Thinkwell Resources

Sophomore to Senior Testing Timeline

One of the first questions of the college admissions process – and one that we hear most frequently – is when to start. Should your student wait until junior year, or should he or she get the ball rolling freshman year?

While the bulk of the college admissions process takes place during the fall of senior year, it’s actually best to start preparing as early as sophomore year. Timelines will vary slightly from student to student, but below is a general outline of what your student should be doing from sophomore through senior year.  


  • Fall:
    • The PSAT. Colleges don’t look at students’ PSAT scores, but students should give it their best shot anyway. This exam will help them identify areas that they need to focus on during test prep. Additionally, taking the test will help a student determine whether he or she struggles to finish the exam in the allotted time. 
    • Practice ACT. If your student would like to take a practice test at home, a free practice test is available through this link . We also offer proctored practice tests at our office in case he or she would prefer to try it out in an environment that is more similar to the actual testing environment.
    • After taking both tests, students should decide which test they want to take (these concordance scales can be particularly helpful in comparing scores), when they want to take it, and how they want to prepare. Please don’t be shy about reaching out to us to discuss your questions if you are not quite sure how to proceed. 
  • Spring:
    • If your student needs accommodations for the PSAT, SAT or ACT, gather documentation of the following toward the end of sophomore year:
      • Educational and/or neuropsychological testing completed by a school official or private evaluator
      • A record of accommodations implemented by the school

*Note: the documentation must be no more than 1-3 years old, depending on the reason for needing accommodations

  • Documentation can be submitted directly to the College Board (PSAT and SAT) immediately. If your student needs accommodations for the ACT, you will need to wait until they have signed up for a test date before the ACT will accept the application for accommodations. 
  • Throughout the year:
    • Students should practice annotating when they read for school. The more practice they get identifying important passages and jotting down notes, the more prepared they will be for the reading portion of the SAT or ACT.
    • Students should also soak up the content in their math classes. Inevitably they will need a refresher on certain content, but making sure they understand it well the first time goes a long way toward making that an easier undertaking when it comes time to prepare for the SAT or ACT. 


  • Fall:
    • PSAT. PSAT scores from this year determine students’ eligibility for National Merit standing.  
    • College Lists. It is time for your student to start making a list of colleges! This will help him or her develop a goal for the SAT or ACT. If they don’t know where to start, they should absolutely reach out to their college counselor.  In the meantime, they can start to consider how they feel about the following:
      • Location
      • Reputation
      • Most popular majors / areas of academic strength
      • Cost
      • Admission requirements
      • Athletics and other extracurricular offerings
      • Social life
      • Size
      • Private v. Public
      • Religious affiliation and single-sex v. co-ed
    • Pick a test date and prepare! Be sure that your student is registered for the test by the registration deadline, which is usually 4-6 weeks before the test date.
  • Spring:
    • Students should take their test of choice.
    • If they haven’t reached their testing goal, they should develop a study plan to get the final score boost they need. Then they should register to test again. 
    • Consider SAT subject tests. These are rarely required, but they can boost a student’s application by showing off their prowess in areas of study that are not otherwise covered on the SAT or ACT. There are 20 different tests to choose from in the areas of Literature, History, Math, Science, and Foreign Language. If your student isn’t sure whether to take them, they should go to the websites of schools they are considering to determine whether they recommend or require these scores.  
    • Start thinking about the plan for applications. Students should make a calendar of important dates and identify teachers who would be able to write strong letters of recommendation. They should also start thinking about possible essay topics.  Summer is the ideal time to knock out applications. 
  • Throughout the year:
    • Developing strong relationships with teachers is key. The better they know your student, the more glowing their letters of recommendation will be!


  • Fall:
    • Test one last time. If your student got a late start on testing or has yet to reach their goals, schedule one last testing date. They should make sure to have a study plan in place that will help move them forward. 
    • Wrap up essays and applications.  Finishing applications in the early fall will allow students to enjoy the final year of school. 
  • Celebrate
Score FAQs

How are the ACT and the SAT scored? The ACT is comprised of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each of these sections is

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