When Do You Take the SAT? A Guide to SAT Dates
In a world where many colleges and scholarship programs still require standardized test scores, determining when to take the SAT is an especially critical part of the admissions process. While most students take the SAT during their junior year of high school, some start taking it as early as their sophomore year, and others keep testing well into their senior year of high school. It all depends on your test-taking goals, target universities, and current aptitude.
The trick is to start taking tests early enough that you can get a little practice under your belt, but not so early that you haven’t had sufficient time to study. It’s a bit of a balancing act, which is why we created this guide to help you figure out exactly when to prepare for, register for, and take the SAT. Here’s what you need to know.
- The SAT is offered seven times a year in March, May, June, August, October, November, and December.
- It takes two to four weeks to receive an SAT score report. Plan to take the test at least four weeks before any scholarship or college application deadlines.
- You should plan to take the SAT test at least twice. However, some students may want to take it more than twice, depending on their testing confidence and goal score.
When is the SAT offered?
The College Board always offers the SAT seven times over the course of the year. Test dates are nearly always on Saturdays and are administered during the following months: March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. (Note that this is true for U.S. students, but the details may differ for international students.) For a full list of SAT test date offerings, visit the College Board website.
If you can’t make a testing day for religious reasons, it’s possible to request a different test date. You can also request a new date if unforeseen circumstances inhibit your ability to make your original test date. These types of conflicts must be out of your control and fall into specific categories, like school-sanctioned conflicts, athletic competitions, or illnesses. You usually have to have some proof of the circumstance in order to request a new test date.
How to choose the best SAT test date for you
The short answer is that you should take the SAT two to four weeks before you need to have your scores. That said, there are many other factors to weigh, including early decision college application deadlines, the amount of preparation you’ll need, and which colleges are on your list. Here are some questions to ask yourself.
What year of high school are you in?
Most students take the SAT for the first time during the fall of their junior year. That way, if the first SAT doesn’t go as planned, it’s easy to retake — in the spring of your junior year, over the summer, or during the fall of your senior year.
If you’ve already started the 12th grade and haven’t taken the SAT, register for one ASAP. If you take a test in August or October, you’ll have time to take it again later in the fall if necessary.
High school seniors will also need to consider college and scholarship application deadlines. Usually, if you can secure a test date before December, that should provide ample time to receive your test scores before college applications are due. (Test scores usually take two to four weeks to arrive.)
What type of college do you want to attend?
Different colleges and universities have different expectations around test scores, so choosing where to apply is an important step in choosing when to take the SAT. Today, many schools have stopped requiring SATs or other entrance exams for college admissions. However, if you perform well on the test, your results can give your application a boost. This is especially important if you don’t have the strongest GPA.
If you’d like to attend a highly selective college or university, you’ll need a top SAT score. That means you’ll need to spend more time preparing. If you aim to attend a less traditional or selective school, your SAT score might not factor into the college admissions process as much. In this case, you may want to spend more time applying for scholarships or writing essays and slightly less time preparing for the SAT.
Are you going to apply early decision or early action?
If you decide to apply early decision or early action to a certain school, that will affect your college application deadlines — which will in turn affect your best SAT test dates. For most schools, the early decision or early action deadline is November 1 or 15. Students must have all materials, including their SAT scores, turned in by this date.
To hit this deadline, early application students will need to take the SAT over the summer, so either the June or August test dates. Students should be able to take the test in October and still receive their scores in time. However, the fall of senior year is a busy, stressful semester, so planning ahead is highly recommended.
When are your college applications due?
If you’re not planning to apply early, schedule your test date according to regular college application deadlines. If your applications are due January 1 or 15, you can take the test as late as December.
However, as mentioned above, taking the test earlier might prove less stressful. A number of colleges accept applications into the spring. If this is the case with your target schools, you can take the December test with no qualms.
Do your scholarship applications require SAT scores?
If scholarships are a part of your plan to afford college (and they should be), take a careful look at the application requirements and deadlines for each award. Some scholarship applications are due around the same time as college applications while others are open on a rolling basis or due later in the year. If a scholarship requires test scores, make sure you’ll have yours in before the application deadline.
Do you want to take the SAT multiple times?
According to the College Board, 63% of students increase their SAT scores when they retest. Taking the SAT more than once gives you an opportunity to familiarize yourself with the test, find a routine that works for you, and build confidence. If you have the time and means to take the SAT multiple times within an academic year, it’s highly recommended to do so.
That said, it’s also important to leave enough time between SAT dates to study. If you want to give yourself the best chance of improving your score, avoid testing in back-to-back months. So, rather than signing up for tests in May and June, consider registering for May and August instead.
How much time do you need to prepare for the SAT?
Many test prep experts recommend starting to study for the SAT as early as your sophomore year of high school. SAT prep doesn’t have to take over your life, but you should dedicate a good chunk of time to it. Think of it as another class you need to do homework for — you might not have to do it every day, but building regular SAT prep into your routine will give you a better chance of earning a higher score.
According to one oft-cited rule, students should spend a minimum of 40 hours doing SAT prep. That can mean taking SAT practice tests, reading SAT prep books, working with a tutor or study group, enrolling in a prep course, or even just practicing math problems on your own.
If you plan to take the test in the spring of your junior year, consider dedicating your fall semester to studying. Or, if you’re scheduled to take the SAT in the fall of your senior year, plan to spend your summer taking practice exams and prep courses.
What obligations do you have that could interfere with testing?
Entrance exams are not easy to reschedule, so be sure to comb through your calendar for potential conflicts before you book a test day. That includes both family obligations and extracurricular activities. Say you’re a competitive cross country runner, for example. If you know that you usually have meets on Saturdays during the fall, consider scheduling your SAT test before the season begins.
Which testing centers have availability near you?
Some test dates are more popular than others. Keep in mind that you may need to sign up far before the registration deadline to secure a spot at the location closest to you. Ultimately, though, dates take priority. If you have to take the test in August to hit your college application deadlines, an hour-long drive to the closest available testing location is probably worth it.
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SAT test date FAQs:
Making sense of the SAT could be a high school subject all on its own. Below, you’ll find the answers to frequently asked questions (and even some persistent rumors).
How many times should you take the SAT?
This one’s up to you, though most experts recommend taking the test at least twice if possible. According to Harvard research, the average high school student’s SAT score rose 90 points when they took the test a second time.
Most colleges and universities allow “score choice,” which means students can submit only their highest score or even a superscore. (A superscore is created by cherry-picking the highest scores from each section of the test to create a higher combined score.)
If you have the time and the means to take the test three times, go for it. But the general school of thought is that two times is sufficient.
Are the SAT and ACT offered at the same time?
No. Both the SAT and the ACT are offered seven times each during the calendar year, but they’re administered on different dates. This means you can take both tests according to admissions schedules.
Should you take the ACT or the SAT?
Many students take both the ACT and the SAT. Some like to take both tests to see which they perform better on, then take that test a second time to optimize their score. Other students prefer to choose just one test to invest their time in if they already know that one is better suited to your strengths.
The primary difference between the two tests is that the ACT has four sections, including a science portion, while the SAT only has three sections: reading, writing/language, and math.
Another distinction is that there are some problems in the math section of the SAT that do not allow you to use a calculator. On the ACT test, the entire math section can be completed with the help of a calculator.
If you tend to favor math and science, the ACT might be a better test for you. If you consider yourself more of a language and liberal-arts type, the SAT could be a better place to showcase your strengths.
A smart way to determine which test suits your skills is to take practice tests of each. Many high schools facilitate these types of practice tests. If yours doesn’t, you can practice at home. Be sure to time yourself and try to simulate test day conditions as much as you can.
When you get your scores, compare your ACT score percentile to your SAT score percentile. If you were in a higher percentile in one test versus the other, that might be the better one to prioritize. If your scores on both tests are similar in a practice environment, it could be worth taking both in an actual test environment to decide.
Are PSAT dates different from SAT dates?
Yes. The PSAT/NMSQT (short for Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test) is offered annually. The College Board typically chooses three dates in October: one weekday, one weekend, and one alternate date to account for religious observances. The test is typically administered to students in their sophomore year or junior year of high school.
Unlike the SAT, the PSAT/NMSQT is administered by high schools each year instead of by independent test centers. Due to this difference, students must take the PSAT on the date selected by their high school. If you can’t take the test on that date for religious reasons, you can contact the College Board to arrange a different date.
Are AP exam dates different from SAT exam dates?
Yes. AP exams are administered annually. Typically, they’re offered during the first two weeks of May beginning at 8:00 AM and 12:00 PM each day. Like the old SAT subject tests, the AP exams test specific areas of coursework. AP exams are also a helpful and cost-effective way to test out of college courses and earn credit while still in high school.
Do I need to take SAT subject tests?
Nope. While SAT subject tests used to be a staple of the college admissions process, they’ve since been discontinued. As of January 2021, the College Board stopped offering SAT subject tests. That means you can cross this extra standardized test off your to-do list.
When should you start prepping for the SAT?
Most students spend two to three months (or 40 total hours) preparing for the SAT exam.
That said, different students will need to spend different amounts of time preparing. It all depends on your familiarity with the test, test-taking and college admissions goals. If you haven’t yet taken your first SAT, your PSAT score can provide a helpful estimate as to how well you’ll do on the SAT.
The PSAT, which is offered to high school sophomores, is designed to be very similar to the SAT. It’s a great way to build familiarity with standardized testing. It’s also a good benchmark score. Once you have your base score from the PSAT, you can tailor your study plan to fit your needs. If your school doesn’t offer the PSAT, you can take a practice SAT test online to get a sense of how much you need to study.
The selectivity of the universities on your list will also dictate the amount of time you’ll need to spend studying. Do some research into your prospective schools and determine how much of an improvement in your test score you’ll need to get within their admissions range.
When should you register for the SAT?
You should register for a test as soon as you’ve decided on a test date. The registration deadline is usually one month before the test date, but the earlier you sign up, the more likely you’ll be able to get a spot at the testing center that’s most convenient for you.
If you’ve just decided to take the test and it’s within a month of the test date, you can still sign up under the late registration deadline (with a $30 fee). These dates vary but are typically two weeks before the test date.
How much does the SAT cost?
The College Board offers fee waivers for students who qualify. For all other students, it costs $60 to take the SAT. This doesn’t factor in the costs of prep books, practice tests, study groups, or other test-prep tools. These kinds of resources can be expensive, which is another reason most experts recommend taking the SAT just twice instead of six or seven times.
Can 10th graders take the SAT?
Yes. Students in their sophomore year are welcome to take the SAT. However, the test is designed to assess what a student has learned up through their junior year of high school. Because sophomores may not have encountered all the necessary coursework by that time, they’re less likely to earn a competitive score.
How soon do you get your scores after you take the SAT?
This varies based on when and where you take your test. If you take the SAT on a Saturday during the school year, your results will generally be available two weeks from your test date. If you take it on an alternate date, it could take up to four weeks to receive your scores.
If you take a summer exam, your score report could take slightly longer to be released.
Are certain test dates easier than others?
This is a common myth. According to legend, some test dates are easier than others because the test is purported to be graded on a curve. But this is false. The SAT is not graded on a curve. Every test date carries the same level of difficulty. The easiest test date for you will be the one for which you are the most prepared.
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Preparing for the SAT is an essential part of the college admissions process. Ultimately, deciding when to register for a test day involves some careful calculations. You’ll have to figure out when you’ll be sufficiently prepared to earn a competitive score, when your college applications are due, and whether you hope to take the SAT multiple times before submitting your final apps.
You’ll also need to keep scholarship deadlines in mind. While not all colleges and universities require SAT scores these days, many scholarship programs still do. You’ll need to have SAT scores in-hand to fill out many financial aid applications — which means you’ll have to have some scholarships picked out before you register for your first SAT test date.
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