The College Board administers the SAT most months of the school year. There’s a test every month from October to June except for in February and April.
So you have some choices. What’s the difference?
What years should you take the SAT?
With the “score choice” option, you might choose to take the test earlier (so you have more scores to choose from), but the vast majority of students take their first SAT either in the spring of junior year or the fall of senior year. That’s partially because of when the test is offered—no summer tests—and partially for convenience’s sake.
Of course, there are plenty of exceptions. The youngest student I’ve ever had was a freshman. The oldest was 25. That’s a ten year gap, and it’s not as strange as you might think. I’m not advising taking the test that early (or late); the point is that your situation might not be the typical one.
It’s a good idea to take the SAT twice
Why would anybody in their right mind subject themselves to a four-hour test more than once? The obvious answer is parents. (That could either mean [a] your parents signed you up twice or [b] you have a burning desire to leave home and get to college.) But there’s more to it than that. Other standardized tests that are for grad students—like the GRE or the GMAT—get repeat test-takers pretty regularly, and there are no parents in that equation.
There are a couple of reasons. First, it’s good to get scores well before you send out applications so you can see how much prep you need to do. If you take the SAT once in the spring of junior year, you have room to do some serious studying over the summer if your scores aren’t what you want, and then you can take it again in the fall.
Second, scores tend to go up the more times you take a test. That’s a good reason to be doing full practice tests, if I’ve ever heard one. It’s not always true, but it’s pretty common. Of course, actually studying for the test is a better way to raise your scores, but it’s worth doing both.
When to take the SAT in the spring
You have three options in the spring: March, May, or June. There’s not a huge difference between the months, but I recommend taking the SAT in May. That way, you have a just a little more time to study than you would taking it in March (which may creep up too quickly), and you’re not in danger of having your SAT prep interfere with studying for finals, which may be close to the June date.
When to take the SAT in the fall
This one is a bit easier to answer. Are you going to apply to any school early action or early decision? I really recommend doing that if you can—it looks much better than applying later because your interest in the school is more obvious, as is your initiative and drive.
If you are going to apply early action/decision, then you pretty much have to take the SAT in October. That’s the latest you’ll be able to get in a test to include in applications for a lot of schools, and you don’t want to limit your options because you didn’t get yourself in gear early enough.
If you’re not applying early anywhere, then you can put it off and take the later tests. But, truth is, you probably have the most opportunity to prep for the SAT during the summer between junior and senior year, and you want that prep time to be pretty fresh in your mind when you take the test, so October still looks better than November.
It’s always the same SAT
Your situation might be different than what’s explained here, so maybe the most important thing is remembering this: no one version of the SAT will give you a different outcome than the others. There’s no strategy for getting the “good” version. Every SAT is scored to be basically the same. So just sign up for the ones that make the most sense to you—but be careful to note when the scores will be released vs. when your schools stop accepting applications. And be sure to take tons of practice SATs beforehand to prepare yourself for this marathon of a test.