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Testing Timeline for Class of 2025

This time of year, I always get calls from high schoolers and their parents asking about the correct testing timeline.  It’s understandable why I get a lot of calls this week: the PSAT and SAT results were released last week, and the December ACT scores came out on Friday.  It’s also understandable because this is a complex question!  Students and their families need to decide whether they should take the SAT or ACT, when they should take the tests, and when and how they should study.  Plus, in this time of “test-optional” confusion, it’s valid to wonder whether you even need to take a test at all.  I’ll do my best to answer all these questions in this post.

One more thing – I’ll tailor this post to the Class of 2025, who should be current sophomores.  If you’re a junior, check out my post specifically for the Class of 2024.

I just got my PSAT Scores.  What do they mean?

The PSAT is a test offered by the CollegeBoard that will never become a part of your college applications.  Since you’re a sophomore, you probably just took the PSAT10.   Next year, you can take the PSAT/MNSQT which you can use to potentially qualify for a National Merit Scholarship.  Also, when you take the PSAT/NMSQT it will be administered digitally.  (More on that later.)  Whichever PSAT you take, keep in mind that these are just official practice tests.  You can’t send the scores to any colleges.


One thing you can use PSAT results for is to predict how you will do later on the SAT.  Of course there is a lot of variance, but most of my students can improve their baseline PSAT scores by about 150-250 points by participating in my test prep program for about 6 months.


Most colleges are test-optional now.  Do I even need to take a test?

That’s the biggest question of the year, and anyone who tells you they know for sure is probably overconfident.  Covid put the college admissions system into flux, and the dust just hasn’t settled yet.  About 80% of colleges are truly test-optional, which means you can apply without submitting SAT or ACT scores.  So, as much as it breaks this test-prep teacher’s heart to say it, the answer is you definitely have the option to skip the test.  Just make sure all the colleges on your list are truly test-optional by checking with their admissions office.

It’s now time to consider the SAT and the ACT as opportunities rather than requirements.  These opportunities aren’t for everyone, and it’s ok if that includes you or your student.  However, if you have the potential to do very well on a test and the motivation to study, there are some significant opportunities.   An impressive SAT or ACT score can help you get into a more selective college than you would based on gpa and extracurricular activities only.  High test scores can also mean more merit aid, especially if you shop around and are willing to attend a school where you are an especially strong candidate.  At some colleges, SAT scores in the mid-1300s or ACT scores of 28+ can make a 6-figure difference over four years.  That’s one heck of an opportunity.


So I might take the test.  Which one should I take?

The two big names in college application testing are SAT and ACT. Both of these tests are (mostly) multiple-choice exams that cover reading, writing, and math.  The SAT has a handful of non-multiple-choice questions and a math section where you can’t use your calculator.  The ACT has a general science section and is considered the more “speeded” of the two tests.  Because of this, if you qualify for extended time on a test, the ACT is almost always the better choice.  Its speeded nature makes the extra time a bigger advantage.  If you don’t qualify for extra time but are someone who prefers to think things through carefully, your personality is better suited for the SAT.  However, the only way to really tell which test is the better one for you is to try them both and compare your scores.

The one big thing that you have to know if you’re in the class of 2025 or later is that there’s a big change to the SAT on the horizon.  The SAT is in the process of shifting to a digital platform, which includes several significant changes:

  • The SAT will become a Computer Adaptive Test, meaning that how you answer the questions in one module will affect what questions you get in the next module.
  • If you get a lot of correct answers, the questions will get harder, and your score will get higher.  (Although it will feel like you’re doing worse.)
  • If you miss a lot of questions, the next section will get easier, but your score will go down.
  • The math sections will have a built-in graphing calculator, which you can use on every question.
  • The full test will only take 2 hours to complete, as opposed to 3+ hours for the current paper version.
  • You will likely have more choice as to what day and time you can take the SAT, but the exact calendar hasn’t been released yet.

As a member of the class of 2025, you’ll be in the unique position of having the opportunity to take THREE different tests.  You can take the paper SAT in the fall of your junior year.  You can take the digital SAT starting in March of your junior year.  Finally, you still have the option of taking the ACT at any point.  If you are in the class of 2026 or later, you’ll be able to choose between the digital SAT and the paper ACT; however, the paper SAT will be retired by the time you’re ready for testing.


I’ve decided to take the paper SAT.  When should I take it?

If you are a current sophomore, and you’d like to take the paper version of the SAT before it is retired, you should register to take it in August, October, November, and/or December of your junior year.  You can register at this link.  Most high school juniors take their first SAT in March, so you’ll be ahead of schedule.

Make sure you plan to take the SAT at least two of the available months to maximize your superscore.  Most colleges will consider your highest math score and your highest reading & writing score, even if they’re not from the same test day.  This is known as a superscore.  However, it’s still unclear as to whether colleges will agree to mix the paper and digital SATs into a single superscore.  Therefore, the best strategy, at least for now, is to try and build your best superscore with paper tests only.


I’ve decided to take the digital SAT.  When should I take it?

If you are a current sophomore, your school will likely adminsiter the new, digital PSAT in October of your junior year.  Use this as an opportunity to get a feel for the new test.  Then, in March of your junior year, you’ll have the first ever chance to take the digital SAT.  Since this March 2024 administration is still more than a year away, we don’t yet have the schedule for when it will be administered after that date.  The CollegeBoard has hinted that the digital nature of the test means there can be a greater variety of days and times available (2:00 on a Thursday maybe?) but the details aren’t available yet.


I’ve decided to take the ACT.  When should I take it?

If you’re someone who likes predictability, the ACT is the way to go.  The administration dates will stay the same as in previous years, the test format will stay the same, and it will still be printed on reliable sheets of paper.  Since there will not be any big changes to the ACT, you can still utilize the whole oeuvre of ACT prep materials and practice tests.

I recommend you take the ACT for your first time by February of your Junior year at the latest.  However, if you feel ready earlier, there’s no reason not to give it a try in the fall.  Use this link to register.  Make sure to leave yourself time to take the ACT two more times after your first try.  Your opportunities will be in April, June, July, September, and October of 2024.

When you’re a senior in high school, there’s a good chance you will want to have at least some of your college applications submitted for the Early Decision or Early Action deadlines.  These vary by college, but are usually on November 1st or soon thereafter.  So, plan to be completely done with your testing by October of your senior year.  The Regular Decision deadline is in January for most colleges, so you can still take the ACT in December if you plan to apply Regular Decision.

Because the ACT reports 4 test scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science) as compared to the SAT’s two test scores (Verbal and Math), superscoring is a bigger advantage on the ACT.  Unfortunately, a smaller proportion of colleges will accept a superscore for the ACT than will for the SAT.  (The Florida Bright Futures scholarship program is based on the ACT superscore.  If you live in Florida, this is great news!)  So, do your research and decide if you need to set a goal for a specific composite score or for a superscore based on your particular situation.


Would it be crazy to take all three?

So you’re thinking of making a triple play?  Only the Class of 2025 will have this opportunity, and while it’s unnecessary, the most competitive students will likely give it a try.  If you want to go to one of the 50 hardest colleges to get into, then you’ll need to give yourself every advantage you can.  In addition to having a stellar GPA, highly rigorous classes, and demonstrated leadership abilities and intellectual curiosity, you might want to add a super impressive test score to the mix.  If you take all the versions of the test, you will have the opportunity to send your best scores and keep the lower ones off your application.

Please keep in mind that there are never any guarantees when applying to schools like “the ivies.”  Harvard rejects students with 4.0’s and 1600’s all the time!  Also, keep in mind that a student with a 1500 SAT or 34 ACT can be just as attractive as one with a perfect score.  These highly selective colleges are looking for specific things, but perfection isn’t one of them.  However, high schools are definitely trending toward grade inflation.  That means your amazing GPA will look even better with some additional evidence that you are a true smartypants.  So, if you have your sights set on one of the hardest schools to get into, I recommend trying both the SAT (either version or both) and ACT.  This will give you the best odds that you can hit a score high enough to impress these picky admissions offices.


When should I start to study?

If you are currently a sophomore, it’s still a little early to start your test prep.  I recommend signing up for a class, such as the TP4S combo classes, during the summer between your sophomore and junior years. Studying during the summer has three great advantages: the test prep won’t compete with your very important academic classes, the test prep will help you avoid the “summer slide” (i.e. forgetting everything you learned, especially in math), and studying over the summer means you’ll be ready to test in the fall of your junior year, a full season ahead of most of your classmates.


In conclusion…

College admission testing is not a one-size-fits-all experience.  You can take the SAT, ACT, both, or neither.  If you’re in the Class of 2025 you have the additional choice of paper vs. digital SAT.  I’ve had students get into fabulous schools (even “the ivies”) and others get amazing scholarships because of the opportunities that these tests can bring.  I’ve also had students find their confidence and use these tests to build reading, writing, math, test-taking, and study skills that will serve them well when they get to college.  I know there are lots of students who never called me because they selected the test optional route, and yet are having amazing futures.  One thing I’ve never had is a student who really wanted to go to college and couldn’t get in anywhere.  You might get into your dream school, or your might not.  Either way, remind yourself there are hundreds of fantastic colleges that have space for you.

You have a lot of options and can follow a testing plan that’s just right for you.  However, making a plan when there are so many options is confusing!  Use the information in this article and the timeline graphic to work out a plan for yourself, but don’t sweat it if life happens and your plans need to change.  Because of all these options, you can be flexible when you need to be.  Just keep in mind that having a flexible plan is very different from not having a plan at all.  If you don’t have a plan, you will let time pass without taking any action, and that might lead to missed opportunities.  Instead, decide what you want, decide how you’re going to get it, and go do this thing!  High school will be over before you know it, and the opportunities that come next will be based on the decisions you make today.