By Miles Kelly | December 18, 2023, at 10:00 a.m.

Test plan strategy is almost as important as direct test preparation when it comes to the SAT and ACT.

Early decision-making about which test to take, when to take it, when to start practicing, and how to optimize your results is the most proactive way to approach college admissions and standardized testing specifically.

Choosing the Right Test

The first step is to decide which test to take: the SAT or the ACT. While many students “feel better” about one test than the other, or believe one test to be “easier” than the other, feelings should be put aside when choosing which test to focus on.

The simple answer is that every student should focus on the test where they’re scoring higher.

The Importance of Practice TestsThe College Planning Center in South Carolina will be guiding high school students in selecting the appropriate standardized test based on their high school student's goals.

For this reason, we encourage all of our students to take a practice SAT and practice ACT so that we can use them to compare the test scores.

Each test uses a completely different scale—1600 points on the SAT and 36 points on the ACT—so after scoring the practice tests, we will use concordance charts and percentile ranks to determine where the student is the strongest.

If a student scores the same on both tests, we should take into account their preferences for each test.

However, if a student scores significantly higher on one test than the other, then we have a clear indication of where we need to focus our preparation efforts.

At The College Planning Center, we will help both parents and high school students understand the standardized tests, important test dates, and deadlines for test registration and preparation.When to Take the Standardized Test

Another important decision to make for test preparation is when to begin scheduling SATs and ACTs for admission.

If a student is aiming for a standard admissions timeline, our recommendation is for students to aim for early spring test dates during their Junior Year.

March, April, and May test dates are the most common for good reason.

Students have learned almost all of the test material from their coursework by that point, and if students don’t get their desired scores, they have ample opportunity to retest during the summer and fall.

Students looking into Early Decision may need to start the process earlier, sitting for their first test in late fall and then retesting in the spring and summer.

Parents and high school students can find the optimal test preparation at The College Planning Center in South Carolina, where we believe in the importance of practice tests.Practice Makes Perfect

Once you’ve decided on a test date, the next step is to plan when you are going to begin test prep.

A good rule of thumb is that you want to start prepping at least three months before your first test date.

That allows enough time to refresh any weak concepts and also work on test-specific strategies.

The ideal amount of time for test prep is six to nine months in advance of your first test date. 

That allows a great deal of time to work on concepts and strategies and also complete several full practice tests with your test tutor.

SAT and ACT Testing Accommodations

If you are looking into testing accommodations such as extended time for students with learning differences, you’ll need to begin that process at least two months before you plan to take the test.

The best option is to go through your student’s high school counselor, who can guide you through the necessary paperwork.

Free download on Conquering Test Anxiety for College Planning.