You have the opportunity to take the SAT seven times in a single school year. Plus, there’s no age minimum for when you can start taking the exam, and you can take it as many times as you want. With so many variables, it is only natural that you would wonder when to take the SAT. You’re also probably thinking yourself how long should I study for the SAT before taking it.
Short answer: There is no one perfect SAT study schedule that works for everyone.
In reality, there are a number of factors that influence when you, as a unique individual, should start preparing for and taking an exam that is such a critical piece of your college applications.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- when to take the SAT, and when not to, depending on your personal circumstances, of course
- how long you should study for the SAT (the answer may surprise you)
- what factors you should consider before creating an SAT study schedule
The SAT is offered 7 times a year on these dates, so you do have some flexibility in terms of your SAT study timeline. But you need to make a solid testing plan now, that way you’re not cramming later on.
Answer these key questions to figure out when to take the SAT.
1. What grade are you currently in?
If you are in 10th grade, consider taking the PSAT. This test has several benefits, including:
- familiarizing yourself with SAT test questions and formatting
- a simulation of a real SAT testing environment
- understanding your academic strengths and weaknesses, which could inform your SAT testing timeline
- practice for taking the PSAT in 11th grade, which you need to do to qualify for the National Merit Scholarship competition
- you could pique the interest of schools you might want to go to
If you are in 9th grade, it may be too early to think about testing. Instead, focus on adjusting to high school life, maintaining a high GPA, and joining extracurriculars, such as clubs and high school internships.
If you’re currently in 11th grade, take the SAT as soon as possible. It gives you valuable information about your strengths and weaknesses on the SAT and informs your SAT study strategy. Then, you can improve your scores and send in your best score (unless your first exam score is satisfactory for your target schools.)
Ideally, you should have your best SAT scores by the time you’re applying for colleges. Many students take the SAT a second time in August, October, or November of their senior year.
If you’re in the 12th grade and haven’t taken the SAT at all, take the very next one available. Then, you might be able to take the SAT a second time before your target schools’ college application deadlines.
2. What level of math are you currently in?
The SAT Math section contains questions from Algebra I all the way through to Trigonometry. Fortunately, only 10% of the SAT Math section contains questions related to Trigonometry.
If you took Algebra II in your sophomore year of high school, you’ll be ready to take the SAT in 11th grade. If you’re an 11th grader taking Algebra II, then you probably won’t do well on that section.
That’s not to say that students in Algebra II can’t take the SAT. If your target schools only ask for your best SAT scores, then consider taking the SAT in 11th grade no matter what. It is a low-stakes way to practice the other sections of the SAT, and get a feel for your pacing in each section.
Related: These are SAT math tips for students who sat in the back of math class.
3. What are the busiest times of the year for you?
Many sources suggest that you should take your SATs in the spring of your junior year of high school, and for good reason. Testing right before summer gives you an idea of what to focus on throughout summer to prepare you for a second round of testing in your senior year.
But for a lot of students, May is the busiest time of the year. AP exams, major recitals or performances, college recruiting, and scholarship applications – among a number of other possible commitments – happen around the spring of junior year.
If you have major commitments like these looming at the end of junior year, consider testing in December or February of 11th grade instead. Just make sure to register for exams in time, or you’ll miss your chance to practice before later test dates.
Related: These are the hardest AP classes and which ones are worth taking to meet your academic and personal goals.
4. When and how are you applying to your target schools?
If you are applying early decision (usually by November of your senior year) or early action (earlier than the regular deadline) you need to have your scores ready earlier than other applicants.
5. How much have you prepared for the SAT already?
If you’ve spent months preparing for the SAT in 11th grade or the summer before your senior year, then you’re ready to take the exam. If you have the option to take it twice, consider studying some more and taking the exam again.
But if you haven’t really prepared at all, and you have time before the college application deadlines, wait to take the SAT. Come up with an SAT study timeline, then approach the exam with confidence.
How to determine your SAT study timeline:
Most SAT study schedule recommendations are standardized timelines that don’t take your individual academic and personal needs into consideration. Just like education, there is no “one size fits all” approach to preparing for the SAT.
These are the basic steps you should take, so that you can figure out when to begin preparing for the SAT, and how much time to dedicate to studying each week:
- Look into what scores you need to get into your target schools, get scholarships, etc.
- Take the actual test once, if you can, before your senior year. Otherwise, take a full length practice exam to get a feel for how you would do on the SAT if you had to take it tomorrow.
- Find out how much of a gap there is between what you know content-wise and what’s tested on the SAT. This will let you know what you have to “catch up” on.
- Determine how much time you have to dedicate to studying each week. Ideally, you want to spend at least 10 hours every week studying for the SAT. But if you don’t have that much time to spare, you will need a larger span of time to practice for the SAT.
- See if there are any SAT study sessions that can help you improve your scores faster than if you studied alone.
- Sit for the exam a second time, if possible.
You might have to cram for the exam if you’re running out of time during your senior year. In that case, find a crash course in SAT prep to prepare as fast as possible.
Note: Do not take the SAT more than 3 times. It makes you look desperate (no offense.) Study hard, and take the test when you’re confident that you can do well on it.
You are fully capable of building a study schedule that works for you.
But if you struggle to stick to a schedule, or don’t understand how to go about improving your SAT scores, then you need some external structure to motivate and educate you.
Specifically, look into an SAT prep course. You can study throughout the week, or on the weekends, to efficiently improve your SAT test scores (and increase your chances of getting into the college of your choice.)