Here’s the short answer: you’re allowed to take the ACT up to 12 times.
As a veteran test coach, I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. (Just the thought of someone slogging through 12 ACTs makes me feel like crying).
I suggest that my students plan to take the test three times max. After that, most people hit a point of diminishing returns. They’re pouring tons of time and effort into raising their scores while actually achieving little or nothing. It’s exhausting and discouraging.
To do your best on the ACT, you need to be well prepared, well rested, and confident. You should be giving the test everything you’ve got (so you’re not secretly thinking, This is just a practice run; I can always take it again.)
No one can keep their stamina and enthusiasm that high over five or ten ACTs.
One more reason to be cautious: too many retakes can give schools the impression that you’re not serious about the ACT.
Planning To Take the ACT Twice
Lots of people take the ACT twice: once as a junior and once as a senior. That can turn out great for several reasons:
- Your tests are far enough apart to allow for significant preparation before the second test.
- You can commit to both tests with high energy and complete mental focus.
- It gives you the option of taking some important academic classes during your senior year (instead of trying to cram all of them into your first three years of high school.)
- If you hit your target score on the first sitting, you’re done! You can spend your senior year thinking about other things.
Making a Retake Work For You
But: 21 percent didn’t change their score at all, and 22 percent actually did less well the second time around.
How can you make sure that you’re one of the 57 percent?
Create a solid plan to do consistent, focused preparation before your second test. Give yourself at least a month to study. (Two or three months is better). If you can, work with a teacher or tutor.
Of students who retested without studying in 2017, less than 1 percent achieved any benefit.
What Is Superscoring?
Here’s one reason why you may choose to retake the ACT: the joy of superscoring.
Colleges and universities used to just look at an applicant’s single composite score: that is, the average of their four ACT sub-scores (Reading, English, Math, and Science). Nowadays, some institutions have embraced superscoring, where you take the ACT as many times as you want and report only your best scores from each sitting.
So, you might share your Reading and English scores from Test#1, your Math score from Test #2, and your Science score from Test #3, all of which would be averaged to create a significantly higher composite score than you achieved on any one of those individual tests.
If you’re interested in going this route, check to make sure that the schools you’re interested in actually do ACT superscoring. (For example, MIT, NYU, and Cornell all do, while Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown do not).
Most schools that don’t do superscoring will allow you to submit scores from whichever sitting you choose. (If you want to take the ACT without having your scores automatically sent to the schools you specify, just skip that section on the registration form. Once you see your scores, you can decide whether or not to submit them. You’ll need to pay a small extra fee for that flexibility).
Be aware that a few universities want you to submit scores from every ACT that you take:
- Boston University
- Washington University
- Hamilton College
Some Points to Ponder When Deciding Whether to Retest
- What specifically am I hoping to improve in a retest?
- What’s my concrete plan for learning that new material between now and my next ACT?
- Do I still have important classes to take before my next test–classes that will give me knowledge and skills relevant to the ACT?
- Do I feel that my first ACT scores don’t reflect my actual abilities? (Maybe you weren’t feeling well that day).
- What does my trusted counselor/teacher think?
So How Many Times Can I Take the ACT?
Think three times, realistically.
After that, it’s time to move on to life’s next adventure.