Standardized Testing Timeline
PSAT, PLAN, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, AP exams—why are there so many tests? Who is trying to torture me? I just want to go to college!
Navigating the college admissions process is tricky, in large part because of all these standardized tests. The key to not getting overwhelmed is to understand the various tests, talk with your college counselor, and plot a timeline early on for the tests you should take.
No standardized tests for you. Work on your grades!
October: if your school offers the PSAT, it’s a good idea to take it. The PSAT is a “P”reliminary SAT; the content is similar to that of the SAT, but the PSAT is shorter, easier, and essay-less.
The two main benefits of taking the PSAT as a sophomore:
- It’s good practice for the SAT (and a PSAT score will show you which area(s) of the test you might be weaker in).
- It’s good practice for your junior-year PSAT (see below).
Fall (generally): if your school offers the PLAN, it’s a good idea to take it. The PLAN is essentially a preliminary ACT; like its counterpart, the PSAT, the PLAN is a shorter, easier, essay-less version of the test it’s meant to prepare you for. To use classic analogy format, PSAT : SAT :: PLAN : ACT.*
The benefit of taking the PLAN as a sophomore:
- It’s good practice for the ACT (and a PLAN score will show you which area(s) of the test you might be weaker in).
October: if your school offers the PSAT, it’s a good idea to take it.
The two main benefits of taking the PSAT as a junior:
- It’s good practice for the SAT.
- A good score can earn you National Merit recognition, which may include a scholarship! (See http://www.nationalmerit.org/nmsp.php)
- SAT/ACT – You will likely start taking one or both of these at this point (technically, you can take these tests earlier, but it’s almost always better to wait until junior year, when you’ve studied the requisite content, especially the math). For a look at the differences between the SAT and the ACT, click here.
- AP Exams – If you’re taking any AP courses, you can take their corresponding AP exams in May; doing well on AP exams generally earns you placement out of introductory-level college courses and may even gain you college credit.
- SAT Subject Tests – These are one-hour, multiple-choice tests in specific subjects (e.g., Spanish, U.S History, Biology). Note that the Subject Tests are given on the same dates as the SAT; you cannot take both the SAT and a Subject Test on the same date, but you can take up to three Subject Tests on a date when you are not taking the SAT. Not all colleges require Subject Tests, but they’re a good way to show off your strengths. And there’s a lot of material overlap between AP Exams and Subject Tests, so it makes sense to take them around the same time. Remember that students opt into the Subject Tests, so take the ones in areas where you know you’ll excel.
Each test is offered only three times during the spring, but the dates are staggered so that the SAT and the ACT are never given on the same weekend.
Fall: Hopefully you’ve taken the SAT and/or the ACT and/or Subject Tests by now, but if you want to improve your scores, you’ll have one to two more opportunities (usually in October and November, though some colleges may not accept scores from November test dates. Check with your college counselor to be absolutely sure!).
Spring: Enjoy life! You got into college! All your dreams are coming true! And that’s due in large part to the fact that you planned out early on which tests you would take when. HINT HINT.
* The SAT discontinued its Analogies section several years ago. Hooray!
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