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Peter Poer

When Should I Take the ACT?

One of the most important decisions you have to make when studying for the ACT is when to actually take the exam. We all have different schedules and goals, and so there’s no one “right” time to take it. However, there are some important things to keep in mind about the ACT when deciding when to register and take the test.

ACT Test Dates

The ACT is offered six times a year — September, October, December, February, April and June.  ACT, Inc. has released the test dates for the next several years on their website. You typically have to register for an exam at least five weeks before the test date, and can pay for late registration up to three weeks before the test date.

Note that if you plan to take the test outside of the US or in New York state, the February option is not available.

Allow for a Retake

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone take the ACT more than once, I would recommend that you leave yourself the option. Saving the exam for your senior year means that you won’t be able to study and retake the exam if your scores are lower than you want.

The best bet is to take the ACT for the first time during the spring of your Junior year.  If you achieve your goal score, then rejoice and be glad! If you don’t — or if you decide that a higher score will help improve your application — you’ll have the summer to prep and can still take the test again in the fall.

So how do you decide between the various dates? Really, there’s not much of a difference. In the spring, it’s really all about your schedule. Either the April or June dates will give you plenty of time to study throughout your junior year, and will still allow you plenty of time to retake if you don’t hit your target scores.

In the fall, you should take the September test if you’re applying early decision anywhere. If you’re not applying early decision, either September or October is fine. December may be too late for some schools, so check the application deadlines closely. Even if it works with your schools, I’d recommend not waiting for the December exam. If you get sick or something goes wrong on test day in September or October, you can then take the exam in December as a last resort.

ACT Registration

If you’ve never taken the test before, you’ll want to set aside some time to register for the ACT. You’ll need to create an account on the ACT website, make a profile, and fill out lots of information about your college goals and plans. Some of this information is optional, but it will help ACT, Inc. connect you with colleges and scholarships that might be beneficial.

Next you’ll want to select your test date, test bundle, and extras. The test costs $38 for the standard four sections or $54.50 for the ACT + Writing (most top schools require the ACT + Writing for admission). You can also register late for $24, and can purchase official ACT prep materials for various fees (between $20 and $40, depending on what you need).

What about taking the ACT as a Sophomore or Freshman?

People are increasingly taking the ACT even earlier than Junior year. Honestly, there’s not much of a point. Yes, it’s good practice, but you can get just as good experience taking practice exams at home. And the best practice will probably involve some study and review, not just throwing yourself at practice tests.

And keep in mind that your test scores are just one part of your application. Spending the time earning good grades, volunteering, or pursuing interesting extracurriculars will probably have a much larger impact on your college applications than taking the ACT five times.

The ACT is conquerable! With thoughtful planning and studying, you’ll be able to get the scores you need to take you where you want to go.


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About Peter Poer

Peter helps make sure Magoosh students have the best possible content. A proud Arizona Wildcat and Teach for America alum, he worked as an instructional coach before getting an MBA at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is passionate about student achievement and educational equity. Also prime numbers. Peter enjoys cooking, running (slowly), and going to bed comically early.

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