Featured Image

4 Tips for Taking Your Standardized Tests Early

If you're planning to take the SAT or ACT early in your junior year, here are four tips to make sure you make it through in one (emotional) piece

My first experience taking the SAT was in November of my junior year. This is earlier than most juniors take the test, but I felt I should do a trial run since I expected to retake it one or two more times before graduating.

I had been informed on the experience almost exclusively by my sister, who is now a freshman in college. She never reflected glowingly on the SAT or ACT, describing the whole testing system as a necessary evil.

Beginning about eight weeks before my test day, I began my test prep via Khan Academy. I didn’t want to be worn out by the combination of test prep and my regular homework schedule, which was heating up in the mad dash toward finals.

My first crack at the SAT left me with a sense of what was required for future attempts, allowing me to overcome some of the disappointment that came with a score below my expectations. Here are four key takeaways that would’ve helped me better prepare for standardized tests and, hopefully, will help you.

Related: How to Set Good Expectations for Your SAT or ACT Scores

1. Right timing

If you’re dead set on taking the SAT or ACT early in your junior year, make sure to choose a date that allows you to balance test prep with school work and any extracurricular activities that demand your attention.

I chose November of junior year. I believed it would allow me adequate time to prepare without interfering with my preparation for finals, which are mid-to-late December at my school.

However, I failed to account for the “two-month push” that’s often necessary to be successful in my regular school work. This caused a conflicted schedule between studying for my intensive AP finals and spending the recommended time on SAT prep.  This doesn’t exist at every school, so it’s up to you to know what sort of workload you can balance in a semester.

2. Multidimensional preparation

Whether you decide to use a test prep booklet, Khan Academy, or another online source, or you’re taking a test prep class, it’s vital to balance your studying for each section. You may be a superior math student, but that doesn’t mean you can expect to breeze through that section without being aware of what material will be covered.

In my case, I devoted about 75% of my time to the Writing and Reading sections and only about 25% to Math. While this allowed me to score highly on the Reading and Writing sections, I was woefully unprepared for the Math one. Be sure to spread out your studying evenly to achieve the best score in each section.

3. Eat well and stay hydrated

This can’t be overstated. It may be difficult to have a substantial breakfast, especially that early in the morning, but you’ll regret not having one after four or more hours of testing. I went with a simple breakfast of a few toaster waffles and some milk and wasn’t terribly hungry during the test, but I still wish I’d eaten more before.

More importantly, try to stay hydrated, as it helps you feel refreshed and allows for greater focus. Snacks aren’t allowed in the testing area, but you can bring water and something with you to eat during breaks.

4. Know your strategies

Be confident in your preparation and your approach to the test. If you begin to feel nervous before or during the test, do whatever helps you relax.

It may help to socialize with other test takers before the exam begins for some students, while others may require a trip to the restroom to splash some water on their face. It’s important to do what makes you comfortable, as it will have a strong effect on the way you perform.

Related: SAT 101: Handy Tips and Tricks for the Test

For those who decide to take either the SAT or ACT early in their junior year, remember why you’re taking it. You may struggle on your first attempt and fall below your goal score, but you may also prove that your hard work has paid off and allowed you to demonstrate your academic advancement.

Regardless of your final result, you will have several more chances for improvement, and that’s why I recommend testing early. Although some colleges ask that you report all your scores, many others allow you to superscore your results.

Check out our Test Prep page for more standardized test prep advice!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

act sat standardized tests taking standardized tests early test prep when to take the SAT

About Aaron Partnow

My name is Aaron Partnow, and I’m a junior at West Valley High School in Fairbanks, Alaska. I enjoy studying government, politics, and United States history. When away from school, my passion is film and the art of cinema, especially the films of Alfred Hitchcock. I plan on attending college on the East Coast and pursuing a major in Political Science or Political Philosophy while minoring in Film Studies. One day I hope to work in the US Senate in some capacity or become a constitutional lawyer.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Brooke Maggio

Brooke Maggio

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously in my college search in narrowing down the schools I’m interested in. Using the college search tool, I was able to narrow down my choices to schools that matched what I was looking for. I also used CollegeXpress for their scholarship search, which helped me find scholarships that I meet the requirements of.

Keaun Brown

Keaun Brown

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner-2020, High School Class of 2020

As I transition to furthering my education, I can say with certainty that it simply wouldn’t be possible without the help of generous organizations such as CollegeXpress. Those who initially founded CX had no idea their platform would give a plethora of information to a first-generation homeless kid native to the ghettos of over half a dozen states. Everyone at CX and Carnegie Dartlet gave me a chance at a future when the statistics said I had none. And for that, I thank them.



University of People Student

I registered with CollegeXpress, filled all my necessary and relevant information and the course I wished to study. Few days later an email was sent to me with the list of schools offering the course, amongst them was the University of People, the school I got admitted to.



High School Class of 2021

For a long time, I've been searching everywhere to find the perfect website I can get scholarships and information from. Needless to say, I could never find the right one. That was, until I found CollegeXpress. Through my journey of finding the right scholarships for me, I was able to find articles about different things. They've all been helpful, especially in times like this! I was even able to connect with some of my favorite colleges! I love CollegeXpress. Thank you!

Kory Gilbertson

Kory Gilbertson

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress has helped me explore my views on college in that "why do I wanna go to a certain school" way. It’s helped me explore the best fits in all of these outstanding choices. All these college admission counselors can access my accolades showing them how I could help their college. This source of information helps me show these admission directors who I am and what I'm interested in. Thanks to this platform, my experience for education will be better than most, and I'm so grateful for all that it has provided for me.

College Matches