Your Ideal Test Prep Timeline

Last updated Oct 5, 2021 

Your schedule is packed with classes, sports, clubs, and other responsibilities, so it’s tricky to work out the ideal timeline for test prep. Don’t worry! We have it covered. Find out when to take a diagnostic practice test, complete a test prep course or tutoring, and schedule your exams.

Get Started with a Diagnostic Test

Know where you stand and which test is right for by taking both a SAT and an ACT diagnostic test during the spring of your sophomore year or early in the summer before junior year. Resist the temptation to test yourself any earlier, (especially if you haven’t taken Algebra II), but also don’t wait too long or you’ll miss out on valuable summer prep time. 

Can I just use my PSAT scores? Not really. Despite its name, the PSAT is not the same test as the SAT. The real thing is longer, harder, and scored a bit differently. When you take the PSAT during your sophomore year, you are getting a preview of what it would be like to take the PSAT in your junior year, which only matters if you’re confident you can get a score impressive enough to qualify for a National Merit Scholarship. 

You also might be wondering if you should just go ahead and take an actual SAT or ACT. It’s not worth it. Taking official tests costs money and time, and you’re probably not going to want to share your scores anyway.

To take a diagnostic test, sign up for a free proctored exam or call us at 215-886-9188. You’ll receive a detailed score report and one of our directors will explain the results and help you interpret them.

To get the most out of your diagnostic test, make sure that you take it in as close to a real testing situation as possible:

  • Take the full test in one sitting, preferably on a Saturday morning.
  • Try to replicate a classroom setting (e.g. quiet room, no phones, desk, and a clock).
  • Have all of the required materials (e.g. complete test, answer sheet, calculator, pencils).
  • Follow time limits for each section, including the official ten minute breaks.
  • Score your test and review the results.

If possible, review your results with an expert who can break down your strengths and weaknesses, help you choose between the SAT and ACT, and work with you to create a personalized test prep plan. You can even maximize your chances of success by pairing your practice test with another diagnostic tool: Mindprint. Students who choose A+ for test prep get access to Mindprint, an hour long online assessment of how you learn.

Plan Your Test Prep and Test Dates

So you’ve taken a diagnostic test and reviewed your results, what’s next? That depends. Review the testing timeline below to figure out your next steps. 


There is no one-size-fits-all plan, so the above recommendations are just a general guideline. If you don’t think you can handle test prep on top of fall sports or rehearsals for a winter theater production, then create a test prep timeline that works for you. If you’re an athlete who needs scores for recruitment purposes, get started early too. As long as you set aside at least three months to prepare before a test, you should be okay. 

Anyone who needs testing accommodations should apply for them as soon as possible, so get ahead by requesting approval before junior year starts. For those with existing IEP and 504 plans, the ACT has recently streamlined the process: “[students] will automatically be eligible to receive the allowable testing accommodations when they register for the ACT with accommodations.”

The only thing you really want to avoid is waiting until the last minute to take your first real SAT or ACT. Since you should plan on taking the test at least twice and will need at least a month for more test prep to address the weak areas from your first test, do not put off your exams until the fall of your senior year. 

Suggestions for Seniors

By the summer before senior year, most of you will have taken the SAT/ACT at least once, if not twice. If necessary, plan to take at least one more test some time during the fall. Whether you have already reached your goal score or still have room for improvement, the summer is a perfect opportunity to work on any of your weaker areas before taking the test one more time. You should also be in the process of finalizing the list of schools you plan to apply to, so you’ll have a better idea what scores you need to get in. 

Sending Scores

The last step is to send your scores to your chosen colleges. You can send free score reports when you take an SAT/ACT, but it’s wise to wait unless you need to save money or you’re confident you’ll get your desired score before taking the test. 

Those who are okay with waiting and paying a fee can take advantage of Score Choice and Superscoring. For more information: ACT Policy, SAT Policy. Score submission policies vary by college, so double check before making any final decisions.

What’s Next?

The ideal test prep timeline may not be exactly the same for everyone, but there are a few key benchmarks all students should keep in mind: take a diagnostic test before your junior year, complete test prep during the first half of your junior year, and take the test for the first time in the spring of your junior year and a second time in the summer or fall of senior year. To help navigate this process, including diagnostic testing and tutoring, consider A+ Test Prep.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, our Client Service Directors Susan Ware and Joelle Faucette can be reached at 215-886-9188.


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