Juniors and seniors may be considering fall ACT and SAT testing.  Diving in headfirst without planning can result in less than optimal test scores and a series of problems.

Seniors

Most seniors testing are actually in a retest scenario knowing that 57% of all students improve their ACT score on a second attempt. If you’ve only tested once as a junior, retesting is recommended.  The higher your starting score the less likely you are to improve on a subsequent attempt.

For seniors who have already tested more than once, you need to know what is at stake if you are to invest time in testing again. Remember, most improvements come on the second attempt, not the third or fourth.

Do you even need to improve?  If an improvement is the difference between getting in or big scholarship dollars, then go for it!  However, testing and the prep you should do prior to test day is going to take time away from completing applications.  At the same time you also need to keep your grades up in the senior year as many colleges will ask for updated mid-year transcripts in January. Senior year is not the time to slack!

If you still think testing is the right thing to do, carefully consider your timing.  Early Decision deadlines are typically the first of November making the late September ACT and early October SAT the last comfortable testing dates. Even Early Action deadlines are not much later with most by early to mid-December.  You’ll want to leave time to receive your scores a little more than two weeks after the test date, review them and finally decide which to send to the colleges to which you are applying.

Juniors

Many juniors are anxious to get the college selection process underway and want to begin testing early in the junior year.  To do so before you have a good deal of algebra II completed would be a mistake.  Both the ACT and SAT max out with algebra II concepts, so testing too early may result than lower than desired math scores.

Remember, all juniors take the PSAT in October.  If you are a top student and subsequently have likely taken algebra 2 already, you may want to consider taking the October 5th SAT as a warm up.  It’s longer and tougher than the PSAT, but could be good practice especially if you’ve not take the PSAT or SAT before.

For juniors, the most important thing is to plan your testing timeline early.  Tips for developing the optimal testing schedule are in LEAP’s previous post, Timing is Everything with Testing.

Regardless of where you are in the testing process, never leave it unplanned.