Standardized Tests: What to Take and When

Academic Guidance

Standardized Tests: What to Take and When

If you’re in high school and plan to apply to college, chances are you’re taking a lot of standardized tests. There’s the SAT, ACT, AP tests, SAT Subject tests—the list seems to go on and on! Because there are so many standardized tests to take, it’s important to plan out when you’re going to prepare for and officially take these tests. The average student takes the SAT/ACT three times, but it’s fine to take it five times. You only get the opportunity to take AP tests once a year, and it’s okay to take Subject tests once or twice.


I recommend preparing for the SAT or ACT the summer before junior year (11th grade). Colleges don’t care which test you submit, but most require one or the other. Some colleges used to exempt ACT test-takers from submitting any SAT Subject tests because the ACT ostensibly seems to cover more subjects, but that’s no longer the case. The SAT consists of three different sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. The ACT has four sections: English, Math, Reading, Science, and an optional fifth Writing section (however, you should definitely opt to take the Writing portion of the ACT).


If you prepare well the summer before junior year, you should be able to get the SAT or ACT out of the way that fall or early that winter. I recommend three main dates for the SAT because the testing service only offers the full Question & Answer Service (which provides you with the test booklet, your answer choices, and the correct answers) on those dates: October, January, and May. Hopefully, you’ll be done with the SAT by May though, so that you may focus on AP tests in the spring. I recommend taking SAT Subject tests on the June date, preferably in subjects in which you were in the honors or AP class. AP Classes prepare you very well for Subject tests because the same company (College Board) designs both tests; however, definitely make sure to take some practice SAT Subject tests before you go in for the real thing too!