One of the most important college planning choices for juniors is deciding which standardized tests to take and when to take them. Here are a few guidelines to help you.
First, for those of you who just got your PSAT scores returned, please read this post I wrote a year ago about what PSAT scores mean and why you should never stress over them.
All juniors should plan on taking either the SAT or ACT at least once this year. Colleges accept either one of them, so a smart strategy is to figure out if you're better at one test or the other, then focus your test-prep efforts on your stronger test. The Princeton Review offers a free practice test for both the SAT and the ACT. Take both and see if you score higher on one test or the other. But whatever you do, definitely don't prepare for both. You want good test scores, but you don't want to spend one second more than necessary doing test preparation. Pick one test and go with it.
If you're planning to apply to more selective private colleges, you might need to take a few of the SAT Subject Tests. Compass Education has put together a great resource for Subject Test requirements here. But as they mention, there's really no replacement for visiting the websites of your chosen colleges and verifying their testing requirements. If you find that some colleges you're considering require the Subject Tests, plan on taking those in May or June in the classes you'll just be completing (like US history or chemistry).
And finally, before you make a decision about how to prepare for the SAT or ACT (class, tutor, book, etc.), you might want to check out this post I wrote for parents about choosing test prep (as parents are usually integrally involved in that decision).
Summary for juniors:
1. Visit the websites of any colleges you might be considering and review their testing requirements. This is a good way to get an admissions context for the testing plans you're about to make.
2. Don't panic over your PSAT scores. Just use them to help you make good testing decisions.
3. Determine if you're a stronger SAT or ACT test-taker, and make that your test of choice.
4. Prepare for, and take, either the SAT or ACT at least once this year.
5. Consider taking the SAT Subject tests if any colleges you're considering require them.
There's no such thing as one perfect testing schedule (we spend almost an entire meeting with our Collegewise students planning their testing calendar), but if you use these guidelines and verify your choices with your high school counselor, you'll be in good testing shape at the end of this year.