"When should I take the ACT?" This is one of the most common questions we get from parents and students about ACT Prep. In this post, we will address when you should plan to take the ACT and how far in advance you should prepare. There is no right answer for every student, but we will give you the information that you need to make the right decision on your own.
Our most important piece of advice about ACT Prep is get started early! Whether you are going to take the ACTs in the fall of junior year or wait until the end of your junior year, getting started on your ACT Prep early always helps. Junior year is hectic for students, so finding time for ACT Prep can be difficult for students who are already balancing a rigorous academic schedule, sports commitments, and extracurricular activities.
The latest that you should begin planning when to take your ACTs is winter break of your junior year. Keep in mind that most students will take the ACT 2 - 3 times, so this whole process will take a minimum of 3 - 4 months. (Check out the 2017 ACT Test Dates)
Option #1 - Fall of Junior Year
Test Dates - September ACT, October ACT, December ACT
When to Begin Preparing - July of the summer before junior year
One of the best times to prepare for the ACT is the summer between sophomore and junior year. Over the summer, students have much more free time to spend studying content for the ACT and completing practice tests. Completing the bulk of ACT Prep over the summer builds students' confidence and makes the ACT Prep process far less stressful.
But are students really ready for the ACT by the beginning of junior year?
Are you ready for the ACT yet?
By the end of sophomore year, most students will have seen all of the grammar rules featured on the ACT and will already have solid reading comprehension skills. While an English course may improve these skills in the first part of junior year, these skills are more efficiently mastered with a good ACT Prep Class or expert tutoring (Learn About the 4 Options for ACT Test Prep).
The truth is that it depends most on the Math. You should take the ACT after you have completed geometry and algebra II and done some trigonometry as well. The ACT also features some pre-calculus topics (trigonometry, circles, ellipses, matrices) as well. Students who have not seen these topics in the classroom will need to learn these topics through self-study, group classes, or private tutoring. In general, stronger math students will be much more prepared to take the ACT in the Fall of their junior year. We advise weaker math students to wait until later on in their junior year when they have learned more of the math topics featured on the ACT.
Who It's Great For: Students who are strong academic achievers and will have a very heavy course load in junior year (think lots of APs). Students who are in advanced mathematics and have already completed pre-calculus before their junior year. Students who will have an extremely busy schedule when the school year begins.
Who It's Bad For: Weaker math students who struggled in geometry or algebra II and have not completed any pre-calculus topics.
So when should you take the ACT?
Our Recommended Timeline:
June: Take 1st practice ACT to get baseline scores
July - September: Begin to prepare for the ACT (See our 4 Ways to Prepare for the ACT). Complete 2-3 more practice ACTs as you prepare. Sign-up for the September ACT.
Early September: Take your first ACT. Based on how it felt and your schedule, decide if you want to take the ACT again in October or wait until December. We often recommend that students sign up for the October test in case they want to take it, as it leaves option open.
Late September (if you decide to take the ACT again in October): Complete another 2-3 practice ACTs. Once you have your September ACT scores, focus on the areas where you need to improve via self-study or in few sessions with a tutor.
October (if you decide to take the ACT in October): Take your second ACT. Wait for your scores and then decide if you are done with the ACT or if you will take it a 3rd time.
October - November (if you did not take the October ACT): Review your September ACT Scores. Identify the areas where you need to improve and focus on them via self-study or private tutoring sessions. Complete 3-5 practice ACTs to become more of an expert on the test.
December - Take the ACT for your 2nd or 3rd time. At this point, the goal is to have some great scores and be done with the ACT! Some students (usually those who have only taken the test twice) will take the ACT in February as well.
Option #2 - Winter and Spring of Junior Year
Test Dates - February ACT, April ACT, June ACT
When to Begin Preparing - November or December of junior year
Winter is a great time to get started on ACT Prep
Many students will begin their ACT Prep in the winter of their junior year. Junior year is a very
busy time for almost every student, so getting started with ACT Prep in November of December gives students enough time to get ready for the February ACT.
Starting in the winter gives students flexibility to focus on school when necessary (say during finals or for big projects) and focus on ACT Prep when they have time in their schedules. Giving a few months of lead-in prep time will make the process much less stressful. It will also give students another semester of math, which can help students become more familiar with the harder topics featured on the ACT. In addition, students should also take advantage of their free time over winter break to work on ACT Prep and practice tests.
Who It's Great For: I would recommend this for most students. It is great for students who had an extremely busy Fall (often due to sports commitments) or students who were not quite ready to begin ACT Prep over the summer. Usually the end of junior year is the busiest time for students (finals, AP Exams, final projects, etc.), so getting started early in the winter can help avoid squeezing in ACT Prep in the spring.
Who It's Bad For: Weak math students who are still completing Geometry or Algebra II in their junior year. These students should wait until the end of their course to take the ACT, as these topics are heavily featured on the test.
So when should you take the ACT?
Our Recommended Timeline:
November/December: Take first practice ACT
November/December - January: Begin to prepare for the ACT (See our 4 Ways to Prepare for the ACT). Complete 2-3 more practice ACTs as you prepare. Sign-up for the February ACT.
Early February: Take your first ACT.
Late February: Review your ACT Scores. Decide if you are going to take the ACT again in April. We advise that most students take the ACT at least twice. If you are going to take the test, register for the April ACT.
February - March: Once you have your February ACT scores, identity the areas where you need to improve and focus on them via self-study or in few sessions with a tutor. Complete 3-4 practice ACTs to become more of an expert on the test.
April: Take your second ACT. Wait for your scores and then decide if you are done with the ACT (hopefully) or if you will take it a 3rd time in June.
May - June: If you are going to take the June ACT, review your scores from April to identify where you want to improve. Focus on the content and strategies you need to improve. Complete 2-3 more practice ACTs leading up to the June ACT.
June - Take the ACT for your 3rd time. At this point, the goal is to have some great scores, be done with the ACT, and enjoy the summer break!
Option #3 - Spring of Junior Year and Fall of Senior Year
Test Dates - April ACT, June ACT, September ACT, October ACT
When to Begin Preparing - February or March of junior year
If you haven't started your ACT Prep by the spring, the time to get started is now!
The majority of students and families will wait until the spring of junior year to begin even thinking about the ACT. This is most often due to lack of information about how much effort it takes students to get ready for the ACT or lack of awareness about how long the entire ACT process takes (it usually takes a minimum of 3-4 months). Starting in the spring of junior year can work (and often is the only option), but it is difficult for students with busy schedules to find the time to get fully prepare for the ACT.
No matter how students prepare, it takes time to study for and get ready for the ACT. Most students will need to devote 30-50 hours to get fully prepared for the ACT. Finding this much time in the spring of junior year is always difficult. We have had many students who did not perform to their full potential on the ACT because they are simply too busy with school.
If you are reading this and you are a junior and it is already spring, do not panic...you will be just fine! Just make sure that you start your ACT Prep as soon as possible and plan to set aside 3-5 hours each week to complete ACT work. Your goal should be to get some great ACT scores on the April and June ACTs, so you can be done with the ACT and focus on college application work over the summer.
Who It's Great For: Students who are competing Geometry or Algebra II in their junior year. Students who have not already started ACT Prep by the spring.
Who It's Bad For: Nobody. By spring of junior year, all students should have a plan to get ready for and take the ACT.
So when should you take the ACT?
Our Recommended Timeline:
February/March: Take first practice ACT.
February/March: Begin to prepare for the ACT (See our 4 Ways to Prepare for the ACT). Complete 2-3 more practice ACTs as you prepare. Sign-up for the April ACT.
Early April: Take your first ACT.
Late April : Review your ACT Scores. Decide if you are going to take the ACT again in June. We advise that most students take the ACT at least twice. If you are going to take the test, register for the June ACT.
May - June: Once you have your April ACT scores, identity the areas where you need to improve and focus on them via self-study or in few sessions with a tutor. Complete 3-5 practice ACTs to become more of an expert on the test.
June: Take your 2nd ACT. Wait for your scores and then decide if you are done with the ACT (hopefully) or if you will take it a 3rd time in September.
July - August: If you are going to take the September ACT, use the summer to make yourself an expert. Focus on the content and strategies you need to improve. Complete 3-5 more practice ACTs leading up to the September ACT.
September - Take the ACT for your 3rd time. This is the last time that you should plan on taking the ACT. You can take the ACT in October as well if necessary, but that is the last change for seniors to take it before college applications go in.
The decision of when to start ACT prep depends on each student's academic schedule and personal goals on the ACT. The most important thing is to come up with a plan that works for you and to stick to it. Give yourself plenty of time to get ready for the ACT. The more time that you put into studying and preparing for the ACT, the better results you will achieve.
Having read this article, you now know how long the ACT Prep process takes and when you should starting preparing for test day. Now, you need to put a plan together to get ready for the ACT.
To begin, take a practice ACT to confirm that the SAT is a good fit for you and learn about the 4 Ways To Prepare for the ACT.
Before finalizing your ACT plan, be sure to check the exact 2017 ACT Test Dates and make sure you will not have any conflicts on test day.
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