Time of First Testing

Seventy percent of the ACT-tested graduating class of 2011 first tested in 11th grade, whereas 30% first tested in 12th grade. Relative to their peers who test earlier, students who first test in 12th grade have been largely overlooked by the recruitment efforts of colleges and scholarship agencies. In this section of the report, we highlight a few of the characteristics of these test takers.

College Type Attended by Time of First Testing, 2011

Bar chart showing college type attended by time of first testing

Graph reads: 47% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 who first tested in 12th grade enrolled at a 4-year college.

College TypeGrade 11Grade 12
4-year56%47%
2-year17%21%
Not enrolled28%32%

Note: ACT tests taken before 11th grade were not included. Percentages may not sum to 100% due to rounding.

Although there are some differences in the postsecondary destinations of the ACT-tested graduating class of 2011 by the time of first testing, the overall pattern is similar.

  • Of those students who first tested in 12th grade, 68% went on to college; among those who first tested in 11th grade, 72% went on to college.
  • Compared to a student who first tested in 11th grade, a student who first tested in 12th grade had a lower likelihood of enrolling in a 4-year college and a higher likelihood of enrolling in a 2-year college.


Time of First Testing Among ACT-Tested High School Graduates by Family Income Level, 2011

Line graph showing percent of students who first tested in grade 11 and in grade 12, by family income level

Graph reads: 26% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 whose family earned between $60,000 and $100,000 first tested in 12th grade.

Family IncomeGrade 11Grade 12
Less than $36K65%35%
$36K–$60K70%30%
$60K–$100K74%26%
$100K+75%25%

Note: Based on 74% of the ACT-tested graduating class of 2011 who reported family income level when registering for the ACT. ACT tests taken before 11th grade were not included.

The grade level in which students first took the ACT differed by family income level.

  • A student’s likelihood of first taking the ACT in 12th grade decreased as family income level increased.
  • Despite this downward trend by family income level, roughly a quarter of all ACT-tested high school graduates whose family earned $60,000 or above first tested in 12th grade.


Time of First Testing Among ACT-Tested High School Graduates by ACT Composite Score, 2011

Line graph showing percent of students who first tested in grade 11 and in grade 12, by ACT Composite score range

Graph reads: 18% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 with an ACT Composite score between 28 and 32 first tested in 12th grade.

ACT Composite ScoreGrade 11Grade 12
1–1561%39%
16–1964%36%
20–2370%30%
24–2776%24%
28–3282%18%
33–3686%14%

Note: ACT tests taken before 11th grade were not included.

The grade level in which a student first took the ACT differed by his or her ACT Composite score.

  • A student’s likelihood of first taking the ACT in 12th grade decreased as ACT Composite score increased.
  • Nonetheless, 1 in 5 students with an ACT Composite score of 24 or higher first tested in 12th grade.
  • A student’s likelihood of first taking the ACT in 11th grade increased as ACT Composite score increased.


Time of First Testing Among ACT-Tested High School Graduates by State Category, 2011

Bar chart showing time of first testing among graduates by state category

Graph reads: 47% of the ACT-tested high school graduating class of 2011 from “SAT+” states first tested in 12th grade.

State CategoryGrade 11Grade 12
ACT+83%17%
ACT64%36%
ACT/SAT54%46%
SAT52%48%
SAT+53%47%
National70%30%

Note: ACT tests taken before 11th grade were not included.

The grade level in which a student first took the ACT varied considerably by the ACT and SAT participation rates in the state.

  • In “ACT+” states, 17% of students tested for the first time in 12th grade and 83% tested for the first time in 11th grade. This large share of students who first tested in 11th grade is due in part to the “ACT+” category comprising those states (CO, IL, KY, MI, TN, and WY) that administered the ACT statewide to all public high school 11th graders.
  • In contrast, about half of all ACT-tested students in “ACT/SAT,” “SAT,” and “SAT+” states tested for the first time in 12th grade.