I'm sure I'm not the first to tell you how important test scores will be on your college applications. Chances are strong you've spent time debating between the ACT and SAT (or maybe you've decided to take both, like 60 percent of the respondents on our annual College Hopes and Worries Survey), but once you've come to a decision, the next important step will be figuring out the right time to take your respective test (or tests).
For the ACT, there are some important dates and tidbits of information to keep in mind when deciding where that test will fall on your overall application schedule. The perfect testing date ultimately depends on questions that only you can answer, like:
- How much time will you need to prep?
- How packed is your schedule?
- How many times do you plan to take the test?
Here are a few tips to help make your ACT registration as easy as possible.
In 2019, there will be tests in February, April, June and July. After that, the tests will not be administered again until September, October and December. (Note: If you're in New York or California, July dates are not available.)
The good news is that the work on this may have already been done for you. Many states automatically offer an ACT as part of their testing, in which case you will already be registered. If you know you're applying to schools that require an ACT score, though, it's a good idea to double-check with your high school to ensure that this is a test that will, in fact, be administered come testing time.
If your state doesn't offer a school-day ACT or if you plan to take the test at another time (for scheduling reasons or if you simply want more time to prepare for a higher score), you must register for other dates yourself. Choosing to take (or retake) the ACT according to your own timeline is a perfectly fine choice. However, many high schools still recommend that the ACT be taken in the spring of your junior year because content on the Math test will include topics that may not be covered until you reach this point. (Don't let this discourage you. Many students choose to take their first ACT earlier — usually in the fall or winter. Remember that it's about what's right for you.)
- Decide whether to take the ACT Plus Writing. Other aspects of the ACT registration process will include determining if you'll complete the ACT Plus Writing, which includes an optional essay component. I always recommend taking the ACT Plus Writing, as some of your schools may require it. However, if none of the schools you plan to apply to require that score, you can decline this option.
- Beware of unexpected fees. Naturally, opting for the writing portion of the ACT will cost more than taking it without. Another important fee that can sometimes surprise students and parents is the cost of sending scores to multiple schools. Your application fee covers the first four reports, but you'll be charged for each additional college. (There are certain circumstances that can call for extra fees being waived.)
- Prepare for round two from the start. In an ideal world, everyone would get their dream score on the first shot with the ACT, but sometimes that just isn't the case. It doesn't mean you didn't study your hardest or that you didn't prep enough — things like test anxiety can get to you, too. But the ACT offers something called the Test Information Release, which provides you with a copy of the test and your answers, which can be an invaluable tool if you find yourself wanting to retake it. There is an additional fee, and you can even opt for this service after you receive your scores (it's available up to three months after the test date), but it's much simpler to request during initial registration.
Now, with your decisions made and your test scheduled, the only thing left to do is prep your absolute hardest! Something I always suggest to students to get an idea of where to start is to take a free ACT practice test, which will give you as accurate an overview as possible regarding your best subjects and where your extra study time might be most beneficial. With all that squared away, you'll be well on your way to meeting your ACT goals.
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