When Should You Start Studying for the SAT?

Class, homework, tests, AP exams, sports, clubs, meetings, friends – as if there weren’t enough going on in high school, there’s also the SAT.

You already know the SAT is a critical part of your college application, and even though it tests skills you learn in high school, most students benefit from some test prep.

That’s because even if you do well in school, it doesn’t mean you’ll find the SAT easy or its questions straightforward. Even the best students can struggle on the exam. But the good news is that with a little hard work, anyone can improve their score on the exam and boost the strength of their college applications.

But how much should you study and when should you start studying? The answer to these questions depends largely upon you year in high school. Before we get into when exactly you should start studying for the test, it helps to know when exactly the SAT is offered.

When is the SAT offered?

The SAT is given seven months of the year, always on a Saturday. You can take the SAT on the last Saturday of January and the first Saturday of March, May, June, October, November, and December. The test is not given February, April, July, or August.

The most common times to take the SAT are the fall of junior year, the winter or spring of junior year, and fall of senior year. Not everyone takes the SAT at these times or this many times. Also, it’s generally a good idea to space out your attempts at the SAT. Taking it twice in back to back months gives you an insufficient amount of time to refocus and improve, especially since most these months fall during the busy school year.

Below we outline what we recommend as far as when to take the test and when to study for it. Though a little SAT prep is better than no SAT prep, allow at least two months to study before taking the exam, and in those two months, try to study consistently, even if it’s just a little every day.

Freshman and Sophomore Year

These are the easy years as far as SAT prep goes because you don’t need to start studying for the exam yet. Focusing on your classes is the best thing you can do as an underclassman as what you learn these years will show up on the exam when you take it your junior or senior year. Your high school GPA is also a major component of your college applications, so try your best in classes and challenge yourself academically.

Summer before Junior Year

This is where the fun begins… that is if you find test prep fun. As hard as it may be to think about the SAT over the long summer months, this is the best time to start preparing as things will only get more hectic once the school year begins. Use the extra hours you have over the summer to start studying for the SAT so that when the fall comes, you’ll be ready, and you won’t have to juggle a lot of SAT prep with home work and extracurriculars.

Fall of Junior Year

This is the best time to take the SAT for the first time. While some students only take the SAT once, most students take the SAT at least twice, so taking the test now will give you plenty of time to retake it should you chose to. Don’t be dismayed by the fact that you may have to take it twice or more to get a good score. The SAT isn’t supposed to be easy, but like any standardized test, you can improve with practice.

Winter/Spring of Junior Year

Junior year is tough. Often juniors have the most demanding schedules of any high school class, so studying for the SAT during the school year can be difficult. However, the end of your junior year is the second best time to take the SAT, especially if you didn’t take it at the start of the year. Taking it in the winter of spring of junior year still gives you time to study for and retake the exam before college application deadlines that are now under a year away.

Fall of Senior Year

This is often the last time to take the SAT before college application deadlines, and this is also a great time to take any SAT II tests as you’ll likely have covered their advanced subject matter in school by now. Again, if you decide to take the SAT in the fall of your senior year, the best time to study is the summer before the school year starts.

What if you’re “behind schedule” ?

Often there’s an ideal and then there’s the reality you have to deal with. If you haven’t followed the suggested schedule above, don’t freak out. If you’re already into your junior year or about to start your senior year and haven’t taken the SAT yet, you can still study for and do well on the test. It will just take some extra effort on your part.

By your junior and senior year in high school, the SAT is the only part of your application you have some control over in that you can improve it relatively quickly through focused studying. By this point the other aspects of your application have already taken shape: It’s much harder to dramatically improve your GPA and you can’t go back to freshman year and take different courses or join more clubs. So if you think that you’re behind schedule, don’t dwell on how you became to be behind schedule; instead just get started preparing for the SAT. What you do now will make a difference come test day.