject tests, my recommendation would be to take them.
So, which SAT Subject Tests do you take?
Math is always a good bet, as it is typically aligned to your high school math curriculum (which means no outside prep required). Math comes in two levels (Math Level I and Math Level II), so there should be a test that is at your level of math (Math Level II covers higher level content). Some colleges/programs (notably, engineering programs), may also recommend specific subject tests (which means that you should take them), so keep that in mind too.
Testing is only one part of the admissions process, but it is an important part of it for many, many schools. By the end of junior year, you should aim to have at least one testing under your belt (SAT or ACT) and possibly two June SAT Subject Tests. This will give you a great baseline going into the summer about where you need to improve (or perhaps you will be done after one testing!). Remember, you will still have other opportunities to take the SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests in the fall, but given the craziness of the fall (applications, interviews, essays, etc.), it is key to get started now.