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


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
Fernando Ponce

Fernando Ponce

High School Junior

College is a way of life that helps us find out who we are as a person, and CollegeXpress is a great way to stay connected with our future, even for students with little time on their hands due to the challenges of high school we face.

Joan Franklin

Joan Franklin


I love this website and have been using it for years with my students. I originally bought products through Wintergreen Orchard House and appreciated having key facts at my fingertips when advising students. Your site is easy to access and offers a wide array of topics I need as a busy college counselor.

Rhiannon Teeter

Rhiannon Teeter

$2,000 Community Service Scholarship Winner, 2012

I have spent a lot of time aggressively searching for scholarships. It was a long and frustrating process until I found the CollegeXpress network. This site made my search so much easier. With the simple check of a few boxes, the site sorted out scholarships I was eligible for and led me directly to the correct websites. Winning this scholarship has definitely given me and my family some financial relief, and CollegeXpress has allowed me to improve my chances of winning further financial aid. Thank you so much!

Priscilla Yeboah

Priscilla Yeboah

High School Student

I was afraid and timid throughout my search for colleges, but I finally found the college that was fit for me and luckily I got accepted. One of the most influential things that helped me was the articles and advice on CollegeXpress. They've helped me a lot and benefited me as a senior to make the right choices in life. Thank you!

Mataya Mann

Mataya Mann

High School Class of 2022

To say that CollegeXpress is a helpful tool would be an understatement as it is much more than that. Before finding CollegeXpress, all I knew was that I wanted to go to college, it was going to be insanely expensive, and I felt lost. CollegeXpress has given me access to resources such as helpful tips for applications and scholarship [opportunities], and helped guide me in a direction where I feel confident moving forward and pursuing a career. CollegeXpress has helped instill a spark in me that makes me want to continue and supports me in doing so.

College Matches

Colleges You May Be Interested In

North Park University

Chicago, IL

Agnes Scott College

Atlanta, GA