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How Early Should You Take the SAT or ACT?

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The mere idea of standardized testing for college can send many students and their families into a panic.   When should they start thinking about the test?  How should they prepare?  Because of this worry about getting a head start, more and more students feel compelled to take their standardized tests earlier and earlier.  It’s not unusual these days for students to sign up for the SAT or ACT as early as the fall of their sophomore year either “just to see”. And get some early experience. Or because they are interested in athletic recruiting and feel pressure to present a test score to a prospective coach.

For those considering this early test strategy, here are some words of advice:  

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Don’t do your standardized testing for college admissions on the early side unless you feel that you are truly ready.

While it is true that many colleges may give you a pass if you don’t score well in your sophomore year or even early in your junior year. And some schools will not require you to send in all (or any) of your test scores if you choose not to. Several of the more selective schools out there will want to see all of your scores for a given test. And will scrutinize your performance on all of them.

When it comes to standardized testing, most often, students will score better the further along they are in their high school careers.  It makes sense.  The older you are, the more you’ve learned, and the better you are likely to perform.

If you push yourself to take the test early, and you don’t do well, how will that make you feel?  For many students who have high expectations, not doing well on their first “official” standardized test can serve to demotivate. And add significant stress to all future testing.  As a student, it is important to try to understand what kind of an impact not scoring well will have on your psyche.  Are you the kind of kid who will shut down and believe that you are destined to have weaker test scores no matter what?  Or, will not doing well slide off of you and have little impact on any future performance?

I’m not insisting that a student shouldn’t take the SAT or ACT earlier than the norm.  Every student has to do what is right for him or her.  I’m only suggesting that students be sure that they are prepared. Feel ready to take the test, and have managed their own expectations about how they may perform.
Taking an SAT or ACT too early can have lasting effects on a students’ college admissions profiles and on their self-confidence.  So, before you decide to take that standardized test on the early side, be sure to ask yourself: “What’s the rush?”

Andrea Aronson
College Admissions Consultant
Westfield, NJ


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