When Should I Take the SAT or ACT?

David Kerman

How do you know if it’s too late to take the test?

The most popular questions that I get at this time of year are about test dates. How do you know if the SAT date that you’ve chosen is too late? What if you take the ACT before the application deadline but the scores aren’t released until weeks afterward? In short—what is the “perfect” test date? 

The short answer is that there is no one perfect date. It all comes down to what’s right for you and your college search. The specifics of your chosen test dates will come down to the type of test that you’re choosing to take, the application deadlines that you choose, and in some cases, where you live. With that in mind, there are some specifics that you’ll want to make note of when choosing a test date. I’m here to break those down for you.

A student working on their laptop.

What Are My Options?

For the most part, students within the United States will be able to choose from monthly test dates. Depending on the state that you live in, you might find that some months might not have a test date. For that reason, it’s crucial that you plan in advance so that you can be sure that you’ll receive your score in time to be used for your application. As long as you take the exam before your intended application deadline, we should get the score in time. For more details, check out NYU’s policy.

SAT and ACT test dates are not the same. If you plan on taking both tests, you’ll need to check the schedule for each exam. Luckily, both the ACT and the College Board (overseer of the SAT) post these dates pretty clearly on their websites.

If you live outside of the United States, you might have access to fewer test dates. This means that you might need to plan further in advance, especially if you’ll need to travel a long distance to the test center. It’s important to remember that international test dates don’t always match those for U.S. students. But don’t worry—you’ll find a clear list of international dates on the College Board website and the ACT website.

How Early Should I Take It?

In general, most students plan to take the test in the spring or summer prior to when they’ll submit their college applications. For example, if you plan on submitting your application in October 2020, then you should sit for your SAT or ACT in the spring or summer of 2020. It can take anywhere between two and eight weeks for your scores to be released. You want to be sure that you at least have one score in hand before your college application deadline. That way, you’ll have time to retake the exams if you’re unhappy with your score, and you can use that score to gauge which schools might be reach schools vs. safety schools.  

While it’s better to take the test earlier rather than later, be careful. It could disadvantage you to sit for the exam too early. If you sit for the exam as a sophomore, there might be questions about topics that you haven’t studied yet. Taking the exam at any point in your junior year is likely to be perfectly fine. Be sure to chat with your college or high school counselor about what will work best for you.

“It’s crucial that you plan in advance so that you can be sure that you’ll receive your score before your college application deadline.”

How Late Can I Take It?

This is a question that makes us nervous in the admissions office. I’m going to start by being super clear up front: don’t wait until the last minute to take your exam! As stated earlier, it can take two to eight weeks for your scores to be released. If you didn’t list the University on your exam, then it can take longer for the college to receive them.

NYU’s policy is that SAT tests should be taken in advance of NYU’s application deadline – so that’s before November 1 or January 1, depending on which decision round you’ll applying. While we will consider scores received after our application deadline, we cannot guarantee that we will wait for those scores to arrive before making an admission decision. We will not offer admission to a student unless we have official testing on file so spare yourself the headache and try to take the exam earlier rather than later.

What About SAT Subject Tests?

The university that you’re applying to might require that you submit both the SAT and SAT Subject Tests. In that case, you’ll need to worry about not one, but multiple test dates. You won’t be able to sit for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests on the same day, and not all subjects are offered on the same dates, so you’ll need to plan accordingly. As is the case with the SAT and the ACT, though, taking the test early is best. Try to take these in the spring alongside your SAT or ACT test.

Shanghaiʼs skyline.
• Century Avenue • City skyline 2018 Shanghai Photo Shoot

How Many Times Should I Take the Test?

Obviously, you’ll need to take the test at least once. It might be helpful to note that most students will take it twice. It’s incredibly rare for us to see students taking it more than three times. Standardized tests cost time and money, so do yourself a favor and try not to put yourself through that ordeal more than three times.

If you’re still unhappy with your score after having taken it multiple times, try to relax! We do understand that test scores are just one part of your overall story. We’ll weigh them in conjunction with everything else that you submit to us. At the end of the day, we’re hoping to learn more about who you are both in and outside of the classroom. Your test scores are just one small part in that equation!