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When Is the Best Time to Take the ACT/SAT?

The answer is: It depends. It depends on where you are in the high school math sequence, the strength of your overall curriculum, whether you’re ok with standardized tests or if they spook you. “Early” test taking is still December of junior year.

The ACT is an achievement test. It is content based, on knowledge gained through college preparatory courses through the junior year. It is not a surprise that research indicates 11th graders who perform well in a strong college prep curriculum often achieve their best scores in April or June of their junior year. The state of Illinois will offer the ACT to all public high school juniors (without writing) this year in April. (It is under discussion at this time whether this practice will continue.) See the ACT website: for more information, dates and deadlines.

The SAT is designed as an aptitude test. See the College Board website: for dates and deadlines. The three sections include Critical Reading, Math and Writing; however, colleges are mainly looking at the reading and math. The writing sections of both tests can be used for college placement or to compare writing styles with that of a submitted essay. It is rarely used for admission beyond a minimum ability, which should demonstrate college readiness.

One way to determine which test speaks to your best abilities is to analyze your PLAN test (sophomore year) and PSAT test (optional sophomore/junior year) results. Some students take one each of the ACT and SAT, then concentrate on preparing for the test they were most comfortable with and the one in which they performed their best.

Preparation and retaking a test can help, but beware of taking tests an excessive number of times. Some highly selective schools request all scores and see excessive test taking as a negative.

Also beware of any company that “guarantees” a student’s test score will increase by a certain number if you sign up with them. If the measurement is from a first test taken in the sophomore or early junior year, statistics show scores go up naturally as a result of more high school course preparation. There are reasonable cost test preparation vehicles through ACT, The College Board, Princeton Review ( and print.

Test scores can be important at many colleges; however, nothing says “I’m ready for college level work” more than consistent grades in strong academic courses. Standardized test scores are also “optional” at many colleges. See for a list of test-optional schools.

In addition, many highly selective colleges also require SAT Subject Tests (previously called “Achievement Tests” and “SAT II’s”.

Contact us at Ravinia College Consulting if you’d like help determining your optimum standardized testing schedule or if you would benefit from any individualized help with your college preparation, search and/or application process.

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