SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

ACT Test Dates Full Guide to Choosing (2016, 2017, 2018)

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Apr 12, 2017 2:00:00 PM

ACT General Info



Looking for info on the 2016-17 and 2017-18 ACT test dates? Knowing the most accurate ACT test dates is crucial for a solid test-taking plan. But though you may be tempted to go ahead and register for the next possible test date, what you should really be doing is finding a date that works well for you and your schedule.

In this guide, we offer an overview of upcoming ACT test dates, registration deadlines, and score release dates. We also give you tons of tips on how to choose an ACT test date and explain which test dates work best for juniors, seniors, and more.


ACT Test Dates and Deadlines: 2016-17 and 2017-18

Here, we give you all ACT test dates, normal registration deadlines, late registration deadlines, and score release dates for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 testing years.

In the tables below, you'll see there are two dates in the "Online Score Release" columns: the first date is for multiple-choice scores — i.e., your composite ACT score and your individual section scores for English, Math, Reading, and Science — and the second date is for complete scores. Complete scores encompass your multiple-choice scores and your Writing (essay) score.

If you take the ACT without Writing, you should generally receive your full ACT score report within two weeks after your test. But if you take the ACT with Writing, you must wait for your complete scores to come out. (In other words, you won't receive your multiple-choice scores until your essay has been graded, too.) The essay usually takes an additional two weeks for scoring, meaning you should receive your full ACT score report (with your essay grade) within about four weeks after your test date.


ACT Test Dates 2016-17

All of the info for the 2016-17 testing year has been officially confirmed by ACT, Inc.

Test Date

Normal Deadline  

Late Registration

Online Score Release*

Sept 10, 2016

Aug 7, 2016

Aug 19, 2016

Sept 20; Oct 4, 2016

Oct 22, 2016

Sept 16, 2016

Sep 30, 2016

Nov 8; Nov 22, 2016

Dec 10, 2016

Nov 4, 2016

Nov 18, 2016

Dec 20, 2016; Jan 3, 2017

Feb 11, 2017**

Jan 13, 2017

Jan 20, 2017

Feb 22; Mar 8, 2017

Apr 8, 2017

Mar 3, 2017

Mar 24, 2017

Apr 18; May 2, 2017

June 10, 2017

May 5, 2017

May 19, 2017

June 20; July 4, 2017

*The first date is when multiple-choice scores come out, and the second date is when complete scores (with the Writing section) come out.

**Not scheduled in New York.


ACT test dates are generally on Saturdays, but you may be able to take the ACT on a different date if you have a religious exemption or are taking a special school administration of the test. 

Starting in 2018, there will be a new July ACT test date. Unfortunately, this date will not be available to test takers in New York (similar to the February test date), nor will it be available internationally.


ACT Test Dates 2017-18

All 2017-18 ACT test dates and registration deadlines have been confirmed by ACT, Inc. Online score release dates are projections based on patterns of previous years. We will update these estimates as soon as official dates are available.

Test Date

Normal Deadline  

Late Registration

Online Score Release*

Sept 9, 2017

August 4, 2017

Aug 18, 2017

Sept 19; Oct 3, 2017

Oct 28, 2017

Sept 22, 2017

Oct 6, 2017

Nov 7; Nov 21, 2017

Dec 9, 2017

Nov 3, 2017

Nov 17, 2017

Dec 19, 2017; Jan 2, 2018

Feb 10, 2018**

Jan 12, 2018

Jan 19, 2018

Feb 20; Mar 6, 2018

Apr 14, 2018

Mar 9, 2018

Mar 23, 2018

Apr 24; May 8, 2018

June 9, 2018

May 4, 2018

May 18, 2018

June 19; July 3, 2018

July 14, 2018**

June 15, 2018

June 22, 2018

July 24; Aug 7, 2018

*The first date is when multiple-choice scores come out, and the second date is when complete scores (with the Writing section) come out.

**Not scheduled in New York.




ACT Test Dates 2016-17: Visual Calendar and Trends

To help you plan your test-taking schedule, we've created a handy visual representation of the 2016-17 ACT dates listed above. This calendar shows us how ACT tests are staggered throughout the year as well as where the overlapping of score release dates and registration deadlines often occurs.



(C) 2016 PrepScholar Inc, Use with Link to Allowed

You probably noticed right away that ACT test dates are clustered closely together in the fall and are more spread out in the spring. This is done to give seniors more chances at attaining their ACT goal scores prior to college application deadlines (which are typically in the late fall and early winter). 

The tests in the spring target juniors and students studying for the test early. Of course, you don't have to be in a certain grade level to take any of the administrations — you're welcome to sign up for whichever ACT dates you want, regardless of where you are in high school.

ACT scores generally come out right around the registration deadline for the next test. This can make it tricky to take two subsequent exams, but you will usually get at least your multiple-choice scores before the late registration deadline, meaning it is still possible (if not necessarily advisable) to sign up for the next test.

In addition, registering for back-to-back ACTs doesn't give you sufficient time to prep for your retake. With such a short amount of time to study in-between tests, you'll likely see only minor (if any) improvement in your scores.



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Choosing the Best ACT Test Dates for You: 5 Key Factors

Which ACT test dates you choose is ultimately up to you. But whether a test date is the right test date for you depends on five primary factors, which we describe below.


#1: When Are Your College Applications Due?

One of the most important factors is your college application deadlines. Generally speaking, ACT scores are released to test takers about 10-14 days after the exam. Thereafter, ACT, Inc., sends score reports in batches to schools as often as schools choose to receive them (usually, at least once every two weeks). This time frame, however, does not include the processing time for scores, which can vary significantly for each school.

So what does all of this mean for you? Basically, you must take the ACT well in advance of your college application deadlines, so you can ensure your ACT scores will get to your schools in time. I suggest taking the ACT at least four weeks (ideally, more) before your applications are due. If you're taking the ACT with Writing, give yourself at least six weeks. Common deadlines are January 1 for regular decision and November 1 or 15 for early action/early decision.

Don't forget: if your scores arrive late or aren't processed until after your school's application deadline has already passed, your application may be disqualified. So the earlier, the better!


#2: Are You OK With Ordering Priority Reports If Necessary?

If the ACT test date you want is extremely close to your college application deadlines and the four free score reports don't cover all of the schools to which you're applying, make sure you're OK with having to fork out extra money for priority reports.

With priority reports, your scores should face little difficulty in getting to your schools before your deadlines. Priority reports cost $16.50 and deliver ACT scores (once they’re released) within three to four business days after your request has been processed (which takes one to two business days).


#3: How Many Times Will You Take the ACT?

You should also be thinking about how many times you're willing to take the ACT in order to reach your goal score. Is there a chance you’ll want to retake it?

Here at PrepScholar, we recommend taking the ACT two or three times in total:

  • First, as a junior in your fall semester.
  • Second, as a junior in your spring semester.
  • Third, as a senior in your fall semester. (Starting in 2018, however, you can also take the ACT before your senior year in July!)

If you didn’t take the ACT at the beginning of your junior year, try to take it for the first time in February. This way you’ll get your scores in March and will have plenty of time to study and decide whether you’d like to retake the test in June, July, or later.

Try to avoid registering for back-to-back dates in the fall of your senior year. You likely won't get your scores until the regular registration deadline for the next test has already passed. Furthermore, it'll be a struggle to prep efficiently and with such little time in-between tests; you'll probably be pretty busy with college applications as it is!




#4: How Much Time Do You Want to Dedicate to ACT Prep?

Another huge factor is time. How many months will you be able to devote entirely to ACT prep? How many points do you want to improve your baseline score by so you can hit your goal score? (Your baseline score is the score you start out with before you begin any ACT prep. You can find yours by taking an official ACT practice test.)

Our usual recommendation is to study for the ACT for three to six months. This amount of time should allow you to hone your test-taking skills and strategies without burning you out. However, what's more important than months is the number of hours you put in. Here are our estimates for the numbers of hours you’ll need to study for the ACT based on how large of a point improvement you want:

  • 0-1 ACT point improvement: 10 hours
  • 1-2 ACT point improvement: 20 hours
  • 2-4 ACT point improvement: 40 hours
  • 4-6 ACT point improvement: 80 hours
  • 6-9 ACT point improvement: 150 hours+

Clearly, the bigger the point improvement, the more hours you’ll need to study. This is why it’s so helpful to craft an ACT study plan as soon as possible — ideally, long before your test date! 

But not everyone has ample free time they can spend studying for the ACT. At an absolute minimum, try to commit to 10 hours of ACT prep. And if you only have a month or so before test day, our in-depth guide shows you what steps you can take to get the score you want (coming soon).


#5: Do You Have Any Obligations You'll Need to Work Around?

Lastly, before choosing an ACT test date, consider how your desired test date fits into your overall schedule. Will you have any obligations on that specific date or in the days or weeks leading up to it? Do you have any commitments that may prevent you from being able to study effectively for the ACT?

I suggest using a planner to write down all of the major events and tests you have coming up. Include all major activities, such as school plays, AP exams, school projects, family vacations, weddings, etc. If there are any conflicts with your desired test date, look for an alternate date that'll better fit into your calendar.




Quick Guide: When Should Juniors Take the ACT? When Should Seniors?

We can’t tell you which exact ACT test date will work best for you, but we can give you some advice on which dates best suit certain situations. Below are four common scenarios with quick tips on the ACT test dates you'll want to prioritize for each.


Scenario 1: You’re a Junior

Best Dates
  • For 1st Test: September, October, December
  • For 2nd Test: February, April, June

There are no risky ACT dates if you’re a junior, as all of your college applications will be due sometime during your senior year. So, really, you can take the SAT whenever you want! That said, I recommend taking the test at least twice: once in the fall of your junior year, and once in the spring. This way you’ll have the entire summer to finalize your college plans and decide whether you want to take the ACT again.

If you didn’t take the ACT your fall semester, aim to take it as soon as possible in the spring, ideally in February or April. Either of these dates ensures you'll have June and July (starting in 2018) to consider for retakes before your senior year.


Scenario 2: You’re a Senior

Best Dates: July (starting in 2018), September, October
Riskier Dates: December

September and October are popular test dates for seniors because they offer you one final shot at getting the ACT score you want before your college applications are due. Starting in 2018, however, incoming seniors will also have a July test date, which I strongly recommend opting for if you're worried about carving out time for ACT prep in the fall.

December is risky, though. If you've got deadlines in early January, December ACT scores may not get to your schools in time. (This partly depends on whether you take the Writing section.) But if your deadlines are in late January or later, December should be OK.


Scenario 3: You’re Applying Early Action/Early Decision

Best Dates: June, July (starting in 2018), September
Riskier Dates: October

Most early action deadlines are November 1 or 15, so it's imperative you take the ACT as early as possible, preferably in June or July before your senior year. Taking the test over the summer ensures you’ll have a final opportunity to take it your senior year in September, should you still want to raise your ACT scores.

Just don't rely on the October test date. Only if your deadlines are on or after November 30, such as the University of California system's, would I suggest possibly opting for the October test date. But this is still playing it extremely close, so stick with September if you can!


Scenario 4: Your College Application Deadlines Are in February or Later

Most schools require applications by November, December, or January, but those whose applications aren’t due until February or later offer seniors more options for ACT dates.

Below are various late college application deadlines and our picks for latest recommended ACT dates and riskier ACT dates. Recommended dates should have little to no trouble getting your scores to your schools in time. Riskier dates, however, are less reliable and may or may not get your scores to your schools in time. So choose wisely!


College App Deadline

Latest Recommended ACT Test Date

Riskier ACT Test Date





















 *There is no July date for 2017, but there will be one for 2018 and onward.




ACT Test Dates: Summary

Up until the 2016-17 testing year, the ACT was offered six times a year in the following months:
  • September
  • October
  • December
  • February
  • April
  • June

As of 2018, however, there will be a seventh date in July. This date will only be available within the U.S. and will not be administered in New York (like the February date).

When it comes to choosing an ACT test date, you must first consider several important factors, such as when your college deadlines are, whether you’re taking the Writing section, and how much time you’re willing to dedicate to ACT prep. Once you've answered all of these questions, you'll be on your way to picking out a surefire ACT test date!


What's Next?

Ready to register for the ACT? Use our in-depth walkthrough to help you sign up for the test and read our guide to finding the best test center for you!

Need additional help choosing an ACT test date? See our factors you should think about before setting a test date. It's also important to consider the time you have to study and the advantages of taking the ACT multiple times.  

Wondering whether to take the SAT or the ACT? Check out our complete guide to which test will be easier for you!


Want to improve your ACT score by 4+ points? Download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need in your prep to improve your ACT score dramatically.

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)


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Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.

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