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Should Your Summer Plans Include Taking the SAT or ACT?

By April 17, 2018July 10th, 2024ACT, SAT

The addition of the August SAT in 2017 and the July ACT in 2018 (not available in California or New York) provide added options to students for summer testing, but calendaring test dates still involves navigating a tricky set of logistical challenges. Getting it right is an important strategic component of good test preparation and guidance. 

Save The SAT Date: August 25th, 2018

Students seriously considering the August SAT should be aware that test locations are more limited than usual and fill up quickly.

The August date addresses the common desire to retake the SAT at least once. Until last year, most juniors chose to either test twice in the spring or wait until mid-autumn of senior year to test again. While both routes are still viable, many students now see the new summer option as the best available path. In its first year, the date saw more than 300,000 testers and was one of the most popular among Compass students. This test date is not offered at centers outside the U.S.

Improved Choices

Juniors who test in March can theoretically retest in May or June, but in practice, that plan can be problematic. First, late spring of junior year is notoriously impacted by increased academic and extra-curricular demands. Second, the May or June test dates are often wisely reserved for Subject Tests when students are peaking in the corresponding academic classes. Finally, for some students, late spring feels too soon to retest because there may not have been enough opportunity to significantly grow from where they were in March. Scores are unlikely to change much if the test taker hasn’t had time to improve.

For these reasons, waiting until the fall to retest has traditionally had merit for many students, and August testing may work even better in certain cases. Families and counselors can regroup near the end of junior year and contemplate what lies ahead. With an almost “complete” transcript, a first-round of spring test scores, and a preliminary college list in hand, students, parents, and advisors can preface the summer with a reality-check conversation about a final testing and application strategy:

  1. Should I prepare over the summer to retest?
  2. When should I retest?
  3. Where will I likely apply?
  4. And what application deadlines will I encounter?

The answers to these questions can be tangled for rising seniors. For starters, the notion of summer-only prep for a mid-October exam would mean taking an ill-advised six-week break before the next available testing opportunity. To avoid this, many seniors have maintained some form of test prep through September to stay sharp while also working on applications and returning to school. The August SAT helps tighten up the popular summer-only prep plan while introducing its own twist. Students need to consider getting started soon after junior year wraps up. Vacations can eat into preparation timelines and leave students feeling rushed as the August date approaches.

Mid-autumn dates leave less cushion for students who apply to colleges Early Decision or Early Action. Students who sit for the August exam, however, will receive their test results well in advance of early application deadlines. In fact, should students find themselves dissatisfied with their August scores, they will still have fall options (always research college-specific deadlines).

Summer Subject Tests?

While much of the discussion around summer testing focuses on the SAT, it is important to note that most Subject Tests will be offered on August 25th, as well. The only subjects not offered in summer are several of the foreign languages: German, Modern Hebrew, Italian, Latin, and all of the “with listening” versions of the foreign language exams, which are still only offered in November.

While Compass usually recommends taking Subject Tests toward the end of a second semester, the August date is a good makeup or retest opportunity for some students, as long as proper preparation is completed over the summer. Many Compass students choose to take Subject Tests in August last year.

What about the new July 14, 2018 ACT*?

When College Board announced its new August date, ACT was not far behind in responding with the introduction of a July date for 2018. This comes with an important asterisk — *the July date is not offered in California or New York or at international test centers. California and New York have laws requiring that a certain proportion of tests be released to students, and that extra disclosure can cost ACT millions of dollars. This is also why the February ACT has no New York testing centers. The July ACT, then, is a non-starter for most Compass students. Even for students in the other 48 states, the July ACT falls at an odd time. It comes too early for students trying to complete summer-only preparation. It works a little better for students preparing in the spring. July can be thought of as a third option behind the popular April and June administrations.

Compass expects that the September ACT will continue to be far more popular than the July date. September allows for summer preparation and results come in plenty of time for early applications. Some students may legitimately look to the July ACT as an interim exam before a final test in September. It bears repeating: short of traveling to another state, California and New York students do not have the option of taking the July ACT.

What This Means for Compass Students

The August SAT proved extremely popular to Compass students in the class of 2018, and we expect many rising seniors this year will also opt to take the summer date — it fits well into testing plans.

The August date is less appealing for rising juniors. Test preparation in the summer before junior year continues to be an excellent option, but rising juniors can afford to take a longer view of maximizing success on official test dates.  For students well-suited to an early start to testing, October, November, and December SAT dates are available; the October PSAT is an important waypoint for most students (and an essential one for National Merit candidates). Testing skills continue to develop over time, and rising juniors rarely need to rush the start of official testing.

If you are considering the August option, be sure to register early. Regular registration will close on July 27th, but center availability is limited compared to October and November. Students should sign-up well in advance! Last year, some cities had only half or one-third of the normal test center options.

Compass directors can give personalized guidance based on a student’s specific needs and achievements. Please don’t hesitate to call or email us for testing advice or to register for a proctored practice exam.

Bruce Reed

Bruce graduated from Colby College and has served in leadership roles in education for more than 25 years. Bruce founded our Northern California office in 2004 where he continues to serve as its hands-on leader while also guiding our national team in his broader role as Compass’ Executive Director. Bruce is recognized throughout the Bay Area and beyond as a visionary and passionate voice in the realm of teaching, testing, and educational development. His extensive experience in one-on-one test preparation, college admissions, and professional development makes him a trusted resource for parents and counselors.


  • PH Lewis says:

    Anyone have information on the tests that will offer the Question and Answer Service? It’s a bit scary that College Board can’t answer that question for me.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      October, March, and May are the national dates with QAS. I believe that the spring School Day administration will also be released each year. College Board has said that they are committed to 4 released test per year.

  • Tina says:

    It looks like students can’t take the September 2018 test unless they have special circumstances. Am I right? This seems like a double whammy for CA.

    • Art Sawyer says:

      I am assuming that you are referring to the September 8 ACT. That exam is offered at testing centers in CA. Centers sometimes fill up, so we recommend registering early.

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