Maybe you’re about to take the ACT for the first time, or maybe you’re planning to retake the ACT. No matter what your situation, I bet you’re considering a question that comes up in every test taker’s life: How many times should I take the ACT?
Good question. Here’s the answer:
You should take the ACT twice.
Yep, that’s it. No more to see here, kids. Just let me get my coat and…
What’s that? Oh, you want to know why. And you want to know what to do if you’ve taken the exam twice and still aren’t happy with your score.
Don’t worry! Let’s take a closer look at some possible scenarios you might be dealing with.
Should I Retake the ACT?
Before we start getting into why it’s a good idea to take the ACT twice, let’s take a quick look at whether you’re a good candidate for retaking it, given your current situation.
To do this, let’s walk through some of the questions I would ask a student facing this all-important dilemma: Should I retake the ACT? Check out the video answer, then scroll down and find more info on the answers that apply to you.
Is This Your First Time Taking the ACT?
If you have time to retake the ACT before your college applications are due, you should. Statistics from the ACT show that over half of students who retake the test increase their composite score on their retake. The lower your initial composite score, the more likely your second score will be higher than your first.
That means that even without prep, your chances are good that you will see some improvement. But your chances are much better with adequate test prep (see “Did you take the ACT without much preparation?” below).
Also, if you’re thinking about a retake after September 2020, know that you can also focus your prep on a particular section that’s giving you trouble and just retake that section–giving you the opportunity to bump up your composite score in a targeted way!
Did You Take the ACT Without Much Preparation?
Then you should take the test again—but this time, prepare for it with self-study (or guided self-study), a class, a tutor, or some combination of the above. Test prep ensures you are fully familiar with the content of the test, helps you learn test-specific strategies, and boosts your confidence.
Is Your Current Score “Good Enough”?
After you receive your ACT scores, evaluate them honestly. If your current score is in range or above the range for your target colleges, your time might be better spent building other aspects of your college application than your test prep resume. But if you have ambitions that are going to require a higher ACT score to bring them into the realm of possibility, well, you may need to go full force with test prep and make it happen.
Also keep in mind that several competitive schools require you to submit all of your test scores. This is a great reason for a sectional retake, by the way, which we discuss in more detail below. But if you’re considering an overall retake, it’s an important consideration to keep in mind.
Are You a Sophomore or Junior?
The ACT tests some material that many students in a college preparation program won’t encounter until their junior year (maybe even the end of their junior year). So if you are a sophomore or junior, chances are you will do better on the ACT by taking it again at the end of your junior or beginning of your senior year. Summer is also a great time to focus on prep!
So How Many Times Should I Take the ACT?
So you’ve determined that you’re a good candidate for retaking the ACT. Great! Now what? More specifically, how many times should you take the ACT?
Generally, the magic number is between one and three times. Most students will maximize their ACT scores by taking it twice.
Of course, if you’re happy with your score the first time, you don’t need to take the ACT again!
On the other hand, if you’re struggling with one particular section, you may find that taking the ACT three times helps boost your score. And sometimes a fourth time can help you get that score up even higher. But before you retake that whole test, keep in mind that the ACT will begin offering sectional retakes in September 2020–meaning that you can retake individual sections of the test, rather than the test as a whole!
Generally, though, if you’ve taken the test once, scored lower than you’d like, and are still wondering: How many times should I take the ACT?, plan on making it two times.
Why Twice Is (Usually) Enough
If you’re just starting your ACT journey, twice will probably be enough. Why? For a lot of people, the ideal process looks like this:
- You sign up for the ACT and create a study routine to get your score where you want it to be.
- You take the ACT for the first time. Often, this will be in the spring semester of your junior year in high school.
- If you’re not happy with your score, analyze the results to see your strengths and weaknesses.
- Sign up to retake the ACT while you customize a new study plan based on your weaknesses and what you want to achieve.
- Study for your retake during the summer between your junior and senior year.
- Retake the ACT, usually at the beginning of your senior year of high school.
With this plan, your score will most likely end up where you want it to be.
Planning for Your 2nd ACT
Here’s where the twist comes in. Many students who take the ACT twice take it the second time during the fall of their senior year of high school. At that point, with college application deadlines coming up, it is possible that you may have to send your scores to colleges before you even see the results.
One way to get around this issue is to pay close attention to fall test dates. For example, ACT offers both September and October test dates. If you want to see your scores before sending them off, go with September.
Also, September has the added benefit of being early in the school year. There will be fewer academic distractions competing for your time and attention. I’d recommend registering for the September date early if you are currently a high school junior.
Third Time’s a Charm
If you’ve taken the exam but still haven’t hit whatever your magic score is, first of all—you’re not alone. A lot of students find themselves in this scenario. And so here are a few tips to making your third time taking the ACT your best (and last!):
- If you’re struggling with just one section of the ACT, save your brain power and study just for that section. If you have to retake it before September 2020, don’t completely blow off the other parts of the test, but if the college/scholarship you’re applying for accepts superscores, why push yourself in areas where it doesn’t really matter? If you have the chance to retake it after September 2020, we strongly recommend doing a sectional retake instead!
- If you’re still struggling with the ACT as a whole, spend time looking at the test as a whole and how you can maximize your score in all sections. Our study schedules provide some great advice on preparing for all sections—no matter the time frame you have to work with.
Won’t My Dream College See My Lower Score?
Not if you don’t want it to. (For the most part, anyway. There are a handful of schools that do require all scores, so do your homework!)
If you knock the ACT out of the park on the first try, that’s great. Just don’t send colleges that score until after you get your ACT results. A good rule of thumb is that the results of ACT #1 are for Your Eyes Only.
Even if your dream college(s) has/have already seen your lower ACT score, it’s not the end of the world. At the end of the day, college admission counselors care about your highest ACT score. Some even accept superscores. In fact, raising your ACT score shows grit, something colleges (and future employers) love.
In other words, if you fear that admissions officers will take one look at your scores and ask, “Why should our super-duper selective school admit someone who couldn’t test right the first time? Rejected,” you don’t need to worry!
For more on how many times you should take the ACT, check out this video from Kristin, our ACT Expert!
See you in the testing center, ACT scholars!
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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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