You may already know that some students are eligible to take the ACT for free through fee waivers. But did you know that there are also states that provide the ACT for free to all their 11th-grade students?
It’s true! Students in the following states can currently take the ACT for free. (In fact, most of the states require that students take the ACT, but more on this in a minute.) So count yourself lucky if you live in:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Wait a Minute…What About My State?
Don’t be confused if your state offered the ACT for free last year but isn’t on the above list. ACT contracts with states change on a yearly basis. Some years, states choose to offer the test. Other years, they may switch to offering the SAT, or not offering a standardized admissions test for free at all.
Recent changes include:
- Oklahoma’s offering free ACT exams to its juniors. (It also offers free SAT exams at the moment, but will most likely choose one or the other in upcoming years);
- Hawaii is now making ACT tests available to its juniors for free;
- Illinois is moving from offering free ACT exams to free SAT exams for its juniors.
We may see an increasing number of states offering standardized admissions tests for free in the future. Why? According to the Department of Education, states must test high school students at least once to show they’re meeting federal educational standards.
So, rather than spend money and time on developing their own tests, states are turning to standardized admissions tests like the SAT and ACT. This has the added benefit of helping students through a big part of the college admissions process.
On the other hand, the DoE recently challenged Wisconsin to prove that the ACT is a valid replacement for a statewide standards exam. So there are still a few wrinkles to work out before these programs sweep the nation.
At the end of the day, though, it doesn’t really matter why states are offering the tests for free. You can still send your scores to colleges, even if you took the ACT for free at school.
But I Took the ACT for Free, and I Don’t Live in Any of Those States. What’s Up?
Ah, yes. States aren’t the only ones offering free testing these days. Individual school districts can also choose to offer the ACT to their students for free. Nice!
In fact, while only 16 states currently provide the ACT for free, the testmaker claims that students in 30 states have taken the test through their schools (i.e. for free) in the past decade. The difference in those numbers accounts for the school districts that provide the test for free in states where not all districts do.
School-Based Testing: The Pros and Cons
“What cons?” you may be thinking. “I’m saving either $39.50 or $56.50 (depending on whether the state offers the ACT with writing—more on this in a bit). Why should I be complaining?”
We’re with you—there’s a lot to love about free ACT testing. For example:
- It’s free! You’re saving either $39.50 or $56.50!
- You can take the test twice with ease.
- You won’t have to sacrifice a weekend morning to take the exam.
- Some school districts have started using the online version of the ACT—meaning no pencil callouses. This isn’t widely available elsewhere yet, you lucky guinea pigs.
- You take the exam at school, so don’t have the hassle of picking a day, choosing a test site, figuring out logistics, getting lost, all of that gnarly practical stuff.
- You may be able to get out of taking a second standardized test for the state’s benefit! (Not so fast, Wisconsin—we said MAY.)
And while all of this is definitely awesome, students taking the exam at their school for free should still be aware of some potential pitfalls. These include:
- States and districts are able to offer the ACT with or without the essay. It’s cheaper for them to offer it without the essay. However, some colleges require the essay as part of your application. If you live in one of those states and are applying to one of those colleges, this means that you’ll have to pay to take the regular off-site exam anyway. You probably won’t get out of taking the school-based test, either (though it will provide you with a great test-day experience! Bright side.)
- Your choice of test dates is limited. The testmakers only offer school-based tests on certain days, and these days don’t come around often.
School-Based ACT Test Dates, 2017-2018
Official Test Date (Paper) Make-Up Test Date (Paper) Online Testing Window Spring 2017 (Test 1) February 28, 2017 March 21, 2017 February 28, 2017-March 14, 2017 Spring 2017 (Test 2) April 19, 2017 May 3, 2017 April 19, 2017-May 3, 2017 Fall 2017 October 3, 2017 October 17, 2017 N/A Spring 2018 (Test 1) February 27, 2018 March 20, 2018 February 27-28, 2018
March 1, 2018
March 6-8, 2018
Spring 2018 (Test 2) April 3 2018 April 24, 2018 April 3-5, 2018
April 10-12, 2018
Information from ACT: States and Districts.
On the other hand, this might force you to get your study plan going early, so it may be a “pro” for you.
- Sending score reports can be more confusing. If you use the school-based test as a practice exam and take the test more than twice in the same month, be really really sure that you tell the ACT which scores you want reported to colleges.
- The digital format might throw you for a loop. Yeah, I know we just listed this format as a pro. For some students, it is! For others, though, it’s a con. You may be less comfortable on a computer than with a pencil-and-paper exam. Maybe your prep has been entirely off-line, and transferring that knowledge to a digital for is an extra frustrating step you don’t need. Just be aware, people.
- Some colleges may prefer the SAT, or you may score better on the SAT. While Colorado is super generous and offers both free SATs and ACTs to its juniors (and Oklahoma’s following this year), most states don’t. It’s a good idea to take a practice SAT and ACT beforehand. If you score significantly better on the SAT (in terms of projected percentile), you may want to consider registering for a non-school-based official SAT exam and send only those scores to colleges. Also, some states do also provide the SAT for free, so it’s a good idea to see if yours is among them!
Other Free Tests in the ACT Suite
Even if you’re not currently a high-school junior, you may still benefit from states’ partnerships with the ACT. Various states offer different ACT tests (oh, yes—there’s more than just the official ACT we know and love!) to different groups of students. Take a look below to see if your state’s among them:
States Offering Other Free Tests From the ACT Suite
|Alabama||ACT Aspire, ACT, ACT QualityCore, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Alaska||ACT WorkKeys, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Arkansas||ACT Aspire, ACT|
|Hawaii||ACT Aspire, ACT|
|Kentucky||ACT, ACT QualityCore, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Louisiana||ACT, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate, ACT WorkKeys|
|North Carolina||ACT Aspire, ACT, ACT WorkKeys, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|North Dakota||ACT, ACT WorkKeys, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Ohio||ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Oklahoma||ACT, ACT Explore, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|South Carolina||ACT, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Wisconsin||ACT, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
|Wyoming||ACT Aspire, ACT, ACT WorkKeys, ACT National Career Readiness Certificate|
Information from ACT State and District Solutions.
The Final Word on Free ACTs
Even if your state isn’t listed as one that provides the ACT for free, you should absolutely check with your guidance counselor before dismissing this option. Depending on your state’s federal reporting deal, you may have to take the ACT at school anyway, and it’s better to be prepared!
Once you know with certainty whether your state or district offers the ACT for free, you can start preparing for the test—not to mention maximizing the test’s value to you. Ask questions like:
- Will this be my first time taking the test?
- Does my school offer free ACT prep?
- Will I take the test again outside of school in a month or two—or take the test again at school next semester?
- Do I want to take the SAT as well?
There’s lots to consider, but for students in states that provide the ACT for free, whether or not to take standardized admissions tests is no longer a concern.
About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. LinkedIn
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