Timing for taking your first ACT exam is a common topic of concern among high school students and parents.
In Wisconsin, there is a state-mandated ACT Exam for all public high school juniors typically late-February of their junior year. For 2018, this date is February 27. For many juniors, this will be their first time taking the ACT Exam (although I don’t recommend that – see below). The state-mandated ACT exam is just like all the other dates. The test is the same. The scores count just the same. BUT the late-February timing is not ideal for college planning purposes. This test date should be used as your second attempt– not your first.
Prepare for and take your first ACT exam before holiday break of your junior year. Notice I said “first ACT”. More and more students are taking the ACT Exam more than once to earn a score that best reflects their true academic abilities and puts them in the best possible position for college acceptance and merit aid at their top-choice schools. The world is very different today than it was a few decades ago when I went to college. We were all one-and-done kids.
What if taking the ACT test before the holidays won’t work for your junior?
There are always exceptions. And it’s all going to be okay. Some students opt to take their first ACT test later. Some take their first ACT as early as late spring of their sophomore year or the summer before their junior year, depending upon preference, course load, as well as other scheduled activities like sports. If at all possible, though, plan to take your first ACT exam before holiday break of your junior year. Here’s why.
For the state-mandated ACT Test date in late-February, it takes much longer to get your score back. The schools quote 6-8 weeks. But in my experience, most students get them back in about a month. For all other test dates, ACT releases scores 10 days after the test. Not all scores come out in 10 days, but about half do. They release the rest in batches, usually a couple of days apart. Nearly all students will have their scores back within 14 days of the test date, alleviating stress and facilitating the next step in college planning.
For juniors who wait to take the state-mandated late-Feb ACT and don’t get scores back until the end of April or beginning of May, it puts you in a tight spot to register for and prepare for the April or June test dates.
When can I plan to be “done” with the ACT?
My goal for students I work with is that by the last day of their junior year, they’re 100% done with the ACT test, have a score they’re happy with, and can check that box off the list. Whew! That leaves the summer before your senior year to focus your attention on College Search, continuing campus visits and looking forward to the fall of your senior year when you’ll be focused on college applications.
If you can avoid it, you don’t want to be in a position where you’re still trying to earn the score you want as you head into your senior year. Summer’s my busiest time of the year. I’m primarily working with two types of students in terms of test prep: rising juniors who want to get a jump on things, and 2) rising seniors who wish they weren’t still prepping for an ACT test. If I were to poll rising seniors I’ve worked with this summer, 100% of them would echo my recommendation to start early, so that you can be done early.
How do I sign up for the ACT?
You do NOT need the school’s assistance or prompting to sign up for and take the ACT Exam, nor should you wait for the school’s lead. At any time, you can simply go to the ACT website and look for “Registration” and follow the instructions online to register for the ACT. Registration deadlines are about five weeks prior to the exam date. For example, the deadline to register for the October 28 exam is September 22. The deadline to register for the December 9 exam is November 3. For every single ACT test date, there will be a location near you where the test is being administered.
How do I get help with prepping for the ACT?
Most of my clients start with a Free Consult where we sit down and get your key questions answered about ACT Test Prep, as well as College Search, timelines for college applications, what to focus on and when and even help with filling out the FAFSA. It’s free. It’s an hour. It’s face-to-face at my office. It involves the student, parent(s) and me. So let’s talk college.