The College Board® recommends that students take the SAT test during the second semester of their junior year in order to have time to retake the test (at least once) before submitting their results with their college applications.
The official SAT test is offered by the College Board seven times a year. Be sure to do your research in order to have accurate information about your options when registering for the SAT test.
The most important thing to consider when planning to take the exam is having enough time to prepare in order to do your best and reach your full scoring potential. You also need to consider the application deadlines during your senior year of high school. It is a good idea to take the exam early enough so if you’re unhappy with your results or think that you can perform better on a retake, you still have time to retake the exam, receive your scores, and send them to colleges.
When making a plan for test preparation, consider how your schedule affects your study plan. If you are very busy with extracurriculars or with a heavy course load for school, you won’t be left with much time to dedicate to SAT prep. This means that if you have a very busy schedule, you may need more time to prepare for the exam. Do not overload your schedule by setting a test date that is too soon. Be sure that when you register, you select a date that is far enough away you have ample time to prepare.
So, when should you start preparing for SAT? Well, to avoid cramming for the SAT test, it is recommended to start your preparations three months before your official test date. If you plan to take the test during the spring semester of your junior year, it is a good idea to begin outlining a schedule and plan to begin studying during the fall of your junior year.
There are two strategies you can use to help you decide when to start your prep work. The first is to plan your pre-SAT preparations depending on when you decide to take the test, and the second is to plan your studies depending on your target score. Let’s take a look at how these work.
When to start SAT prep based on your scheduled exam date
If you decide to take the SAT exam during your junior year, it’s best advised to start your preparations during the summer before junior year. This study plan will give you ample time to go over all the subjects and topics you would need to know to tackle the SAT.
Preparing during the summer of your junior year is most preferred as many students are the most free during this time. It also means you would be able to take the test during the spring semester of your junior year, leaving you enough time to go back to preparing for your second attempt.
In case you didn’t have enough time to prepare during the summer before your junior year, you could also consider taking the exam a little later and preparing during the school year. However, it can be a little tricky to manage your time between homework, assignments, and preparing for the SAT exam. A good study plan should help you do well. You can use the winter and spring breaks to do some extra prep as well!
Now, if you think you need more time, you can take the exam in your senior year as well. If you decide to do this, you would need to start preparing during the summer break before your senior year begins. This would be the most ideal time to study for the exam without having to also dedicate time to schoolwork. Studying during the senior school year can also be challenging, but a well-strategized study plan can make all the difference.
When to start SAT prep based on your target score
Once you’ve decided to take the SAT exam, it is also important to set a target score and take a practice test. Your score on the practice test will help you get an idea of how much work you need to put into reaching your goal. This, in turn, will tell you when you need to start your prep work for the SAT exam.
If you are over 300 points away from your target score, you would need at least six months or more of daily studies to reach your goal. However, this also depends on the quality of work you put in during each of your study sessions. Some may even require far less time to add around 500 points to their final score.
A much lesser difference of about 100–300 points can be easily covered over the course of a summer with dedicated studying. It can also be managed during the school year if you have the time to dedicate between extracurricular activities, homework, and assignments.
If you’re much closer to your goal—100 points—or less, you can easily cover this in a month or two. You can simply identify your weakest points and put in a little extra study time to master them. It’s especially easy if you’re already in the higher score bracket (1400s+) to increase your score by 100 points.
Whichever way you plan to make your decision, be realistic about the amount of time per week you will be able to dedicate to test preparation. Some students are able to commit to much more than others. If you are only able to dedicate a couple of hours a week to your test preparation, then two to three months might not be enough time for you.
It is important that you are able to walk into your official test day feeling confident that you have done the best you could to prepare. Set yourself up for success by maintaining a study schedule that is realistic to the time commitments you have made for events, school work, extracurriculars, and your social life.
Since every student’s schedule is different, the best way to answer the question When should you start preparing for SAT? will depend largely on the factors we’ve discussed. Also, remember that your test results will take a few weeks to be released. Set yourself up for success by allowing lots of time around important deadlines.
You can try out UWorld’s SAT Prep Course to begin practicing today! Our prep course offers thousands of sample questions that mimic the style and level of difficulty that you will face on the official SAT test. The prep course also offers detailed answer explanations in order to learn from any mistakes and performance tracking tools that you can use to evaluate your improvements. Try it out for free today!