Taking standardized tests has long been an important part of the college application process, and nowadays there are several different kinds of tests that students will encounter. Even though some universities are becoming test-optional, meaning that they won’t be required to send scores as part of the application, it is still highly recommended that you take the tests if you can since high scores can still contribute positively to your academic profile.
However, it’s not always clear to students and their parents exactly when they should take these tests, and with multiple dates and types of tests offered, the choice can be difficult. While some tests like the PSAT and individual AP tests are only to be taken once, students can take the ACT and SAT as many times as they want. And these different tests carry different weights in the college admissions process.
Here are our insights into when you should take each of these tests and what a general preparation schedule may look like.
SAT and/or ACT Tests
The SAT and the ACT are the main two standardized tests that students take during their high school career, and they are usually necessary to apply to college. The SAT is run by The College Board, which also runs AP courses and the PSAT, and the ACT is administered by the ACT, Inc., originally an abbreviation for American College Testing.
They are offered seven times a year on average on Saturday mornings at local high schools across the country (except during the pandemic, when some were offered online). You can register online, where you will find more information about specific testing procedures.
Here are the upcoming dates for the ACT…
…and the SAT.
Even though these tests don’t cover course-specific material, it is still a great idea to study. Your high school coursework will come in handy in developing many of your skills, but each test has its own structure and mechanisms that you can learn inside and out, which will definitely improve your score. We recommend that you prepare at least 3 months in advance of your first test date and, if you choose to take it again, develop a specific plan that will help you target any weaknesses you may have had during your first test. Practice tests straight from each testing company (SAT and ACT) or Khan Academy are helpful, and you may also choose to work with a tutor.
As for when you should take the SAT or ACT, it depends on the student. Some students take both tests while others prefer one over the other. While you can register for these tests as many times as you’d like, it’s recommended that students don’t take the tests more than three times each. Taking the test too many times without much of a score difference isn’t a great look to schools. If you’re looking to raise your score, increase the amount of prep work you’re doing in between test dates and maybe space those dates out so you have adequate time to prepare.
It is also important to note that a few colleges require you to send all of your standardized testing scores for a given test, so start with a practice test to see where your strengths lie instead of going in completely cold. If you’ve got a dream school in mind, check their testing requirements for admission and see what the general score range for admitted students is.
Other colleges will super score your test, meaning that they’ll take your highest score in each section and combine them to get a different composite score, which often works in a student’s favor.
Regardless, the best advice is to take the tests when you feel ready, and for many students, that is when they feel like they’ve exhausted all the practice resources available to them. The best way to gauge your possible performance in the testing room is by timing and scoring a practice test in the weeks leading up to your date — that way, you have a clearer sense of potential areas for improvement and the areas in which you won’t need to spend much time studying. It may be wise to pick a testing date when students don’t have other strenuous commitments and will be able to dedicate all of their attention to performing well.
It’s also important to note that each test has different sections with different time limits, and the format of the questions is not the same for both. The SAT is 3 hours long with 3 sections, while the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long with 4 sections. While the ACT has 215 questions, students usually take about 20-30 seconds longer per question to complete the SAT’s 154 questions. These time differences can make a big difference for students who struggle with a particular section. Even though they both test Reading, Math, Science, and English/Writing and Language, the styles of questions and objectives are different. We recommend taking a practice test for both to see which you prefer, if either. While it’s still a good idea to take both tests just in case, as with all standardized tests, you’ll do better if you know which you prefer.
PSAT (a.k.a. PSAT/NMSQT)
The PSAT, also known as the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, is only offered once in a U.S. student’s high school years, usually in the 10th or 11th grade. The date is determined by your school, so if you’re not sure when you’re scheduled to take it, ask your guidance counselor.
This test, as the name suggests, can qualify you for the National Merit Scholarship Program based on your score. There are different score cutoffs based on each state that vary year to year, but if you exceed that cutoff, you will move into the next round of the program as a semifinalist. This can eventually offer you scholarships, some full-tuition, to many different schools.
Below are the score cutoffs by state for the class of 2021. While these change every year, the previous scores are good predictors of future cutoff scores.
State Class of 2021 Score Cutoff
New Hampshire 215
New Jersey 222
New Mexico 211
New York 220
North Carolina 217
North Dakota 209
Outside US** 222
Rhode Island 216
South Carolina 212
South Dakota 209
West Virginia 209
*Commended students fall within the top 3% of scorers and do not advance in the National Merit competition, whereas semifinalists fall within the top 1% and advance in the competition.
**Non-US citizens can take the test, but won’t qualify for National Merit. US students studying abroad can take the test outside of the country and will still be in the running for National Merit.
The PSAT is not as important as the SAT or ACT in the college admissions process, and the only benefit that you may gain (aside from some SAT practice) is advancing in the National Merit contest. If that is a goal of yours, since you only have one shot to take these tests, and selecting the test date is out of your control, it’s imperative that you take time to prepare. We recommend at least 3 months before the test that you do practice tests or work with a tutor to help you get comfortable with the material. Make sure that you time yourself on your work so that you’re not thrown off by time limits on your test dates.
AP Tests are offered to students who have completed year-long AP courses, which are classes offered by schools with a curriculum designed by The College Board. Some schools require students to take AP tests at the conclusion of their classes while others leave the decision up to the student. I’d strongly recommend that, if given the opportunity, you should take the test.
Unlike the ACT and SAT, AP scores, which range from 1-5, do not need to be reported on college applications and no official scores must be sent to universities. Students can simply self-report their scores, and while it may look strange that you’re not reporting a score, you could choose not to include your scores. However, you should definitely take AP tests if you can — there is also the possibility of gaining college credit through certain AP courses, depending on the college’s credit system. Plus, high scores on AP tests can contribute positively to a student’s chances of admission, especially at highly selective colleges.
With the right planning and preparation, you can make the standardized testing process as stress-free as possible. One of the best ways to prepare is to work with a tutor. If you’re interested in learning more about H&C’s test prep services and long-term planning, don’t hesitate to set up a free consultation today.
If your kids must take a standardized test, it's best to do so either first thing in the morning or right after recess. On average, students perform best on tests at the start of the school day. And for every hour later in the day, their tests scores decrease.When should you start preparing for standardized tests required to gain entry into advanced degree programs? ›
Standardized tests should be taken a year to 18 months before you plan on starting your degree program. Many students take the exams more than once to achieve higher scores. There are many websites, books, and courses available to help you prepare.What are 3 important points to remember when giving a standardized test? ›
Read each test question carefully and thoroughly. Before answering a question, determine exactly what is being asked. Never glance over a question or the possible answers, as superficial reading, or skimming, may cause you to miss important information. Time management is key.What is the best way to study for a standardized test? ›
- Take practice tests. ...
- Promote a positive attitude. ...
- Discuss what to do if you finish early. ...
- Eat well, exercise and rest. ...
- Plan enjoyable and relaxing activities.
In true-false tests, true (T) answers are more common than false (F): according to Poundstone's analysis, on an average, 56% answers are T and 44% F. It's not hard to see why.What is the best day of the week to take a standardized test? ›
You're likely not fatigued from a week's worth of meetings, challenges, projects run astray, or other perils of modern office life. Tuesdays also work well because they follow Monday. Monday evenings may be the most important element in making Tuesday the best day for taking a certification exam.What test must you take in order to get into most graduate college? ›
GRE. Most graduate schools in the United States require the Graduate Record Exam or GRE. This is a 4-hour exam. The test, broken down into three sections, measures quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and verbal reasoning skills.What do you need before you can get an advanced degree? ›
An advanced degree is any U.S. academic or professional degree or a foreign equivalent degree above that of baccalaureate. A U.S. baccalaureate degree or a foreign equivalent degree followed by at least 5 years of progressive experience in the specialty is considered the equivalent of a master's degree.What standardized test do colleges look at? ›
For you, this means it will depend on what college you're applying to. If the colleges you're applying to require standardized test scores, however, the two main test scores they'll look at are your SAT and your ACT scores.Is C the most common answer? ›
Most people (and tutors) tell students that, if they have no idea on a question, to just guess answer choice “C” — the middle answer on most multiple choice tests.
GRE (Graduate Record Examination)
Owned and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), GRE is among the world's most difficult exams. The exam is administered both online and in person. As a standardized test, GRE measures the overall academic readiness of students who want to attend graduate school.
- Read through the full question carefully. ...
- Answer the Easiest Questions First. ...
- Answer the Question BEFORE Reading the Answers Provided. ...
- Eliminate the Obviously Wrong Choices. ...
- Consider ALL The Answer Choices Before Marking Your Final Answer. ...
- Carefully Read Those Passage Introductions.
It is recommended to study for at least 10 hours so you are prepared. It is also better to keep your studying within one to six months before the test: Less than one month, the material doesn't have time to sink in. More than six months, and you are likely to forget some of the earlier information.Are standardized tests based on memorization? ›
Therefore, standardized tests don't completely measure intelligence, but rather your memorization skills and your tactics on solving multiple choice problems.Should you study the day before a standardized test? ›
If you've been studying all along in bits and pieces during the course, you will feel better prepared for the test. However, it's always a good idea to review study notes the day before an exam to refresh your memory.Why is C always the answer? ›
The idea that C is the best answer to choose when guess-answering a question on a multiple choice test rests on the premise that ACT answer choices are not truly randomized. In other words, the implication is that answer choice C is correct more often than any other answer choice.What is the best letter to guess on a test? ›
C or H are right (and wrong) as often as any other answer choice. The only guess letter you don't want to use when you are completely guessing is E or K because they only show up on the math test.What is the easiest standardized test? ›
California Achievement Test (CAT)
There are not as many tests included in the CAT, so it can be completed in less time for students to complete. It is also considered to be the easiest among the three tests and can be obtained from several online sources.
T he best way to increase your chances of success in a job interview, exam, or driving test is to take it in the morning, scientists have found. Danish researchers found that "cognitive function" - or the ability to perform tests involving simple brain power - diminished throughout the day.Is it better to study for a test the night before or morning of? ›
Use the night before the test for simple revision. You shouldn't be tackling anything brand new the night before your test. Instead, review the study notes you have created during your study sessions over the past few days. Work your way through your study notes, covering topics one by one.
Rural four-day students generally learned as much as rural five-day day students. Statistically, both groups' test scores rose by about the same amount every year.What graduate school is the hardest to get into? ›
They also tend to have been around the longest. The most selective grad schools, with the lowest acceptance rates, include Harvard Graduate School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and Columbia Business School. Harvard University has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the United States of America, at 4.6%.What is the most important test for college? ›
If the colleges you're applying to require standardized test scores, however, the two main test scores they'll look at are your SAT and your ACT scores.What test for getting Masters? ›
The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is the most common general knowledge test for masters program admission that universities require from grad school applicants.What is the most advanced degree in most fields? ›
Also known as a doctorate, doctoral degrees are usually the most advanced degree you can earn. Individuals who graduate with a doctorate tend to be the leading experts in their specific field, complete research, and/or publish their work.What two degrees are considered advanced degrees? ›
Those who pursue that knowledge through advanced degrees could become leaders in their field. In short, advanced degrees are graduate certificates, master's degrees, and Ph. D. degrees.What is the most advanced degree? ›
In the U.S., the highest academic degree available is usually a Doctor of Philosophy degree, or PhD. Someone with a PhD in a traditional academic or technical field of study (such as the humanities, sciences, engineering, etc.) can be said to hold a terminal degree.What state has the hardest standardized tests? ›
New York, which nabbed the top spot in the study, had already implemented harder tests tied to the Common Core in 2013, as had North Carolina and Massachusetts. That may have contributed to the state's high difficulty score.Why do colleges look at your standardized test scores? ›
Because high school grading systems (and GPAs) can vary by school, a standardized test can provide a more objective metric for consideration. Including scores from the SAT or ACT exam in your student's application can help show schools of interest that they are academically prepared for college-level work.Do standardized tests predict college success? ›
Using SAT scores in conjunction with HSGPA is the most powerful way to predict future academic performance. On average, SAT scores add 15% more predictive power above grades alone for understanding how students will perform in college.
C++ C++ is considered to be one of the most powerful, fastest, and toughest programming languages.Why is C so tough? ›
C programming language can be difficult to learn, especially for beginners, due to its low-level syntax, complex programming concepts, and the need to manage memory manually.What is the best letter to guess on a multiple choice test? ›
It's best to pick one letter and guess with the same letter throughout the test. It statistically improves the chances of guessing more right. Remember, “When in doubt, pick C!” It doesn't have to be C. It just has to be the same letter every time.Which is the No 1 toughest exam in the world? ›
- Gaokao Exam in China.
- IIT JEE Advanced.
- Civil Services Exam (CSE)
- Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
- ICAI CA Exams.
- CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
- Delaware - 968.
- Rhode Island - 971.
- New Mexico - 976.
- Illinois - 981.
- Florida - 983.
- District of Columbia - 985.
- Idaho - 986.
- Michigan - 1000.
Make a vague plan and identify the gaps in your knowledge; try to fill these gaps by extending the stuff you do know to make some really great points. Come up with an argument/thesis for your response (this will really help your marks). Try and refer to what you remember of the mark scheme for a really good answer.How do you mentally prepare for a standardized test? ›
- Study well. ...
- Know the format. ...
- Keep track of your time. ...
- Adopt a mantra. ...
- Be physically prepared. ...
- Practice visualization. ...
- Focus your eyes to focus your mind.
- Listen to the Instructions. ...
- Read the Entire Test. ...
- Do a “Brain Dump” ...
- Answer the Questions You Know First. ...
- Answer the Questions You Skipped. ...
- Be Sure the Test is Complete. ...
- Check Your Work.
The average U.S. student takes 112 standardized tests throughout their educational career from pre-K to 12th grade, whereas students in other countries whose students outperform U.S. students on global exams are tested an average of three times.Are standardized tests worth it? ›
It Shows Analytical Progress
In addition to comparing students against one another or identifying problematic schools or districts, standardized tests can also illustrate student progress over time. Taking the same or similar tests over the years can allow students to indicate measurable improvement.
Scores on the SAT do correlate with scores on IQ tests and other standardized tests of intelligence. This is unsurprising considering that the SAT was originally derived from an IQ test for army recruits.Do standardized tests reflect intelligence? ›
Standardized tests are made to measure a student's intelligence; however, a person's intelligence should not be determined by how well they can score on a test. There are many factors that can go into a negative test score, one of the main ones being testing anxiety.Why are some people better at standardized tests? ›
Research shows that what makes these people so good at taking tests is likely a mix of: Low test-taking anxiety which allows them to perform better in the moment. Well-informed schemas that provide greater context and allow them to make more educated assumptions (guesses) especially when the test is multiple choice.What time of the day is best to study for exams? ›
Numerous studies prove that your critical thinking and analytical skills are quite effective between 2 PM to 5 PM. During this time, your brain can be very efficient at integrating and processing any new information that you have acquired. Afternoons are also an excellent time for creative learning.Why shouldn't you study the night before an exam? ›
Cramming the night before an exam will make students become more stressful. They are worried that they may not remember all the information or finish studying all the topics. This leads to students becoming much more stressed than they should be which will affect their performance for the exam.
Students who have more energy during the day will probably find they're better able to focus at night, while those who have more energy and focus in the morning would benefit from studying in the morning. Find what works for you, and stick to it.Is it better to study for a test the night before or the morning of? ›
In an article by USA Today on why studying at night is a good idea, it is explained that research from the University of Nevada-Reno shows how students tend to retain information better between 11 am to 9:30 pm, a timeframe that is much later than when many college classes would start.Why are standardized tests in the morning? ›
Cognitive fatigue is considered when determining things like school start times, as well as standardized testing times. Cognitive fatigue is a big factor in why standardized exams are conducted so early in the morning.Is it better to take a test early in the morning or in the afternoon? ›
According to a study titled “Cognitive fatigue influences students' performance on standardized tests” conducted on over 2 million students, you are at the peak of your cognitive abilities early in the morning. And on average, you would score nearly 8-10% better if you were to take an 8 am exam versus a 1 pm exam.What time of day is your brain sharpest? ›
That said, science has indicated that learning is most effective between 10 am to 2 pm and from 4 pm to 10 pm, when the brain is in an acquisition mode. On the other hand, the least effective learning time is between 4 am and 7 am.
- Fit in some exercise a few times a week. ...
- Get creative. ...
- Stock up on your vitamins and micronutrients. ...
- Socialize. ...
- Allow yourself to power nap. ...
- Break out of your daily routine. ...
- Try something new.
It impairs your cognitive function
Sleep deprivation impacts your cognitive function by affecting your memory, ability to concentrate and your problem-solving skills. Put simply, you're not at your best after staying up all night, which means it's the worst time to take a test.
You need a minimum of three hours and the best times to sleep are between 2AM and 6AM. Your body heat is lowest from 3-4AM, so you are drowsiest then and your memory retention is extremely poor. Sleep helps the mind absorb and retain the information you reviewed while studying.Why shouldn't you study the night before a test? ›
The day before a big test can make or break your test performance, especially if you suffer from test anxiety. You may think that you should spend that day cramming for the test, trying to cover every morsel of information you may have missed in your study efforts. This is the last thing you should do!Does time affect test scores? ›
16 revealing that for every hour later in the day an exam is taken, a student's average score is decreased by 0.9 percent. For students testing later in the afternoon, that can add up quickly.Why are standardized tests being removed? ›
“In essence, we are eliminating our reliance on a high-stress, high-stakes test that has shown negligible benefit and providing our applicants with greater opportunities to demonstrate their drive, talents and potential for college success.”Should you sleep right before a test? ›
Sleep will improve your concentration, alertness, and mood the next day, all of which are advantages during a test. Plus, sleep can help you remember the material you have already studied.How long should I be awake before a test? ›
Eight hours is the bare minimum, and some students need as many as ten hours. Aim for eight at the very least, but pay attention to your body. If you're not feeling rested, aim for more.Should you sleep early before a test? ›
To Cram or to Sleep? Good sleep can pay off even the night before an exam. Some studies have found that getting a full night's sleep before taking an exam is correlated with better grades and higher overall GPA.