SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

How Often Should You Take Complete Official ACT Practice Tests?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Nov 10, 2016 1:00:00 PM

ACT General Info

 

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Taking official ACT practice tests under realistic testing conditions is vital to good ACT prep, but after a certain point you can hit a wall and stop getting any benefit out of it. In this article, we’ll discuss the frequency with which you should take ACT practice tests.

feature image credit: Flying/used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped and resized from original.

 

Why Use Official Practice Tests?

In order to figure out how often to take practice tests, you must first be clear on what you’re getting out of them. The top four reasons for taking official ACT practice tests are to:

  • get accustomed to the experience of sitting down and taking the real thing (including becoming comfortable with taking the full test at 8am)
  • build up your stamina and ability to focus for long periods of time
  • figure out where your weaknesses are
  • judge your progress and studying efficacy

Another way of using practice tests is to break them up and only go through the particular section you need to work on at a time. For example, if you run out of time on the Reading section, you may want to take several ACT Reading sections in isolation to work on your time management. This way of using official practice tests is a good way to focus your studying and break up the monotony of doing complete practice test after complete practice test. It's also a better use of your time to do this if you’re only struggling with particular subject areas or question types.

Because there are a limited number of official practice tests available to practice with (either as full tests or broken up into section-specific practice), if you think you have a decent chance of going through all of them, it’s important to plan out ahead of time when you’re going to take ACT practice tests.

 

Set Up an Official Practice Test Schedule

Now that we’ve discussed why students take official practice tests, we’ll explain how to space them out for students with varying amounts of time before the test. Note that this is only a rough guideline to get you started and that you should be flexible in your own studying to make sure you get the most out of each practice test.

We’ve deliberately only included four complete practice tests in the schedules for various scenarios. For most students, practicing specific sections of practice tests is a valuable and necessary addition to taking full-length official practice tests, so you should break up and use the remaining official practice tests at your own discretion.

In general, we recommend frontloading your studying with practice tests, because you’re most likely to need the most practice across different sections at the beginning of your studying. If you’re studying effectively, your problem areas should shrink as you go along, making it more advantageous to spend more time on specific sections, rather than taking full-length practice tests (or if you do take full-length practice tests, you need to be sure to review in between so you can improve). At the same time, you need to make sure that you’re taking practice tests close enough to the real ACT to not get rusty.

 

1-Year Practice Test Schedule

If you have a full year to study before the ACT, we recommend planning out your official test taking so that you take...

  • one practice test when you begin studying
  • one practice test 2-3 months into your studying
  • one practice test 6-8 months into your studying
  • one practice test a week or so before the ACT

You’ll probably want to take more than four practice tests over the course of a year of ACT prep, but they don’t all have to be official ones. Spend the time in between practice tests reviewing the questions you got wrong and drilling yourself on questions you find difficult.

 

6-Month Practice Test Schedule

The way you space out practice ACTs over a six-month study period is similar to the yearlong study schedule, but the time between each test is a little more condensed. Plan on taking an official practice ACT...

  • at the start of your studying
  • 1-2 months into your studying
  • 4-5 months into your studying
  • a week or so before the real ACT

 

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Condense the sandwich of a yearlong study plan into a panini of a six-month practice schedule.

 

3-Month Practice Test Schedule

With just three months of studying before the test, the timing of official ACT practice tests will get even tighter. You'll want to take an official ACT practice test...

  • at the beginning of your studying
  • three weeks into your studying
  • 1-2 months into your studying
  • a week or so before the ACT

If you compare this to the six-month practice test schedule, you'll see that there are a lot of similarities; the main difference is in the timing of the second practice test, which needs to happen much sooner if you're only studying for the ACT over a period of three months.

 

1-Month Practice Test Schedule

With only one month to study, you’ll be cramming a lot of work into a short amount of time. The same basic principles of lessening practice test frequencies still hold, however.

Below, we've mapped out a sample schedule for students who only have one month to study for the ACT:

 

 

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Week 1

Practice Test

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Test

Week 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice Test

Week 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Test Week

Practice Test

 

 

 

 

 

ACT!

 

In the one-month study schedule, we've intentionally put the practice tests on Saturdays and Sundays so that students can take them at the same time of day as they’ll be taking the real ACT. However, if you can’t do this because of scheduling conflicts, that’s fine – just try to keep the same basic shape and spacing as the above schedule.

 

What’s Next?

More than a year out from college applications and wanting to start your test prep? Then be sure to read our article about SAT/ACT test dates and study plans for sophomores and juniors.

What about if your prep time can be measured in hours, rather than months? Read our special 20-hour prep guide to using ACT practice tests for advice and tips.

Ready to start taking practice tests but not sure where to find them? Check out our massive collection of free online ACT practice tests here.

 

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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