Not Too Early to Start Thinking About Test Prep


Attention sophomores: now is the time to begin planning your SAT/ACT test prep.

When is the best time to start prepping for the SAT/ACT? You may be hearing various arguments from your friends.


  • “I won’t know all of the math concepts I’ll need until after my junior year, so I’m not getting started until the summer of my senior year.”
  • “My counselor says I should focus on my grades during my junior year and push test prep to my senior year.”
  • “Junior year is too stressful with all that I’ve got going on to worry about the tests as well!”

When is the best time to prep for the SAT/ACT tests?

Let’s start by working backwards.

Senior fall: Your senior fall is too packed full of other things for you to be worrying about taking the SAT/ACT one last time. Finishing your semester well, participating in sports/extracurriculars, writing those college essays, college visits/applications, and, oh yeah, enjoying your last year of high school are the priorities. You do not want to find yourself applying to your dream school and simultaneously trying to get the SAT/ACT scores to be a solid applicant.

Junior fall/spring: If possible, you want to be completely done with standardized tests by the end of your junior year. Studies show that the average student hits his/her testing stride after 2-3 attempts at the real test, so we’ll need to look at fall and spring test dates. If you’re planning on taking the SAT Subject Tests as well, that’s another test date you’ll want to have in the books. Ideally, juniors would take two tests in the fall (September and November SATs, for example) and one final test in the spring, if needed.

Rising junior summer: A September test date, however, should be preceded by several months’ worth of test prep. This test prep, also, will help for National Merit hopefuls who are looking to bump their junior PSAT past the cutoff score. The summer before your junior year is a great place to begin your test prep.

Sophomore spring: And this all begins with a mock test, ideally during sophomore spring or at the beginning of the summer. Taking an SAT and ACT mock test will ensure that you are preparing for your stronger test and also give you an idea as to your score before you begin prepping.

Now let’s put that schedule into chronological order:

Sophomore spring Take mock ACT and SAT to determine stronger test
Rising junior summer Begin SAT/ACT test prepPSAT prep, if seeking NMS
Junior fall Take 2 real SAT/ACT testsTake the PSAT in October
Junior spring If needed, take one more SAT/ACT test (or consider switching tests)Take SAT Subject and AP tests
Rising senior fall College visits, college essays
Senior fall Focus on GPA, college visits, essays, applications, extra-curriculars, and enjoying your senior year!

Starting the process after your sophomore year makes sense for a number of reasons:

  • First, it puts the horse in front of the cart. Before you emotionally invest in a college, making visits, starting applications, and picturing yourself on its campus, you want to make sure that you have the GPA and test scores that will make you a competitive applicant. Spend junior year getting the best SAT/ACT score possible, and then let those scores and your GPA help determine which colleges fit your profile.
  • Second, starting and finishing test prep early greatly reduces the stress level for seniors. You have too much on your plate during your senior fall to be trying for one final test. Yes, junior year can be stressful as well, but you can mitigate that pressure by starting to prepare during the summer. Once school starts up and your course load gets more intense, you should be finished with most of the prep.
  • Finally, starting test prep early ensures that no time is wasted with the wrong test. By taking a mock SAT and ACT, you ensure that you are preparing for your strongest test. Additionally, you can use your mock SAT score to determine if you should prep for the PSAT.

Clearly, there are extenuating circumstances. Maybe your sport prevents you from prepping during the school year. In that case, use your junior or senior summer to prepare for the first fall test. You might also consider winter break as a good chunk of time for test prep.

While the ACT will have upper level math that you will learn your junior year (trigonometry, unit circles, etc.), the SAT’s math level will not go beyond Algebra II. Beginning your test prep after your sophomore year might actually help, as the material will still be fresh in your mind and not buried under more advanced concepts that you’ll learn your junior year.

It’s important to remember that, like everything, getting the SAT/ACT score you need is a process. Whatever your schedule looks like for the next year and a half, make sure you make time for test prep.

Applerouth is a trusted test prep and tutoring resource. We combine the science of learning with a thoughtful, student-focused approach to help our clients succeed. Call or email us today at 202-558-5644 or