When Should You Take the ACT?

Taking the ACT is a big deal— it’s an important step that will help you determine your best path through high school and into college or the workforce. Use the information below to create the best plan for your goals and where you're at in your high school career, saving you precious time and stress. 

When to Take the ACT Test for the First Time

Most students tend to take the ACT during their junior and senior years of high school, once they have covered the majority of their core coursework. However, students interested in earning college credit in high school (dual enrollment), enrolling in honors classes, or using scores to guide choices about the high school classes and electives are taking their first ACT in their sophomore year. Carefully evaluate factors like your how you want to use your scores, your level of test readiness, score goals, and your other time commitments to develop a strategic plan that makes the most of your time and effort. 

Recognizing that many students take the ACT more than once, a typical path from your first test to getting your highest scores might look something like this:  

  1. Fall of Junior Year: This is a popular time to take the ACT for the first time. It allows you to establish a baseline score, identify areas of improvement, and plan your subsequent preparation accordingly.  
  2. Spring of Junior Year: By taking the ACT again in the spring, you’ve given yourself time to build on your initial score and continue to refine your skills. This is particularly beneficial if you feel you need more time for preparation after your first attempt.
  3. Fall of Senior Year: If you plan to apply early to colleges, taking the ACT in the fall of your senior year ensures your scores are available for submission. It also provides an opportunity to improve your scores further to maximize your scholarship prospects. Remember, these are general suggestions. Your individual circumstances will be unique and you should choose a testing schedule that aligns with your goals, availability, and how you want to use the information you get from the ACT. 

Testing More Than Once? Get the Benefit of Your Test Information Release!

If you plan on retesting to improve your scores and want to boost your test prep with a deep dive analysis on your past performance, consider purchasing your Test Information Release (TIR)

  • Retesters who purchased their TIR improved their ACT Composite score by twice as much on average compared with those who did not.
  • The TIR includes the test answer key, a copy of the questions, and copy of the answers you provided, and other information about your performance.
  • The TIR is only available for the national exam (i.e. Saturday testing) for September, April, and June tests, but can be purchased up to 6 months after a qualifying test date.   

How to Decide the Best Time to Take the ACT

It entirely depends on your personal situation, schedule, goals, and what you want to get out of the test. This is a key point – the ACT is a tool for you. Use the information you get from the ACT to help you navigate where you want to go and what you want to do. In some respects, the sooner you take the ACT the sooner you can put that information to use, but let’s take a look at the factors you should consider when making your decision.  

ACT Test Dates and Your Schedule

One of the biggest considerations is your schedule – will you be taking AP exams in the spring? Will your fall schedule be dominated with extracurriculars like sports or performances? Will your summer be packed with vacation, work, or other activities? Do you want to use the ACT to guide the classes you take in high school? If you haven’t already, you’ll quickly discover time is your most precious resource, so determining how and where you spend it should be one of your major considerations.  

Start by downloading a free practice test and giving it a try. You’ll get an idea about what the test is like and some insight into how long it might take you to prepare for each section. Once you have this information, you’ll have a better idea about the time you’ll need to dedicate to studying and how it lines up with your availability and the ACT National Test Dates

Scholarship Opportunity Timelines

Securing scholarships can significantly alleviate the financial burden of college. If you're aiming to take the ACT with ample time to use your scores for scholarship applications, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind. 

It's crucial to research scholarship application deadlines. Scholarships often have specific submission dates, and some may require ACT scores to be submitted as part of the application. By identifying scholarship opportunities early on, you can determine the ACT test date that will allow you to receive your best scores in time for the application deadline. 

Are You Superscoring the ACT?

An ACT Superscore considers the highest section scores across multiple ACT test attempts to create a new composite score. Many colleges and universities now use superscoring, which can work in your favor by showcasing your strongest performance in each section and potentially increasing your overall ACT score. This approach allows colleges and universities to see your best scores across multiple tests, presenting a more comprehensive and competitive picture of your academic abilities. 

If you're aiming to build up a superscore, it's important to plan your ACT test dates strategically. Consider taking the ACT multiple times, allowing yourself ample opportunities to improve your scores in specific sections. By identifying your weaker areas and dedicating focused study time, you can target improvement and increase your chances of achieving a higher superscore. 

Timing is crucial when working towards a superscore. Taking the ACT earlier in high school will allow for multiple attempts. By starting early, you can gauge your initial performance, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and devise a tailored study plan. 

Remember to check the superscoring policies of your target colleges and universities, as they may differ. Understanding these policies can help you strategically plan your ACT test dates to align with your superscoring goals. 

What Grade Do You Take the ACT?

While the test is most commonly associated with junior and senior years, students may choose to take the ACT earlier based on some of the goals discussed above. Below are some additional considerations associated with taking the ACT as a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior.

Freshman Year 

  1. Early exposure: Taking the ACT as a freshman allows you to familiarize yourself with the test format and content, giving you a head start on test preparation.
  2. Baseline assessment: It provides an opportunity to gauge your academic strengths and areas for improvement, allowing you to develop a long-term plan for test readiness. 
Be Aware: 
  1. Limited subject knowledge: Freshman year coursework almost certainly has not covered all the content areas tested on the ACT, potentially putting you at a disadvantage. 
  2. Lack of test readiness: You may not have had enough time to develop the necessary skills and strategies for optimal performance on the ACT. 

Sophomore Year 

  1. Extended preparation time: Starting test preparation in sophomore year allows for a longer timeline to build the necessary skills and knowledge required for the ACT. 
  2. Score improvement: By taking the ACT as a sophomore, you can identify areas of improvement early on and make targeted efforts to enhance your performance. 
  3. Use your scores now: Taking the ACT as a sophomore can give you insight into the high school electives and/or dual credit opportunities you may want to pursue.  
Be Aware: 
  1. Limited exposure to coursework: Some subject areas tested on the ACT will likely not have been covered fully by sophomore year, potentially affecting your performance in those sections. 
  2. Test pressure: Taking the ACT earlier may add additional stress and pressure, especially if you haven't had ample time to prepare or feel academically ready. 

Junior Year

  1. Curriculum coverage: By junior year, you've likely completed most of the core coursework that the ACT assesses, giving you a solid foundation for the test. 
  2. Common testing year: Junior year is the most common year for students to take the ACT, providing a benchmark for comparison among your peers and preparing you for early college admission. 
Be Aware:
  1. Time constraints: Balancing the demands of junior year coursework, extracurricular activities, and test preparation can be challenging, requiring effective time management skills. 
  2. Limited retest opportunities: Taking the ACT in junior year leaves less time for retakes if you're aiming to improve your scores. 

Senior Year 

  1. Final chances for improvement: Taking the ACT in senior year allows for your last opportunities to enhance your scores before college applications and scholarship deadlines. 
  2. Targeted preparation: By senior year, you have likely identified your strengths and weaknesses, enabling you to focus your preparation efforts on specific areas. 
Be Aware: 
  1. Time constraints: Senior year can be filled with college applications, coursework, and other responsibilities, making it challenging to allocate sufficient time for comprehensive test preparation. 
  2. Application deadlines: Taking the ACT in senior year may limit your options if you're applying to colleges with early application deadlines, as you may not receive your scores in time for submission. 


Unlock Your ACT Success

Whether you're a freshman exploring early exposure, a sophomore seeking extended preparation time, a junior aiming for benchmark scores, or a senior looking for final chances to improve, the ACT is offered on a variety of dates that will meet your needs. 

By strategically planning your ACT test dates you can: 

Save time and money by completing college coursework in high school.
Target specific areas for improvement.
Meet scholarship and admissions deadlines.
Qualify for honors programs.
Fulfil your graduation requirements.
Boost your superscore.


When to Take the ACT FAQs

You can take the ACT a maximum of 12 times. The ACT offers multiple test dates throughout the year, allowing students to retake the test to improve their scores. Colleges generally accept superscores, so you have the flexibility to take the ACT multiple times to achieve your desired results. It's important to note that while there is no official limit, it is advisable to approach retakes strategically, focusing on targeted preparation to maximize score improvement.

Yes, you can! Taking the ACT as a sophomore is considered early, but it can provide valuable insights into your current skill level, identify areas for improvement, and allow for an extended timeline for test preparation and score improvement. Taking the ACT in 10th grade can also help you get ahead and save money by helping you qualify for dual credit opportunities. Dual credit classes let you start college early and complete high school graduation requirements at the same time. However, it's important to consider your individual readiness and consult with counselors, parents, or test prep professionals to make an informed decision.

It is not too late to take the ACT your senior year; however, take care to plan your test dates strategically to align with college application and scholarship deadlines. Taking the ACT in the fall of senior year ensures that your scores are available for submission to colleges. It also allows for one last opportunity to improve your scores before application deadlines. While senior year can be a busy time with college applications and coursework, proper time management and focused test preparation can help you achieve your goals. Be mindful of registration deadlines and score release dates to ensure your scores are available in time for college applications.