The SAT is an extremely important exam, as it plays a major role in determining college admissions results and scholarship opportunities for many students.
As a result, studying for the SAT is a very important process that students take very seriously and spend hours preparing for. Knowing when you plan on taking the exam is a critical part of planning a study schedule and routine, so many students may consequently find themselves asking: “when should I take the SAT?”
In this article, we’ll discuss the answer to that question, and we’ll cover many other related topics to consider when you are thinking about the best time to take the SAT.
SAT Schedule for 2021-2022
When planning to study for and take the SAT, students should first consult the official SAT test date schedule, which is always available on The College Board’s SAT website.
The College Board always publishes SAT test dates well in advance, often releasing anticipated dates over a year in advance, with official dates always available around the start of the given school year, which is well ahead of registration deadlines. There are a wide variety of SAT test dates to choose from in most years.
For example, for the 2021-2022 school year, the possible SAT test dates published on the College Board’s SAT website are:
|Test Date||Normal Deadline to Register||Late Registration||Online Score Release|
|March 12, 2022||February 11, 2022||March 1, 2022||March 25, 2022|
|May 7, 2022||April 8, 2022||April 26, 2022||May 20, 2022|
|June 4, 2022||May 5, 2022||May 25, 2022||June 17, 2022|
|August 27, 2022||July 29, 2022||August 16, 2022||September 9, 2022|
|October 1, 2022||September 2, 2022||September 20, 2022||October 14, 2022|
|November 5, 2022||October 6, 2022||October 25, 2022||November 18, 2022|
|December 3, 2022||November 4, 2022||November 22, 2022||December 16, 2022|
Registration deadlines for the SAT are almost always roughly one month before the given SAT exam, with late registration deadlines (which come with an extra fee attached to them) coming later, often closer to around 10 days before the actual SAT exam date.
Online score releases are frequently about two weeks after the exam date. Please note that all of the previously mentioned dates refer to the United States, and that internationally administered SATs often have different dates, which can also be found on the College Board’s SAT website.
Are Some Test Dates Easier Than Others?
Many students may have, at some point or another in their academic careers, heard a rumor that some SAT test dates or SAT exams are inherently easier or harder than other SAT test dates or SAT exams. Some students may take this very seriously, and even strategize accordingly and base their entire SAT study and prep planning around the idea that a given month’s SAT exam is easier or harder than another month’s SAT exam.
However, the rumor that the SAT is easier or harder on certain test dates is not true at all. So, you can choose your test date solely based on what date is best for you, considering all factors, since all test dates are equal in difficulty.
Of course, the difficulty of the SAT is fundamentally subjective. Students may find some tests more difficult than other tests for this reason. However, the College Board accounts for this when converting your raw score to a scaled score. This means that a 1400 on the November SAT exam is the same as a 1400 on the December SAT exam.
Because every SAT has the same level of difficulty, you should consider when to take the SAT based on your personal preferences and situations.
So, if you are asking yourself “when is the best time to take the SAT?” think about what is best for you. We will talk about factors to consider when deciding your SAT test-taking timeline, going over answers to many common questions relating to when to take the SAT.
When You Should Take the SAT: 5 Factors to Consider
Since the SAT is a big college entrance exam that you can take anytime from 11th grade to 12th grade, there are a ton of factors to consider. Especially because a strong SAT score can help boost your chances during college admissions processes, understanding the most important factors can help you determine when it would be best to take the SAT for you personally.
College Application Deadlines
One major factor to consider when deciding when to take the SAT is the application deadlines for the colleges you are applying to.
Most early decision or early action deadlines for United States colleges and universities are around early to mid November (with some exceptions, of course). For regular decision applications, most deadlines for United States colleges and universities are around early January, with some falling exactly on January 1st. These deadlines are generally speaking, though, so you should make sure you double check with the specific schools you’re applying to.
The College Board generally sends four free score reports to colleges around 10 days after you receive your results on SAT score release date. If you’re sending additional (more than your free four score reports) reports, that can add a week or two to the time it takes to send your scores. You should also be aware that some colleges and universities can take a week or more to process your SAT scores once receiving them.
As a result, generally speaking, you should avoid taking the SAT less than two months prior to when you want to apply. You should also try to take the SAT as far in advance as possible before you start applying to schools so you feel well-prepared to take it and send your scores.
Your Personal Schedule
For our second factor to consider when you are deciding when to take the SAT, we recommend considering your own personal schedule. Making sure you’re considering your own schedule will help you feel as prepared and comfortable as possible when taking the exam.
One of the main things to consider is your personal schedule during the academic school year. For example, spring SAT test dates are often some of the most popular, but many students also have Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams around that same time during the school year.
Studying for the SAT is usually a long and challenging process, and it usually happens at the same time as the hard process of studying for Advanced Placement exams and/or International Baccalaureate exams. Juggling all of these exams could be very difficult to manage and schedule, so you should try to take the SAT far enough away from any AP, IB, or other major exams you may have.
It’s also important for you to consider whether you have completed enough coursework to give yourself the best chance at succeeding on the SAT. While there are no explicit course prerequisites to take the SAT, the more English classes you have taken, the better prepared you will likely be for the Reading and Writing & Language Sections of the SAT.
Perhaps most importantly, the SAT includes math concepts through Algebra II, so taking the SAT before you have completed an Algebra II course (as well as Geometry and Algebra I, which are usually taken prior to Algebra II) might be quite difficult. Because of this, you’d probably have more luck on the SAT at a point in the academic year when you are familiar and comfortable with Algebra II concepts.
Finally, many students take the PSAT multiple times, including in junior year, when they take the PSAT/NMSQT to become a National Merit scholar, finalist, semi-finalist, or commended student. Taking the PSAT for merit scholarships can actually help immensely with SAT prep! Many students find it helpful to take the SAT soon after their final PSAT attempt so the material is fresh, they’re already in the routine of studying, and they don’t have to relearn material they might have learned and forgotten.
Estimated Prep Time
In addition to your own personal schedule during your busy academic school year, you should also consider how much prep time you will have when deciding when to take the SAT.
Generally speaking, students who are studying effectively should see improvements on their second time taking the SAT. These improvements, on average, might look like this based on the amount of time used to prepare:
- 10 hours of prep might lead to improvement by 0-30 points
- 20 hours of prep might lead to improvement by 30-70 points
- 40 hours of prep might lead to improvement by 70-130 points
- 80 hours of prep might lead to improvement by 130-200 points
- 150+ hours of prep might lead to improvement by 200-330 points
Of course, these numbers are relative estimates, and assume the hours are used efficiently and effectively. Every student is different, meaning they might exceed, fall short, or match these numbers — which is perfectly fine! Everyone learns differently and succeeds at their own pace.
But point of these estimates is to show that the larger SAT score improvement you want, the more prep time you will probably need. As a result, you may want to plan further ahead and take a relatively later SAT date if you are hoping for a larger improvement based on your diagnostic practice test(s) or last SAT or PSAT attempt. If you’re looking for a relatively smaller improvement, you may need less planning and prep time prior to your next SAT test date.
Chance To Retest
Another important factor is to think about whether you will have time to retake the SAT if you want to improve your score following your first or second time.
Since you should take your SAT at least two months before your college application deadlines, you should give yourself even more time than that if you think you might need to retake the test. Giving yourself more than two months will also mean you will have more time to reset, study more, improve, and retake the exam at least once more after whatever your test date is. It’ll also make sure that the SAT test date will fit into your schedule during the academic school year, which will give you less stress during the college application process.
This means that it is best to take your SAT as early as you feel prepared to do so, in order to allow ample time for retesting. In most cases (although there are some exceptions, such as if you are applying to a college that doesn’t allow Score Choice), taking the SAT more than once will not harm you. In fact, taking the SAT more than one time can be a good strategy to maximize your score.
When You Should Take the SAT, Based on Your Graduation Year
You should also consider when to take the SAT based on your grade in high school. Deciding when to take the SAT for juniors will rely on different factors than it will for seniors!
When Juniors Should Take the SAT
Junior year is the most popular and common year to take the SAT, so if you are entering junior year of high school and are thinking about the college admission process, you should start considering when to take the SAT.
Most students apply to colleges and universities in their senior year, so taking the SAT in your junior year allows for maximum flexibility. Some students may be able to take the SAT even earlier than junior year, if they’ve completed Algebra II. Taking the SAT before junior year would give them even more flexibility to decide when to schedule their first take or even their second attempt. However, since most students won’t have completed Algebra II prior to their junior year of high school, many choose to take it in their junior year.
The vast majority of students take the SAT in the spring semester of their junior year. This allows them to have completed as much Algebra II as possible (if they are taking an Algebra II course in their junior year) or just to simply have as much preparation time as possible after completing Algebra II (if they took an Algebra II course in their sophomore year or earlier). Taking the SAT in the spring semester of junior year also allows for the chance to retake later in the academic year, or even early senior year if necessary.
However, if you have completed Algebra II prior to your junior year, you may want to consider taking the SAT earlier in your junior year. A good time for high school students to give the SAT their first attempt would be fall semester of junior year, in this case. Provided you start preparing during the summer before, this would allow maximum flexibility. If you are able to take the SAT for the first time during spring semester, it will give you the choice of retaking the exam during your spring semester of junior year.
If you are able to complete your SATs before senior year, this could mean you have the fall of your senior year free to focus on college applications. Additionally, you would be able to focus on other standardized tests like AP exams or IB assessments. If you have to focus on the pressure of AP tests in the spring of your junior year, it might have a negative effect on your SAT performance. However, as mentioned, taking the SAT during fall of your junior year will only benefit you if you’ve completed Algebra II prior to junior year.
When Seniors Should Take the SAT
Senior year is a popular time to retake the SAT, but there are also many students who sit for an SAT exam for the first time during their senior year. While this may not provide as much flexibility as taking the SAT for the first time during junior year, it is still a very viable option.
Given that most college and university application deadlines come in November or January, as discussed, it is ideal to take the SAT as early as possible. In most cases, it is highly recommended for students to start preparing for the SAT near the end of junior year or early in the summer. If taking the SAT is not a possibility during junior year, you should try to take the earliest possible SAT during senior year.
Taking the SAT during the fall of your senior year, like in October, would allow you the time to retake the SAT later on if necessary. Leaving the SAT to the last minute might add onto additional stress during the application process, so thinking about college prep and the SAT as early as possible can be helpful.
When to Take the SAT Based on Your College Application Deadlines
When You Should Take the SAT to Apply Early Action or Early Decision
For students applying to colleges or universities under an Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) plan, the timetable to determine when to take the SAT can be different when compared with other students applying Regular Decision (RD).
If you are applying Early Action or Early Decision, it would be highly advisable for you to take the SAT for the first time in your junior year, and as early in the junior year as you can. Of course, this is only true if you are adequately prepared! Taking the SAT as early as you can after hours of exam prep and practice tests will allow ample time for a retake and will help you make college application deadlines, which, for Early Action and Early Decision, frequently fall in early November.
Since Early Action and Early Decision deadlines come faster than Regular Decisions, you should think as early as possible about which schools you’re applying to when deciding your SAT test date.
When You Should Take the SAT to Apply for February (or Later) Application Deadlines
For students whose college applications aren’t due until February or later, such as rolling admissions schools (although applying earlier to these are always better for admissions chances), the timing to take the SAT is a bit different.
Generally speaking, a later application deadline means you can afford to take the SAT later — however, there is no need to wait if you are prepared. You still wouldn’t want to take the SAT any later than December of senior year in this case, and October of senior year or earlier would be ideal as it would allow for retake opportunities.
Regardless of when your college applications are due, it would be most ideal to schedule your first SAT attempt as early as you can while still feeling prepared. For rolling applications, taking the SAT early and submitting your completed application well before other students can also show your time management skills, as well as demonstrating a strong interest in the university.
How to Decide When to Take the SAT
To understand when you should sit for your first SAT can also depend on knowing when you are prepared for the SAT. Many students aren’t sure if they’re studying too much, too little, or the right amount, and find it difficult to gauge when they’re ready on their own. In the following portion of this article, we will provide some insight into how to know when you’re ready to take the SAT.
Think About Which Schools You Want to Apply to
What is a “good” SAT score all depends on what your college goals are. Deciding on your target, reach, and safety schools is critical to determining when you should take the exam. Understanding how “good” your practice test scores are depends on what the median SAT scores and average SAT scores for your goal colleges and universities are. You should decide on a tentative list of colleges before taking the SAT, and aim to be as close to their 75th percentile SAT scores as possible.
Generally speaking, the best time to take the SAT is when you are consistently scoring at or above your goal score on practice SAT exams under real, SAT-like timed conditions. Keep in mind that some students don’t perform quite as well on the actual exam as they do in SAT practice tests, so the higher above your goal score you are consistently reaching in practice, the better.
Evaluate Your Starting Point
As you begin your SAT preparation, it is critical to take a “cold” diagnostic test to assess your starting score.
Generally speaking, if you are adjusting your preparation methods appropriately, it is easier for lower scoring students to improve quickly than higher scoring students. What that means is that the jump from 1000 to 1200 is easier than the jump from 1450 to 1500, generally speaking. This is because the margin for error is smaller for higher score increases.
You will generally need significant prep time to make any large score improvements, regardless of where you start. However, the SAT is about practice, practice, and practice. Taking SAT practice tests and going over the questions you struggled with is a great way to understand which concepts you need help with.
Choose Your Prep Method
Another important factor to consider to decide when to take the SAT is how you will prepare and how long it will take to finish studying for the SAT. There are many different preparation methods and options for students to consider during their SAT prep process.
Self-prep, or independent study methods, tend to be the first thing many students do when preparing for the SAT.
Most students approach this through free online courses and practice exams, which they use to identify their mistakes, and study that material. This is beneficial because you can set your own pace, study entirely on your own time, and save money.
Students who might benefit the most from this are students who have a lot of time before their SAT, are high scoring, or are very self-motivated. However, students looking for larger score gains under shorter time constraints and more complete test prep would likely benefit more from another option.
Group prep, either through a formal class or a study group, is beneficial for some students.
The predictable schedule of SAT prep classes, routine of homework, and defined structure benefits many students. Students with scores in the average range looking for moderate improvement or students who learn best in a classroom or group setting may benefit most from this.
One downside to group prep is that you may not receive the individualized help you need to succeed as much as possible. Another thing to consider is how inflexible group prep might be, as it must fit within multiple students’ schedules; if you are a student who doesn’t have enough time to fit in rigid group sessions to your schedule, then group prep might not be the right SAT prep method for you.
One-on-one test prep, often through private tutoring, is usually the best of both worlds.
It allows students to customize their study plans and schedules with a knowledgeable tutor while getting personalized attention from someone who has mastered the test. You would want to find an experienced, knowledgeable, and reliable tutor with a record of success. This type of tutoring is ideal for students looking for larger or quicker gains in scores compared with other methods of tutoring.
Investing in one-on-one tutoring can offer many benefits, but mostly it’ll help get an outside perspective on the best way to reach your target score — especially if you’re in a time crunch. Still, like most things involving SAT test prep, it’ll be most beneficial to begin working with a tutor as early as possible.
When Should I Take the SAT — the Bottom Line
The question of when to take the SAT is a challenging one, but considering your deadlines, schedule, prep time, retesting opportunity, and school year, you should be able to make an informed decision about when to take the SAT, as well as how to prepare.
The most important thing to consider is time: if you schedule your SAT exams as early as possible, it’ll give you more time to focus during the academic year on college prep, keeping your GPA up, and still completing your extracurricular activities. Leaving time to retake the exam will also ensure that you can use superscoring to your advantage (for colleges that accept superscores).
Get the Best SAT Prep With SoFlo
SoFlo SAT Tutors are high scoring graduates and attendees of top universities who have mastered the SAT and ACT. Check out our virtual tutoring services to find an SAT or ACT tutor who will help you towards your score goals, whether it’s your first take, second take, or beyond.
Additional SAT Prep Resources
- How to Cram for the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/how-to-cram-for-the-sat/
- How to Master Geometry on the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/how-to-master-geometry-on-the-sat/
- How Long is Each Section of the SAT?: https://soflotutors.com/blog/how-long-is-each-sat-section/
- Can You Retake the SAT? How Many Times Can I Retake the SAT?: https://soflotutors.com/blog/retake-sat/
- SAT Crash Courses | How to Cram for the SAT: https://soflotutors.com/blog/sat-crash-course/
About the Author
William Grossman is a student at the University of Florida studying Economics. He scored a 1500 on his SAT and a 32 on his ACT. While it may seem unorthodox, William always reads the last chapter of a new book before going back to read it from the beginning — that way, he can see if the book will be any good before deciding to read the whole thing!