Senior year is coming up, and you're ready to take a last shot at the SAT or ACT before applying to college. But when should you take the test? And how can you ensure that your scores make it to colleges on time?
Read on to see a list of the fall and winter test dates as well as a detailed guide on how to choose the best date for your situation.
First Up: Make Sure You Have the Right Target Score
Test Dates and Deadlines for Seniors
PrepScholar uses analysis of historical data and date selection principles to project these registration deadlines. The registration dates and deadlines for the 2023-24 school year have not been officially confirmed by the College Board or ACT; the dates below are projections based on anticipated test dates that have been released by the College Board and ACT.
SAT Test Dates
Paper registration deadline: September 8
Digital registration deadline: September 22
Late registration deadline: September 26
Paper registration deadline: October 6
Digital registration deadline: October 20
Late registration deadline: October 24
Paper registration deadline: November 3
Digital registration deadline: November 17
Late registration deadline: November 21
ACT Test Dates
Regular registration deadline: August 4
Late registration deadline: August 18
Regular registration deadline: September 17
Late registration deadline: October 1
Regular registration deadline: November 3
Late registration deadline: November 17
Regular registration deadline: January 6
Late registration deadline: January 20
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Which Test Dates Should I Pick?
Your decision should be based on a few different factors; college application deadlines and score goals are the most important. In general, try and go for the earlier dates to reduce stress!
NOTE: Many schools have become test optional for the 2022/2023 and 2023/2024 application years as a result of the coronavirus. This means that you don't need to submit test scores to them. However, if you still choose to submit test scores, you'll need to submit them by the required deadline, or they won't be considered.
Choosing the Best Test Date for Your College Applications
Before you settle on a testing date, make sure you know the application deadlines for your schools. If you are applying Early Decision or Early Action, most colleges have November application deadlines. If you are applying regular decision, applications are usually due in early January. Schools often accept SAT and ACT scores after application deadlines, but to verify this you should look up policies at the specific schools where you are planning on submitting scores.
Harvard, for example, advises you to submit at least one component of its testing requirements (SAT or ACT) by October for Early Action and November for regular decision. However, they will continue to accept results from test dates as late as November for Early Action and as late as January for regular decision. There are some schools, including Yale, that will even accept scores from regular decision applicants on tests taken as late as February (for the ACT).
As a general rule, if you are applying Early Action or Early Decision, the latest you should take the SAT is November, and the latest you should take the ACT is October. If you are applying regular decision, the latest you should take the SAT is December, and the latest you should take the ACT is February.
Again, these are the LATEST dates you might take the tests—they may not be the best dates for your situation.
If you wait for your results before sending scores to colleges rather than choosing to send scores the day of the test, you will end up with about a month between when you take the test and when colleges receive your scores. The ACT takes around two weeks to give you your scores, and the SAT takes around three weeks. Then it's another two weeks or so to send the scores to your schools unless you use Rush Reporting for the SAT. Rush Reporting sends your scores to colleges within four business days, but it will cost you almost three times the fee associated with a regular score report ($31 vs. $12), and some schools don't accept it.
Make sure you're aware of how late your schools will accept SAT and ACT scores if your scores won't make it there by the application deadline.
How the College Board apparently sends your scores, am I right?
Choosing the Best Test Date for Your Score Goals
Whether or not you're planning on taking the SAT or ACT more than once this year, my advice is to aim for an early fall test date, like one in September. Then, you can formulate a game plan for the rest of the year based on your performance.
I Took an October SAT, Now What?
The most important considerations for you to plan your testing strategy are: 1) whether you can even register for the next test date, and 2) whether you can avoid late fees. Generally speaking, the registration deadlines are packed so tightly that if you don't register for the next test right before you get your scores back, you're going to run into late fees.
Here's a chart that shows how this will play out:
|Which Test?||Test Date||Deadline||Late Deadline||Score Release|
|SAT||Oct 7, 2023||Sep 8, 2023 (paper)
Sept 22, 2023 (digital)
|Sep 26, 2023||Oct 20, 2023|
|SAT||Nov 4, 2023||Oct 6, 2023 (paper)
Oct 20, 2023 (digital)
|Oct 24, 2023||Nov 17, 2023|
|SAT||Dec 2, 2023||Nov 3, 2023 (paper)
Nov 17, 2023 (digital)
|Nov 21, 2023||Dec 15, 2023|
For example: October's test date is October 7, and test scores should come out around October 20. November's normal registration deadline is October 6 for the paper exam, and its late registration deadline is October 24. Therefore:
- If you're sure you want to take both October and November tests, register for the November test before you take the October test to avoid late fees.
- If you take the October test and have not registered for the November test, you might wait for your October scores to arrive. If they're not good, register for the November test immediately (you'll have to pay a late fee).
November and December are tight as well:
- If you're sure you want to take both November and December test dates, register for the December test before you receive your November scores to make the deadline.
- November scores should come out November 17. The regular registration deadline for December is November 3 (for the paper exam), one day before the actual November test date. The late deadline is November 21. Thus, if you wait until you receive your November scores, you'll be cutting it very close to take the December test at all, and you'll need to pay the late fee.
- If you take the November test and feel like you did poorly, immediately register for the December test for your last chance.
If the extra fees are not significant to you, and you feel like you need many chances to take the test, err on the side of caution and register for all the test dates. You can cancel your test dates without any issue--it won't go on your record and the College Board will gladly just take your money.
I Took a September ACT, Now What?
Let's go through the same logic for ACT test dates in 2023-24 here.
|Which Test?||Test Date||Deadline||Late Deadline||Score Release|
|ACT||Sept 9, 2023||Aug 4, 2023||Aug 18, 2023||Sept 19, 2023|
|ACT||Oct 21, 2023||Sept 17, 2023||Oct 1, 2023||Nov 7, 2023|
|ACT||Dec 9, 2023||Nov 3, 2023||Nov 17, 2023||Dec 19, 2023|
If you take the September test:
- The registration deadline for the October test is September 17. This is after the September 9 test date and around the same time you should get your scores back.
- When you get your September scores back, if you need to retake, quickly register for the October test to make the deadline. You may also want to register for the October test before you receive your September scores, just to be sure you get a spot at a test center.
If you take the October test:
- The normal registration deadline for the December test is November 3. This is before the October score release date, so you won’t be able to wait until you receive your scores to decide whether to take the December ACT. If you do wait till October scores are released, you’ll just have to pay a late fee to register for the December test.
Hopefully all of this helps you plan out the step by step testing plan for senior year.
Choosing the Best Test Date for Your Study Plan
By the end of your junior year, you probably know how much you are looking to improve on standardized tests before you send scores to colleges. The summer between junior and senior year is a great studying opportunity.
If you are hoping to dramatically change your scores, putting in 5 hours a week for those three months is likely to give you a 150-200 point boost on the SAT or a 4-6 point boost on the ACT. For more advice on creating a study plan, check out our Complete Plans for both the SAT and ACT.
You should register for the first fall test date even if you think you still need to study more. Every test session presents a unique opportunity to assess your strengths and weaknesses in a controlled environment. You can always sign up for the next date right away if the first test doesn't go as well as you hoped!
Make sure you save time outside of studying to engage in fun summer activities, which apparently at some point in history included walking along depressing beaches in wildly impractical dresses.
Be aware of your application deadlines.
Check with your schools to see when they accept test scores.
Be prepared to sign up for the test again if you aren't satisfied the first time.
The earlier test date is the better test date because you will have more opportunities later on to improve your scores!
Read this article if you're wondering how many times you should take the SAT overall.
Debating whether you should retake the ACT or SAT? Check out our article that walks you through the decision!
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
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Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.