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Testing Timelines: Considerations and Planning for Sophomores and Juniors

Jamie Kirby December 04, 2023

Testing Timelines Considerations and Planning for Sophomores and Juniors

You have probably heard a lot of talk about admissions testing and the test-optional landscape post-COVID.  With the option to apply without test scores, do you still need to take the SAT or ACT?  Is it still important?

The Answer: Yes to both.

Test-optional policies can vary widely.  Some colleges may not require test scores in general, BUT do require them for specific majors.  Some do not require scores for admission, BUT require them for maximum scholarship consideration.  Some do not use test scores at all (test-blind), and some are back to requiring test scores for all students.

The key word in test-optional is “optional.”  You want the option to submit your test score or not based on your score and stats for that college; you do not want to have to default to not sending a score because you didn’t take it or didn’t prepare.  You also want to make sure you have a good score available in case any colleges require a score in general or for your major.

My recommendation is to devote time to preparing for the test and plan to test several times.   Then, after you have your best score, you can decide for each college on your list whether it would benefit you to submit it as part of your application or not.

Which test to take?

Colleges will equally accept either the SAT or ACT, and will use the score from your best test.

Start with a practice test of both the SAT and the ACT. Your school may offer the PSAT or Pre-ACT tests to sophomores and juniors; take those if available.  If you are not able to take the PSAT or Pre-ACT at school, you can take practice tests on your own; here is a free practice SAT and a free practice ACT.

Use a concordance chart to compare your scores between tests.  If one emerges as the clearly better test for you, that is the one you should pursue.  If the scores are fairly similar, choose the test you felt was a better fit.

A few hints to help you decide:

  • If you score significantly higher (60-70 points) on the Math section than the Reading/Writing section of the PSAT, the SAT will likely be a better test.
  • If you score significantly higher (60-70 points) on the Reading/Writing section than the Math section of the PSAT, the ACT will likely be a better test for you.
  • 75% of the ACT is reading comprehension - the Science section has reading passages, in addition to the Reading and English sections.
  • Starting in January 2024, the SAT will be digital. The ACT is still a paper test...for now.

Testing Timeline

There are several factors to consider when creating a testing timeline:

  • Your current math course.  If you are currently taking Algebra II, it would benefit you to have completed at least the first semester of the course before testing.  If you have already completed Algebra II and are in Precalculus or higher, you could test at any time.
  • Your personal schedule.  Are you a spring sport athlete?  If so, you should consider testing in the fall and/or early winter so that you do not have to test in season.  Do you travel in the summer?  You may not be able to dedicate the time needed for good test prep for an August or September test. Consider your school work load, extracurricular activities, and family activities when choosing your test dates.
  • Your comfort with testing Do you struggle with test anxiety?  Will you feel more comfortable having test dates spread out throughout the year, or would you rather take them close together?  Will you become more confident as you take it for a second or third time, or are multiple tests likely to make you more anxious?
  • Colleges and programs you are considering.  Are you likely to apply for an early decision or early action deadline?  Do any majors or special programs you are applying to have early deadlines or specific test score requirements?

  • School-sponsored dates.  Some high schools have a date scheduled where all juniors will take a test during the school day, paid for by the district or state.  Check with your school counselor to find out which test (if any) is offered and what the date is, and build that opportunity into your test-taking plan.

When looking at your timeline as a whole, plan on testing three times.  Typically, there is an increase in scores between the first and second test.  Have a third test date planned to focus on improving specific section scores; you can decide after the second test if it is needed or not.  Scores tend to plateau after taking the test three times, so don’t get too excessive with the number of dates you choose.

Sample Testing Plans



Currently Enrolled in Precalculus

Spring Sport Athlete

Currently Enrolled in Calculus

Busy Summer Schedule

Currently Enrolled in Algebra II

Winter Sport Athlete

Test #1



February/March School-day Test

Test #2


February/March School-day Test


Test #3

February/March School-day Test




(Note: It is not necessary to start testing sophomore year, but these are timeline recommendations if you would like to consider it.)


Currently Enrolled in Geometry

Currently Enrolled in Algebra II

Currently enrolled in Precalculus

Test #1

Wait to Test Until Winter of Junior Year



Test #2

November/December of Junior Year

September/October of Junior Year

Test #3

February/March School-day Test Junior Year

December of Junior Year

As you can see, a testing timeline will vary depending on your individual circumstances and needs. For the Algebra II junior above, we recommend a general timeline of a spring test for #2 and a summer test for #3, but they could choose either the April or May date for spring, and either the June or July date for summer.

Following a strategic timeline for testing will allow you to maximize your curriculum to ensure that you have covered the necessary content, and help you be efficient with your time.  That will help you earn the best score you can to allow you to truly consider all of the options for test score submission with your application.

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Tagged: testing, psat, standardized test, ACT, SAT, test prep, juniors, sophomores, test optional

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