Most students take their first ACT sometime during their junior year. But depending on the circumstances and reason, there are certain times of the year that might be better suited to your particular testing needs. In fact, even a different year entirely might be a more appropriate fit.
Spring/Summer of Junior Year
For many people, taking the ACT in April or June of junior year works well.
Take it earlier, and you’ll have completed less of the essential coursework. Wait until later, and you will start running up against deadlines, plus you miss out on the chance to retake the test if you so choose.
Here are a few reasons to plan your first ACT for spring of your junior year:
- You’ll have finished all (or most) of your junior-year classwork.
- You’ll have time to retake the test in the fall if you wish.
- If you do decide to retest, you’ll have the whole summer to prepare.
Fall/Winter of Junior Year
Some students prefer to take the ACT in the fall, or even as late as December or February, of their junior year. Here are some reasons why you might go this route:
- You want to take the ACT twice and still be done with testing before your senior year.
- You hope to spend spring concentrating on AP exams.
- You feel solidly prepared for all the academic material that the ACT covers.
- You’re applying for early admissions, but you still want to leave yourself time to take a second test.
- You want to allow time for a possible third ACT in the fall of senior year.
Fall of Senior Year
I sometimes hear from students who are determined to take the ACT only once in September of their senior year. Their argument is that, this way, they’re allowing themselves the maximum amount of time to prepare.
I strongly suspect that these students are procrastinating.
Waiting until fall of senior year means you won’t have your scores in hand until early October, at best. That leaves you barely any time to create your college list and craft your applications. Rushing through that process could end up making a huge difference in your future.
You may be confident that you can ace the ACT in one try. But what if you don’t? What if a crisis arises, or you’re just not feeling well on test day? There’s no good reason to deprive yourself of the opportunity to re-test.
What If I Don’t Do Well the First Time?
No worries. If you’ve taken the ACT during junior year, you’ll be perfectly positioned to do some intensive test-prep over the summer to get ready for a fall retest.
Among ACT-takers graduating in 2015, 43% percent chose to take the test twice. Over half of those people improved their scores. But the ones who re-tested without studying? Less than 1% of them achieved any benefit, and 22% of re-testers actually saw their composite score go down.
The lesson? Re-testing can be a great strategy, but only if you study hard in between. Here are some ways to set yourself up for success:
- Join a summer prep program
- Get tutoring, either in person or online
- Take summer courses in relevant academic subjects
- Form a study group
- Utilize test prep materials provided by The Princeton Review, Kaplan, ACT Online, and others.
Don’t assume that you’ll automatically do better on your second ACT just because you’re familiar with the test. Do all you can to guarantee you’re prepared to gain the scores that will get you into your top-choice colleges.
What If I Do Really Well the First Time?
Are your ACT scores competitive for the schools you’re applying to? Do you feel that they show you at your best?
If so, yay! You’re done! Throw yourself a party to celebrate, then move on to crafting the rest of your application package.
Why Should I Wait Until Junior Year?
Remember, your academic record is also an essential part of your college application. During your first two years of high school, you’re better off putting your time and effort into taking challenging classes, earning good grades, and excelling at your extracurriculars.
If you’re curious to know how you’d do on the ACT right now, you can always take a practice test.