Does Your State Require the SAT or ACT to Get Your Diploma?
Did you know that some states require a standardized test such as the SAT or the ACT in order to graduate from high school? Or that others simply provide the exams for free without requiring students to take them?
Make sure you double check your state requirements to avoid studying and taking both tests! See below for our map and list of testing requirements by state.
We also recommend that students check with their school’s guidance counselors. Within states, schools’ specific testing policies can vary from district to district.
Even though it may be required to take a specific standardized test in your state, it is still a good idea to prepare for the test that is the best fit for you. If your state requires the ACT but you perform better on the SAT, we recommend you take that test as well.
It is important to stay on top of this information as early as possible so you are not overwhelmed with the preparations for the test. Our FREE College Tool Kit includes a month by month junior year roadmap to help you navigate through junior year.
Your teen has taken the practice tests and knows which one best represents their abilities. Congratulations! Now comes the hard part…preparing for the test. Keep reading for my top tips for preparing for the SAT or ACT.
Preparing for the Test
There are a number of ways that students can prepare for either of these tests. Whether they’re taking the SAT or the ACT, they could get a test prep book from the library or from one of the testing agencies to study on their own. I’ve had a number of students who are more disciplined and study on their own. I would recommend that they spend a specific amount of time going through the book and doing the practice tests. They should be going through the different sections of the tests and even on occasion, maybe on the weekend, sit down and go through the entire test for the amount of time of the real test. This extra step can help ensure they are prepared. Again, If your teen is disciplined in that way, that’s a great approach.
Another way to prepare is using an online service. My son used an online program and that helped him stay on task. The online program provided the practice test and scoring as well so he could see how he was doing. There were also video modules that complemented the material and practice that he was doing. It worked out very well for him and helped him improve his score. There are a number of these different automated online programs available.
Getting a Tutor
The third approach, which could be a bit more expensive, is getting a tutor. For a number of my students hiring a tutor was the best approach. You can receive tutoring either individually or in a class setting. This is also a great way to ensure that your teen is being held accountable.
One of the things I want to encourage you to do if you decide to go that route is to interview the tutor. Below you will find some questions that I prepared for interviewing tutors. When it comes to working with a teacher or tutor, some of that learning comes through being able to connect with them. By interviewing the tutor, you can ensure they are a good fit for your family.
Before interviewing the tutor your teen should first ask themselves a couple of questions. The first is determining how they learn best: would having a one-on-one tutor or a tutor in a class setting allow them to learn best? They should also identify why they need a tutor.
When interviewing the tutor possible questions to ask:
How will you measure your student’s progress throughout their session together?
What kind of homework will they do in between sessions?
(This will allow your teen to plan their schedule and make sure that they have the right expectations around what they should be doing in between time because not only will they be preparing during sessions but also between their time together.)
Can you provide a demonstration of a typical session?
For example, if they have a difficult math homework problem from school can they share it with the tutor and then have the tutor demonstrate how they would explain solving that problem? That can be a way to ensure that the tutor’s teaching style aligns with your teen’s learning style.
What kind of training have you had in terms of tutoring?
I know a lot of tutors do professional development. Many of them take the test themselves to make sure that they understand what their students are going through.
Some other questions that parents should also consider would be their cancelation policy, how much they charge, their availability over the holiday break and also asking for references from other parents. By talking with other parents you can get a good sense of how that tutor works, learn about how they engaged their students, as well as their test score results.
If a tutor says they usually help their students get a certain increase over their practice score, then that may give you some indication around their success. Of course it may vary with your own teen. I wouldn’t set the expectation of going from a 22 to 30, but at least getting a sense for how they’re going to engage with your teen. Also, check to see how they will follow through on checking in on the student’s progress between sessions.
If you decide to use a practice book or an online course, then certainly it could be similar in regards to finding out about the best book or program for your teen by reading about past success stories. Any case studies or testimonials available online would be a great resource to check out.
At the end of the day, it’s going to be a two-way street in terms of your teen participating and doing the work. You don’t want to make the investment if they’re not going to follow through on their side. However, if they do follow through they really can achieve those great results.
Have you signed up to receive my FREE College-Prep Toolkit? It includes a Junior Year Roadmap to help you navigate junior year and to know what your teen should be doing each month to stay on track.
College-bound high school juniors have a full plate of activities not only at school but throughout the rest of their lives, too.
Not surprisingly, I often hear from my juniors how tough it is. Junior year is a particularly challenging time because the course load may be more demanding. Often, this is when the stress of college is more piercing, too.
Sometimes, juniors might even avoid the college conversation altogether. But the delay will only make it harder in the fall of senior year.
Must-dos for college-bound juniors.
To help you manage stress and ensure your future success, here are 10 must-dos for every college-bound junior:
Know why you want to go to college. This is the most important question to ask yourself before doing anything college-related! Your “why” will help you determine the right school, program, and path to getting where you want to be.
Take challenging courses. Even if you think your grade may be lower, taking a harder class will show college admissions officers that you push yourself.
Read for pleasure. Yes—reading IS fun! If you have a lot of homework, you can read during holiday breaks. Reading for pleasure is the best way to improve your test scores and write better essays.
Do you need a little help proving to your child just how fun reading can be? Here are 5 tips to help them learn to love reading!
Research colleges. It’s easy to assume that you know all you need to know about a college. The truth is, not doing research will shortchange you. It can lead to a wrong college choice and you could pay more for college than you need to. Real research is reviewing the website in detail and being able to discuss why you’re interested in a college (beyond location and appearance).
Plan several campus visits. Many colleges offer special junior preview visits. Take advantage of those opportunities as a way to see dorms, learn about the admissions process, meet students, and learn if you can see yourself there.
Know your financial situation. Will you need to apply for scholarships or financial aid? It’s not too early to talk with your parents about the financial considerations for college.
Get to know teachers. It’s likely that your junior year teachers may write your college recommendations. Start as soon as you can getting to know your teachers and letting them get to know you. Here’s how college-bound juniors can get best teacher recommendations before their first college application
Set a summer goal. Do you want to learn more about an academic subject? Start a business? Get a job? Do a language immersion? Do community service? There are so many summer opportunities and programs for rising seniors. Achieving your summer goal will give you experience that will help you in your college search and writing essays.
Know yourself. What makes you special? What are your weaknesses? Who are you really? Do some deep self-reflection, journal, or take an assessment to answer these questions. Focusing on these aspects now will help your future application stand out and allow time to correct past mistakes.
The 3 things that qualify a teacher to write a strong recommendation are:
The student knows the teacher.
The teacher knows the student.
The teacher can write well about the student.
If they don’t already have a teacher who fits all of these qualifications, juniors can develop positive relationships with teachers to “qualify” them as recommenders.
In fact, this is an important task for junior year!
Juniors should plan to meet with one or two teachers on a regular basis throughout the year. They may also check-in with teachers after graded assignments, during free periods, or at the beginning of each term.
4. Visit college campuses.
Spring break of junior year is a great time to visit college campuses.
Many other juniors around the country are visiting campuses in the spring as well. Juniors should be prepared by researching and scheduling campus visits well in advance.
Before your campus visit, be sure to review the college’s website and have questions prepared.
(Note to parents: Let your student schedule the visits, not you!)
On the day of the visit, remember to take notes and have an open mind and good attitude. From the moment you arrive on campus, you’re being interviewed!
If the first test is taken in the winter, it allows time for a retake before summer.
The goal is to avoid taking any standardized test in the fall of senior year.
In my experience working with college-bound students, senior year is already so busy with course workloads, college deadlines, and application essays. Having to take standardized tests too is a big nuisance.
Besides that, retake scores usually go down.
Junior year may come with a lot of stress and unanswered questions. With consistent steps taken throughout the year, it can be pivotal on the path to college admissions success!
And there’s plenty of help available for students and parents.
The fact you’re reading this means your motivation and focus to help your teen get to the front of the line has already moved them a leap ahead of the pack!
All you need now is to create a winning plan to help your teen Get In and Get Money.
This article was originally published on February 20, 2017, and was updated in 2019.
When parents tell me their children are taking both the SAT and the ACT, my response often shocks them…
“Really? What a waste of time and money!”
On their own, the SAT and ACT aren’t a waste of time or money. But taking BOTH the SAT AND the ACT isn’t the right choice.
In fact, this ends up costing you way more money and taking up more time than it’s worth.
Preparing for college can be hard enough without the extra pressure of preparing for multiple entrance exams.
I wrote this article to not only help your teen avoid some of this stress – but to save valuable time and money, too.
Here are three reasons why taking both the SAT and ACT might be a big waste of time and money:
1. Colleges accept either test
Colleges don’t prefer one over the other! Yep – it’s true.
Decades ago, some colleges required the SAT while other colleges required the ACT. This meant college-bound teens in the 80’s would take either the SAT or the ACT based on where they were applying.
Now, college-bound teens can focus on taking the test that’s best for them because all colleges will accept both the SAT and the ACT – great news for high school students who have enough on their plate already!
2. Teens usually perform better on one test
Rather than taking both tests, I suggest students stick with the test that’s best for them. (More on choosing the right test later…)
It’s likely the score on one test will be higher than on the other.
Now you might be asking, “but won’t I want to be able to choose the better of the two results?”
But here’s the thing: some colleges request ALL test scores.
In those cases, a student may not want to reveal all of their results!
The best way to avoid sending unfavorable test scores is to take the test that will yield the highest score for the individual student.
3. Taking both tests takes too much time
Let’s say your teen is planning on taking both the SAT and the ACT. They also want to retake one or both tests.
There isn’t enough time!
The testing calendars don’t easily accommodate taking each test more than once.
A high school junior who’s planning to take both tests twice during 11th grade could have a testing schedule that looks something like this:
6 weeks of SAT prep
November – Take first SAT
January – Retake SAT
6 weeks of ACT prep
April – Take first ACT
June – Retake ACT
You know what I think when I look at this testing schedule?
Junior year is far too important to the spend majority of time prepping for standardized tests!
Don’t you agree?
And don’t forget about the SAT II
Your teen might also have a couple of colleges on their list that request 2 SAT Subject Tests.
The 20 available SAT Subject Tests are also referred to as SAT II — and they’ve only been around since 2005.
College Boards write the SAT Subject Tests AND the Advanced Placement exams. So, when students take an AP course, they’re preparing not only for the AP exam, but also for a similar SAT Subject Test.
If a student has AP exams in May, they’d be better off forgoing the May SAT and taking 2 SAT Subject Tests in June instead.
How to decide between the SAT and ACT
Ultimately, decisions about when to take the SAT or ACT and/or SAT Subject Tests must make sense for the teen’s test-taking abilities and college list options. That’s why doing your research ahead of time and getting to know both tests is essential.
And plenty of help is available for this process.
To discover whether the SAT or ACT would be the right choice (and how to ace either one!), don’t miss these articles:
High school sophomores are in a great position to make the most of the college admissions process.
Now that the transition to high school is over, sophomores can be involved with those extra-curricular activities that matter to them, develop relationships with teachers just because, and use the summers to explore their own interests. Sophomore year is also a great time to plan for testing, either the ACT or SAT.
Will you score higher on the SAT or ACT?
If you know the answer to this question, then you’re already ahead of the class. Whichever test yields your higher score is the one to focus on in the upcoming months.
If you don’t know which test you will score higher on, then you have a couple of options. One, you can take an SAT/ACT Comparison test. Students can take a comparison test themselves to get an idea of their score for each test. I suggest that students simulate the testing setting as much as possible by taking the test in a quiet space on a Saturday morning, using a timer to stick close to the timings for each section. When the comparison test is scored, the student gets feedback on whether the SAT or ACT is their higher score and tips on improving their score.
Another way to find out if the SAT or ACT is your better test is to compare scores from a practice SAT and practice ACT. Some high schools may even offer a PSAT and a pre- ACT during sophomore year. The scores from each test can be compared through this concordance table.
Set testing plan for Junior year
For 2017-18, both SAT and ACT are adding a summer testing date. I would suggest that seniors take advantage of these testing dates for college applications and scholarships. However, juniors may want to use the fall to start any test prep and schedule their tests during the academic year.
Test prep can be done using a book, online self-study or class, live class or private tutor (in person or online). Six to eight weeks of test prep is plenty of time. The key thing you want to remember with test prep is to do it consistently. For example, if you have a fall sport, then perhaps your best time to study is after the season ends since it may be difficult to study for the SAT or ACT along with having practices and games after school. Test prep can end about a week before your testing date.
In junior year, it’s best to allow for 2 testing dates in case a student wants to retake for a higher score. Taking 3 or more ACT or SAT shows a poor use of time and judgment. Beware that some colleges even penalize applicants who have multiple standardized test so please limit the test-taking. (The only time I recommend additional test-taking is for seniors who have selected a college that requires a certain score for scholarship purposes.)
Each fall, parents with 9th, 10th and 11th graders ask me about the PSAT and whether their teen should study for the PSAT. As with most things in college readiness, it depends.
Let’s start with a general description of the PSAT to make sure we’re all on the same page. It’s considered a preliminary SAT exam and students often take it to get an unofficial look at the SAT. “Unofficial” means that this test is “off the record” for college admissions purposes. It’s rare that students would submit these scores for consideration in college admissions.
PSAT for 9th graders
Most high schools do not offer the option for 9th graders to take the PSAT. Although I have seen it offered at several independent schools.
Typically, I do not recommend that students take the PSAT in 9th grade. It adds too much unnecessary pressure and anxiety. The 9th grade is such a transitional period that the year is better spent acclimating to the new school environment, making friends, and getting to know teachers.
PSAT for 10th graders
Taking the PSAT in 10th grade can be a good idea, if your high school offers that option. 10th graders who take the PSAT can get familiar with the format and determine their own level of comfort with the question types. The results would also closely project SAT scores.
In addition to the PSAT in sophomore year of high school, I would highly recommend that students also consider taking the pre-ACT. The pre-ACT is an unofficial preview of the ACT. Again, taking the pre-ACT would be an opportunity for sophomores to get familiar the ACT format and determine their level of comfort with the question types.
The results of the PSAT and pre-ACT can then be compared, using an SAT-ACT comparison tool to determine if a student should take the SAT or ACT in junior year. It’s a waste of time and money to take both tests, so I highly recommend that students stick with one test . . . either the SAT or ACT!
Sophomore year is an important year for students to discover their interests and further their academic preparation. Spending time to study for the PSAT or pre-ACT is not a good use of their time. Certainly, students may look at practice questions, if they like, but I would not suggest prioritizing PSAT and/or pre-ACT test prep over homework assignments and reading for pleasure.
PSAT for 11th graders
The majority of high schools in the US require that high school juniors take the PSAT. The PSAT is used in junior year as the qualifying exam for National Merit Scholarships. Even when students take the PSAT in junior year, they must still take the SAT or ACT to meet college admissions requirements.
I have recommended that my students study for the PSAT in only a few cases. When I recommended that my students study in junior year, they met these criteria:
1. Had taken the PSAT in sophomore year
2. Had scored in the 99%ile on the PSAT in sophomore year (Each state has their own National Merit Scholarship baseline so be sure to look it up for your state.)
Those students were in striking distance of qualifying for National Merit Scholarship so it made sense for them to study for the PSAT in advance. Their study plan often included completion of two or more practice tests before the test date and thorough reviews of reading, writing, and math.
Rule of thumb: Test prep should never take precedence over maintaining a strong transcript whether a student is 9th, 10th or 11th grader.
Please let me know your thoughts and/or comments on this topic.
College-bound teens take the PSAT every year in mid-October. The PSAT is the test that high school juniors take to qualify for National Merit recognition, although more 9th and 10th graders are taking this test each year. In addition, the PSAT gives students practice and feedback for the SAT. After taking the PSAT, students will get a full report which details the questions they missed. This report can be a useful guide to prepare for the SAT.
Many parents ask me every year whether their teen should study for the PSAT. My answer (like for most things related to college admissions): It depends. The first question in all things college admissions is why. So, I ask parents to tell me why they think their teen should study for the PSAT. Based on the reason, I can then suggest whether it’s worth the teen’s time to study for the PSAT.
Reasons to Study for PSAT
To get a higher score than last year
To have a chance at a National Merit recognition
To present stronger scores for a summer program application
Reasons to NOT Study for PSAT
Did not take the test last year
Scores from last year were below 750 for each section
Academic course load is demanding
ACT is best test for student
In most cases, students do not need to study for the PSAT. It’s an annual test that plays a marginal role in college admissions. If a student’s best test is the SAT, then they would be better off focusing their prep efforts on the SAT, instead. The best time to prep for the SAT is usually 8-10 weeks prior to the scheduled test date. If the PSAT date coincides with the SAT prep then it’s a win-win.
There are 3 tests that are used for college admissions:
SAT 1 – Reasoning test
SAT 2 – Subject Tests
Each of these tests is different.
ACT ≠ SAT
The ACT is more of an achievement test and more aligned with knowledge gained during the high school years. SAT 1 is more of an intelligence test. As a rule of thumb, I’ve found that my students who are strong readers tend to fare better on the SAT, especially with its vocabulary. Students who do not read as much outside of school tend to do better on the ACT.
The SAT 2 is an hour-long test in a specific subject area. Here are the available subject tests:
These tests tend to match with an Honors or Advanced Placement course. For example, if a student is taking AP US History then they may want to consider the SAT Subject Test in American History for college admissions purposes. (Note: The AP tests are typically used for college placement, but not college admissions.) I recommend that students take the corresponding Subject Test at the end of the course, in May or June. For students who are interested in STEM fields, I strongly urge them to consider taking the Math Level 2 Subject Test soon after they complete Pre-Calculus.
It’s tough being a high school junior! I have heard from so many juniors that the academic work load is more intensive. In junior year, students typically take on more honors or advanced placement (AP) which certainly adds rigor and greater homework loads.
In addition to these academic demands, the college admissions process begins in earnest during junior year, whether students are ready or not. For my clients, junior year is focused on developing a meaningful college list, nurturing teacher relationships, and planning for standardized tests.
The ACT or SAT
The biggest myth that I want to dispel right now is that students do NOT have to take both the ACT and the SAT. The tests are quite different. Taking both tests compromises your test prep and ultimately wastes a lot of time and money.
If students want to get their best score, they should take the test that fits them. How do you which test is best for you? Here are 3 ways that students can determine whether to take the ACT or SAT:
Take a simulated practice test for both the ACT and SAT, then compare the results
After determining which test makes sense for you, then it’s time to register for the test date, begin a solid test prep plan, then take the test!
When to take the ACT or SAT
I strongly encourage juniors to consider taking their first ACT or SAT in the winter of junior year. Here’s why:
By winter, students would have had time to adjust to their academic schedules and homework loads.
Taking the test in winter, allows enough time to get your scores, determine if you want to retake, do additional test prep in key area(s), then retake the test in the spring
Students can typically get a full score report when they test during the Fall and Winter dates. The full score reports can be very helpful for studying if a student wants to retake the test.
If a student decides to take an SAT II Subject Test, then they can do so at the end of the school year, while much of the content is still fresh.
When I suggest this testing plan, I always get some push-back. Parents and students will usually ask, “What about taking the test in senior year?” All I can say from experience is that the Fall of senior year in high school is extremely busy. With school demands, sports activities, social events, and applying to colleges, NO senior wants to be bothered with taking standardized tests.