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SAT/ACT and PSAT Testing Schedule for Most Students

For most students, here's a testing schedule that gives you the best chance of getting the score you want. It makes sure you test early, gives yourself room to improve, and builds in enough buffer time so that you can get the score you want before college applications are due.

Step 1: Take the PSAT as a Junior. If you’re aiming for National Merit, you will want to prepare for this test. For most students, no need to prepare - use this as an opportunity to get early exposure to the SAT. For the ACT, you might take the ACT as part of your statewide testing or the ACT Aspire program.

Step 2: Take the January SAT/ACT as a Junior. Use winter break as time to prepare for this test. Make sure you have a study plan, and take at least one or two full-length practice tests before the real test so you become accustomed to the format. This will be your first official test, so it'll give you your starting score that you'll improve on.

Step 3: Take the May or June SAT/ACT as a Junior. You’ll need to prep for this test. Make sure you have a long-term study schedule during the school year to make sure you factor in enough time to study. Decide between May or June depending on your personal schedule to reduce stress, as I mentioned above. You're likely to improve your score just by taking the test a second time.

At this point, it’s very possible that your May/June SAT or ACT score is good enough for the colleges that you’re applying for. If you still want to improve, then take these next steps

Step 4: Study hard during the summer, and take the September ACT or the October SAT as a Senior. From Steps 2 and 3, you'll know how much room you need to grow in your score. You need to work really hard during the summer, even at the expense of social life or personal fun. (It's well worth it, as a higher score will get you access to better colleges and scholarships).

Step 5: If you're still not satisfied, you have one last shot as a Senior for the November/December SAT and ACT. This is the last chance - if you're still far from your SAT/ACT score target, I recommend that you drop as much as you can to improve your test score. This means reducing your extracurricular load, social life, and even schoolwork to concentrate on this test.

For most students, we recommend you try to study at least 40 hours for the SAT or ACT to see a big score improvement. If you can study more than this - 80, 120 hours - you'll be rewarded with higher test scores.

If you've already taken the test several times, but don’t have time to prep for your next test, you’re unlikely to see a big score improvement. This is an unfortunate truth, but without learning more, you won't improve your score.

It’s better to schedule the test for a time when you can dedicate focused study time to test prep. For example, many students like scheduling the test after winter break or right after summer so they can take advantage of free time to put in serious study hours.

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