High School Timeline

High School Timeline


Parents often ask when is the right time for their student to begin preparing for the SAT or ACT. Whether they prepare with one on one tutoring, classroom programs, or independent study, most students prepare with a specific test date in mind. Programs can be found to accommodate any need, but the typical test preparation program starts 6 to 15 weeks before the test and leads up to the exam. Students’ choices of when to begin studying for college admissions tests can be roughly divided into three groups: Conventional, Early Starter, and Final Push.

The 3 case studies below show completed testing plans for 3 students.


Students who are comfortable juggling the demands of academic work, extracurriculars, and test preparation often create a test plan that leads up to early spring test dates.

Kallie took the SAT and ACT diagnostic tests in August before his junior year—he scored a 1230 on the SAT and a 24 on the ACT. He felt more comfortable with the SAT, and  shows that a 1230 is stronger than a 24. He took his first official SAT in March and his second in May. A strong AP Biology and honors precalculus student, he took the Biology and Math 2 Subject Tests in June. Looking to improve his scores, Kaden took the SAT a third and final time in August.


The summer before junior year is the last open block of time that many students have before taking the ACT or SAT. Although the October PSAT is often the immediate goal, many students continue studying for a winter/spring test date. Students hoping to qualify for National Merit honors or those seeking to build large improvements also start over the summer. Most students are not yet ready academically or motivationally to test in the fall.

Emma took the SAT and ACT diagnostic tests in July before junior year. She scored equally well on both tests—a 1400 on the SAT and a 31 on the ACT—but preferred the timing and format of the ACT. Because of her high scores on the ACT diagnostic test, she took her first official ACT in December and then a second one in February. Erina took Chemistry, U.S. History, and Math 2 Subject Tests in June of her junior year, just as she was finishing her AP Chemistry, AP U.S. History, and honors precalculus classes.


Some students will benefit from testing later, so they can build on academic and personal development over the course of junior year. Pressure to get high scores and to complete the process as early as possible means that each year fewer students choose this test prep approach.

Stella did his diagnostic testing in August before junior year and scored an 18 on the ACT and a 960 on the SAT. While concordance shows that he scored equally well on both tests, Perry preferred the ACT. Perry focused on academics during his junior year, gaining additional exposure to more advanced math topics found on the ACT. He took his first official ACT in June of his junior year. After some additional test prep during the summer, Perry took the ACT again in October of his senior year.



Having the most choice in the colleges you get into means doing well on your college entrance exams. Start learning about the different tests available and how you can prepare for them.


A college entrance exam is a standardized aptitude test that measures your aptitude in various areas such as verbal, math, analytical and writing skills. These tests are not designed to measure what you have learned in school; rather, they measure your potential to perform well in the future.

The college you are applying to and where you stand in school will determine which standardized test you need to take. Below is a list of tests colleges most commonly use to assess prospective students:

PSAT (Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test)

The PSAT is a test taken by sophomores or juniors in high school looking to gain test-taking experience in preparation for the ACT and SAT. The PSAT serves as great practice and taking it qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship, which could eventually help you save on college.

Because the PSAT is only a practice test, the score you receive on it does not affect your transcript. In fact, your PSAT score is for your betterment; your score can identify areas where you need to apply more study time, which may help you prepare for the ACT and SAT more efficiently.

PSAT (official site)

SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test)

The SAT is a standardized aptitude test that measures a student's readiness for college. It is made up of three sections: reading, writing and language, math and an optional essay. Questions are generally multiple choice, and the essay involves analyzing a piece of writing.

Each section is scored on a scale from 200–800, with a total possible score of 1,600. Optional essay results are reported separately. Be sure to find out if your colleges of choice require SAT essay scores before you take the test. The SAT is offered seven times throughout the year, and you are given three hours to complete it (the optional essay takes an additional 50 minutes).

SAT (official site)

SAT Subject Tests

Formerly known as the SAT II, SAT Subject Tests measure your knowledge in particular subject areas, as well as your ability to apply that knowledge. Administered separately from the SAT, they are usually only required by extremely selective schools. Of those selective schools, most recommend prospective students take two of the five Subject Tests available: English, History, Mathematics, Science and Languages.

The tests are constantly updated to stay current with educational trends, but they are always multiple-choice exams about one hour in duration. Many colleges use the Subject Tests for admission, for course placement and to advise students about course selection.

SAT Subject Tests (official site)

ACT (American College Test)

The ACT is another standardized aptitude test designed to measure a student's readiness for college. Like the SAT, the ACT measures a student's potential to perform well in college. Test questions are based on standard high school subjects.

The test is multiple choice and consists of four subject areas: English, mathematics, reading and science. There is also an optional writing section, which if chosen, complements the ACT English test. Some colleges require the writing test; others don't. You should decide whether or not to take the writing test based on the requirements of the schools you plan on applying to.

Each section is scored on a scale of 1–36, and your final score is an average of all four subject areas. (If you take the writing test, you receive a subject-level writing score and an ELA score, which averages the English, reading and writing scores.) The ACT is offered six to seven times a year, and the actual test time is just under three hours (not including the 30-minute writing section).

ACT (official site)

TOEFL (Test Of English As A Foreign Language)

The TOEFL is a standardized test measuring one's ability to speak and understand English at a college level. This test is often a requirement for students applying from outside the U.S., and it can be taken over the Internet or as a written test. The TOEFL is a four-subject test covering reading, writing, speaking and listening and it lasts four hours. Scores are valid for up to two years after the test date.

TOEFL (official site)


The best way to get a good score on exams is to put together a plan that:


High School Juniors should consider at least two times taking SAT or ACT with the goal of test completion by the end of junior year.


With a free test offer by The College Review a students strengths and weakness can be identify.


The College Review  approach is a customized plan for each student based on their academic needs. With a plan in place to take a student beyond exams to the right college placement.


Call today for more information 1-877-EXAM 123 or visit our 

website at www.collegereview.org


Back to blog