I drove past an ACT test site this morning and saw a parking lot full of cars. I understand that many students wait until their senior year to test but this is not the best option. So when is the best time for students to take one of the standardized tests?
I generally recommend to the students with whom I work that they start official testing at the January SAT or the February ACT. The March SAT or April ACT are also acceptable first test dates. The student can then use the May or June test date for their second test. Rarely do I recommend that they test for a third time if they have adequately prepared before starting to take the tests.
By using a test schedule where all of the testing is done before senior year, the student has more time to identify which schools are most appropriate for their needs and at which they meet the basic admissions criteria. Having identified which colleges they wish to apply to, the student has time to start working on their essays during the summer before senior year. This schedule also allows a student that wishes to apply early decision sufficient time to have all parts of their application ready by the early deadline.
And best of all, by getting the SAT or ACT out of the way in the junior year, students no longer have to worry about what to do if they get a bad score their senior year, with little time to re-take a test.