There are 7 official College Board SAT test dates every year: March, May, June, August, October, November, and December. SAT scores are good for 5 years, so you effectively have 35 different SAT test dates to choose from. That’s a lot of options! But don’t worry; it’s not as complicated as it sounds. To decide when to take the SAT, we need to first talk about your goals.

If you’re looking to answer the question “when should I take the SAT?” – then good news! This is a personalized guide for how to pick the best SAT test date for you, based on your background and your goals.

Get the SAT Score You Want

Plain and simple your goal should be to get the SAT score you want in time for college admissions and scholarship deadlines. This might seem obvious, but it’s important. In fact, it’s the only reason why you’re taking the SAT in the first place! 

But you also need to remember that the first time you take the SAT may not be your last. Many students choose to take the SAT 2, 3, or even 4 times depending on their score. However, taking the test multiple times without additional prep won’t do you much good. You’re better off with a strategy from the get-go.

I recommend you take an official practice test at home, come up with a goal score for yourself and then take the time to prep, usually 6-12 weeks before an official test date. This strategy will help you focus on getting your best score the first time you take the test. But, it’s still always a good idea to have a backup date just in case you don’t get the score you want the first time. You should plan for enough time to take the SAT twice before any college application or scholarship deadlines.  

For many students, that means taking the SAT for the first time by the end of junior year– usually a March or May test date. This way your backup test can be June or August. That may be the advice you got from your high school counselor, or maybe it’s what all of your friends are doing. It’s a very common strategy.

This timing is a fine option for many students, but it may not be the best option for you. Let’s walk through a few questions that you should answer before you decide when to take the SAT.

What Else Do You Have on Your Plate?

Prepping for the SAT takes time and dedication, as much or more than prepping for a final exam or an AP test. You likely have a few other important things on your plate too though, right? Maybe you’re in the spring theater production or involved in a fall sport. Maybe you’re part of a debate team with competitions in the fall or you lead a volunteer group in the spring.

Think about all your social, extracurricular, and athletic commitments. If you have a particularly busy season, consider avoiding adding another stressor like SAT prep to the mix.

You don’t always have the ability to control your schedule but picking a good SAT test date for you is one thing you actually can control.

If the spring of your junior year is very busy, you may want to take the SAT for the first time in the fall (October or November test dates). Your backup date can be November or December, or even the spring if needed.

Or, if the fall of your junior and senior years are very busy, consider taking the SAT in the spring of your junior year (March or May test dates). Your backup can be the June test date. It’s important to remember that you’ll need time to prep before the test. So, factor that in when you’re determining how your schedule impacts which SAT test date to target.  

Ideally, you have about 6-12 weeks before the test to dedicate to prep. That’s not all-day everyday prep, but it should be enough time in your week that you could study, go to tutoring or attend a prep class.

Studying for Other Tests like AP Exams or SAT Subject Tests Can Blur Your Focus

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about all those AP tests you have on your plate, too. I know it can sometimes feel overwhelming just how many high-pressure tests you have to take right now. But if you strategically plan out test dates that you can control, you can make things a lot less stressful for yourself. And that’s a good thing, right?

How many AP exams are you taking junior year? What about other tests like SAT Subject Tests? It may not be the best idea to try to prep for all these tests at once.

The SAT requires foundational knowledge of topics like algebra and grammar- things you may not have seen in a few years. This kind of studying won’t exactly line up with studying for an AP Calculus exam or Spanish SAT Subject Test.

I recommend spreading out these tests as much as possible. If the spring is full of AP tests and others, consider prepping for and taking the SAT for the first time in the fall of your junior year (August or October test dates).

One note: if fall and spring are equally busy with extracurriculars, sports or other tests, it may work well to prep for the SAT over the summer between your sophomore and junior years and take the August SAT as you start your junior year.

Alright, so you’ve made mental notes about your schedule and other tests you have on your plate. Hopefully you’ve narrowed down when to take the SAT based on what you have going on.

There are a few other things to consider when deciding when to take the SAT, though. Stick with me, here. I promise this strategy will help you pick the right test date for you.

The Math Class You Are Taking in School Matters

The typical order of high school math classes is:

  • Algebra 1
  • Geometry
  • Algebra 2
  • Pre-Calculus
  • Calculus

The SAT math sections cover topics from Algebra 1, Algebra 2, and some Geometry. Pre-Calculus and Calculus topics are not covered on the SAT.

Ideally, you have completed Algebra 2 before you take the SAT, but it isn’t completely necessary if you’re willing to put in the time to prep. In fact, the sooner you take the SAT after completing Algebra 2, the better. As you move on to more advanced math, topics like factoring and graphing linear equations from Algebra just become more rusty. It’s best to take the SAT when these topics are fresh in your mind.

Many students will take Algebra 2 their junior year. If that’s the case for you, then consider taking the SAT no earlier than the spring of your junior year. You may need to do a little extra prep if it’s the March test date, but it’s definitely doable if that’s what works for your schedule. The May test date can also be a good option.

If you have completed Algebra 2 sophomore year or earlier, you’ve likely covered all math content in school that you will see on the SAT. Consider your schedule and other factors to determine the best test date for you. Remember, you don’t want to be too far from Algebra 2 when you take the SAT. Prepping the summer between sophomore and junior year usually works well for students that take Algebra 2 their sophomore year.

What is Your Earliest College Admissions Deadline?

In general, you shouldn’t target your senior year to be the first time you take the SAT. It should only be backup. But it can be helpful to consider how many backup test date options you have the fall of your senior year. And this really depends on your college admissions and scholarship deadlines.

You may know that colleges use a few different admissions processes that fall into 4 categories: regular decision, early action, early decision, rolling admissions. All of these except rolling admissions have specific deadlines. It’s important you do your research and understand the process and deadline for each of the colleges you are applying to.

Regular decision is the most common. January is a prime month for regular decision deadlines, but some may be slightly earlier or later. For January admissions deadlines, the October SAT is the latest test date you can take senior year. The scores from the November test date won’t be available in time for you to meet regular decision deadlines in January.

Early action and early decision deadlines can vary from college to college and even vary among different majors within the same college. Early action and early decision deadlines are usually in November. Sometimes, there’s a second round of early decision in January. But regardless, if you’re targeting a college’s early action or early decision deadline, the August SAT date is the last test date you can take senior year.

Take the time to research college admissions deadlines so you have your best score when you need it. But it isn’t just admissions deadlines that matter.


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Scholarship Deadlines May be Even Earlier

Scholarships are kind of a big deal. They may be the reason why you’re pushing for your best score on the SAT. Whether you’re applying for a national, local or college-sponsored scholarship, you need to consider early deadlines.

Many major scholarship deadlines are scattered throughout the fall, as early as September. You want your best SAT score before applying, so you’ll need to leave enough time to take the SAT (plus a backup date) before any of these scholarship deadlines.

If you’re applying for a major scholarship at a specific college, you may have to apply early for admission. It’s a good idea to play it safe and prepare early for these deadlines. Usually this means targeting the June test date before senior year as your final backup date.


Keep in mind your athletic and extracurricular commitments, other test dates, what level of math you are in, and college admissions and scholarship deadlines when deciding when to take the SAT. It all plays a roll in which test date is best for you.

Maybe the spring of your junior year works well. Or, maybe you need to target the fall of your junior year because you have a very busy spring. Or, maybe you’ve completed Algebra 2 as a sophomore, and you want to jump in a little early so the summer before junior year makes sense.

Getting the score you want on the SAT can open doors. Deciding when to take the SAT is an important first step to getting your best score.


Ally Kotwica
Ally is the Director of Marketing at Test Geek. She is passionate about connecting with students and families and helping them craft an actionable plan to a score improvement. In her free time, you'll find her sewing her own wardrobe or cuddling with her pup, Penny.

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