When Should You Take the SAT?

portrait of Marisa Upson
by Marisa Upson
Published on September 9, 2021

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When Should You Take the SAT?

As part of the admissions process, some colleges and universities require ACT or SAT scores. Schools use these standardized tests to help determine an applicant's readiness for college. In addition to your GPA, your ACT/SAT scores may weigh heavily in whether or not you earn admission to your preferred school.

Like the ACT, the SAT tests math, English grammar, and reading comprehension skills. But figuring out when to take the exam can be challenging. When should you take the SAT? And what factors should you consider before registering for a specific test date?

When Is the SAT? 2021-22 Dates and Deadlines

The College Board offers the SAT seven times per year in August, October, November, December, March, May, and June. There are also SAT School Days in October, March, and April. The deadline to register is typically about a month before the test date, so it's important to plan ahead. Early registration ensures you get the test date you want and the testing center that's most convenient for you.

The cost to take the SAT is currently $55; however, many students are eligible for fee waivers. The fee for late registration is an additional $30. Of course, the later you register, the greater the odds that your preferred testing site may already be booked.

If you miss the late registration deadline, you may be able to add your name to the College Board's SAT waitlist by registering online at least five days before the test date. On the day of the exam, arrive with your standby admission ticket and photo ID. The test center will admit individuals on a first-come, first-served basis if there is space after registered students arrive. If admitted, you must pay a $53 waitlist fee.

The table below shows the SAT dates and registration deadlines for 2021-22:

SAT Test Date Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline/ Deadline for Changes
Aug. 28, 2021 July 30, 2021 Aug. 17, 2021
Oct. 2, 2021 Sept. 3, 2021 Sept. 21, 2021
Nov. 6, 2021 Oct. 8, 2021 Oct. 26, 2021
Dec. 4, 2021 Nov. 4, 2021 Nov. 23, 2021
March 12, 2022 Feb. 11, 2022 March 1, 2022
May 7, 2022 April 8, 2022 April 26, 2022
June 4, 2022 May 5, 2022 May 25, 2022

Source: College Board

When to Take the SAT: 5 Critical Factors

Five critical factors should play into your decision on when to take the SAT. These include how much time you need to prepare for test day, additional commitments, how many times you plan on taking the SAT, and college application deadlines.

How Much Prep Time Do You Need for the SAT?

When choosing your SAT date, make sure you leave yourself enough study time. Many students start preparing for the SAT 2-3 months before their test date.

If you know you have some serious studying to do to get the SAT score you want, set up a practice schedule. The College Board and Khan Academy's free official SAT practice resource creates a prep plan based on your PSAT/NMSQT score.

You also should take at least one full-length practice test before the actual SAT. If you received a score close to the number you're aiming for, you know you're ready for the test. You can find full-length practice tests at the College Board. The best SAT prep books also contain practice exams and study recommendations.

Will You Take the SAT More Than Once?

According to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, students' average SAT scores improved by almost 90 points when they retook the test. These test-takers also were more likely to enroll in a four-year college than students who only took the test once.

Of course, if you earn the score you want the first time around, you're done! However, just in case that doesn't happen, give yourself time to retest. Many experts recommend taking your first SAT in the fall or spring of your junior year and then again in the fall of your senior year. This schedule helps to ensure you've taken the necessary courses to prepare for the test and have ample time to prepare.

Does Your School Participate in SAT School Day?

The College Board allows some schools and districts to administer the SAT on a weekday. This allows students to take the test at their school in a familiar environment. If your school participates in SAT School Day, consider taking advantage of this opportunity.

By taking the test at your school, you eliminate the need to find transportation to and from a testing center. You also don't have to juggle weekend responsibilities. Finally, if you take the SAT during your junior year, you give yourself time to retake the test when you're a senior.

When Are Your College Applications Due?

A good SAT score can help you gain admission into your preferred college. It can also help you when applying for scholarships. Make sure the College Board has sufficient time to send your official SAT score report to schools before your college application deadlines.

Regular college decision deadlines are usually in December or January. The deadline for early action and early decision, which allows you to apply to one or more of your top-choice schools earlier than regular applicants, is usually in November. Check each school's college application process — deadlines and requirements vary.

Keep in mind that it takes the College Board time to process your score and send it out. Scores are usually available online about two weeks after you take the test. At that point, it takes about 1-2 weeks for colleges to receive and process your scores.

While some schools may set aside a strong application until SAT scores arrive, many disqualify late applications. Consider taking your last SAT at least seven weeks before the deadline.

What Other Commitments Do You Have?

Consider your other commitments when choosing an SAT test date. For instance, is it easier for you to set aside time to study over the summer and take the exam in August? Or do you have family or sports engagements that rule out a summer test date?

Also, think about extracurricular and academic activities, such as band and AP exams. Student-athletes tend to take the SAT early as college coaches need to know they have a good shot at acceptance. Life often gets busy in high school, making it feel like there's no good time to commit to studying for the SAT. Consider meeting with your high school guidance counselor, who can help you make a plan and stick to it.

Frequently Asked Questions About When to Take the SAT

When is the best month to take the SAT?

Many experts recommend taking the SAT in the fall or spring of your junior year and then again in the fall of your senior year. The specific month you choose depends on your outside commitments. Keep in mind that most students spend 2-3 months preparing for the SAT.

How many times should you take the SAT?

Ideally, you should plan to take the SAT at least two times. The second time you know what to expect and can fill in any knowledge gaps by studying challenging areas. One study found that students' average scores improved almost 90 points when they retook the test.

Can 10th graders take the SAT?

You can take the SAT during your sophomore year. However, in 10th grade, you're likely still learning information that will be on the SAT. A better alternative may be taking the PSAT 10 or PSAT/NMSQT, as well as online practice tests. Also, create a study schedule for the summer.

Feature Image: MoMo Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

The SAT is an important test for colleges, and a good score can improve your chances of getting accepted. Learn what a good score is for you. The SAT plays a key role in college admissions. Discover the best SAT prep books and learn how to raise your score and impress colleges.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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