Students who take the SAT need to master subjects like algebra, grammar, and vocabulary. But the most challenging part of the SAT, especially for international students, often involves logistics. The process of preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT spans anywhere between nine and eighteen months. Students need time to find out universities’ testing requirements, study exam material, choose their testing dates, and complete all testing before application deadlines.
Counterintuitively, students who are planning on taking these exams should not look to the immediate future but rather should look backwards from their expected application date.
University Deadlines & Requirements
Students should check the testing requirements of their prospective universities. Some require no testing at all; others require extensive testing, including SAT/ACT, SAT Subject Tests, and, possibly, TOEFL. If students aren’t sure where they will apply, they still should prepare for testing just in case. Moreover, universities that don’t require testing will still accept scores and will still be impressed by strong scores. So, preparation behooves almost everyone.
The deadline for many U.S. universities is January 1 of a student’s final year of high school. That’s 12th grade (or senior year) in the American system, Year 13 (or upper sixth) in the British system, and DP2 in International Baccalaureate. Some universities have optional Early Action or Early Decision deadlines, which are typically November 1. Students should expect to sit for two SAT’s or ACT’s and one round of Subject Tests before their intended deadline. Many students take the SAT or ACT three times.
To meet these goals, students who are more than a year out should follow the following timeline. International students should always register for SAT/ACT at least three months in advance. If students are going to seek tutoring, it’s essential that their studying is appropriate and effective. That’s where ArborBridge comes in.
Students will, on occasion, take a practice exam and/or do light studying in 10th grade. Students will often take the Practice SAT (PSAT) in 10th grade. The PSAT is administered on a school-by-school basis. It is intended largely for practice; a very small number of students qualify for National Merit Scholarships based on their PSAT scores. 10th graders should not so much follow a schedule as they should be aware of what lies ahead. They should be mindful of their 11th grade course load; if it’s going to be a tough year (and it often is), then they may have more reason to begin the testing process early.
There’s no doubt that 11th grade is the most crucial year for standardized testing (it’s also the most crucial year for grades). Students should remain mindful of testing throughout the year and carve out time for studying well in advance.
- June – November: Take diagnostic SAT and/or ACT. Decide which exam to commit to.
- January/February: Take first exam
- January – May: Study for second SAT/ACT; sign up for May SAT or ACT
- April – May: Choose and study for Subject Tests (up to three); sign up for Subject Tests
- May or June: Take second exam; take SAT Subject Tests (if required)
- June: Receive second SAT scores. Compare scores against average scores of target universities.
- June – September: Study for third SAT (if needed)
Early-application schools will accept scores from the November test date, so that date is often the last chance for students to bump up their scores. Later test dates should be reserved only if students are definitely not applying early or if their October scores are disappointing. Another reason to complete testing early is that the applications themselves require a lot of work. A student should never have to compromise his or her application essays in favor of SAT studying.
- October: Take third exam (if needed)
- November 1: Early Action / Early Decision Deadline
- November: Take final exam (if needed)
- January 1: Regular Deadline (most universities)
- Spring: receive tons of good news from colleges!
(All class years are in the American system and assume a traditional September – May school calendar.)
Of course, this timeline varies by student. It’s certainly possible to do great on the SAT or ACT with limited preparation, and nobody has a completely clear calendar. No matter what, long-range planning is an important skill that all high school students should learn, and the SAT offers a great opportunity to develop that skill. If all goes well, great scores and less stress will be the results!