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ACT Test Dates: Full Guide to Choosing (2020, 2021)

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Mar 29, 2020 2:00:00 PM

ACT General Info



Looking for info on 2020-2021 ACT test dates? Knowing the most accurate ACT test dates is crucial for a solid test-taking plan. Though you might 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 tips on how to choose an ACT test date and go over which test dates work best for juniors, seniors, and more.

NOTE: Because of COVID-19, the April 4, 2020 ACT exam has cancelled, and future test dates may also be cancelled. If you're looking for more information on how COVID-19 is impacting ACT test dates, check out our complete guide.


ACT Test Dates and Deadlines for 2019-2020

ACT test dates are generally on Saturdays, but you might 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.

Here, we give you the upcoming ACT test dates, normal registration deadlines, late registration deadlines, and score release dates. The dates are organized into two tables: one for the remaining 2019-2020 school year test dates and one for the 2020-2021 school year test dates.


ACT Test Dates 2019-2020

The test dates for the 2019-20 school year have all been confirmed by ACT, Inc., as have the registration deadlines and score release dates.

The ACT exam on April 4, 2020 has been cancelled and rescheduled for the June 13, 2020 (which was already an ACT exam date). Check out our guide for more information on how COVID-19 is impacting ACT dates and scores.

Test Date Normal Deadline Late Deadline Online Score Release*
June 13, 2020 May 8, 2020 May 22, 2020 June 23; July 7, 2020
July 18, 2020** June 19, 2020 June 26, 2020 July 28; August 11, 2020

*The first date is when multiple-choice scores come out; the second date is when complete scores (with the Writing section) come out.
**No test centers scheduled in New York on this date.


ACT Test Dates 2020-2021

The 2020-21 ACT test dates and registration deadlines have been confirmed by ACT, Inc. The score release dates are based on estimates of past score releases.

Test Date Normal Deadline Late Deadline Online Score Release*
Sept 12, 2020 Aug 14, 2020 Aug 28, 2020 Sept 22; Oct 6, 2020
Oct 24, 2020 Sept 18, 2020 Oct 2, 2020 Nov 10; Nov 24, 2020
Dec 12, 2020 Nov 6, 2020 Nov 20, 2020 Dec 22, 2020; Jan 5, 2021
Feb 6, 2021 Jan 8, 2021 Jan 15, 2021 Feb 17; Mar 4, 2021
Apr 17, 2021 Mar 12, 2021 Mar 26, 2021 Apr 27; May 11, 2021
June 12, 2021 May 7, 2021 May 21, 2021 June 22; July 6, 2021
July 17, 2021** June 18, 2021 June 25, 2021 July 27; August 10, 2021

*The first date is when multiple-choice scores come out; the second date is when complete scores (with the Writing section) come out.
**No test centers scheduled in New York this date.


In the tables above, there are two dates in the "Online Score Release" columns. The first date is for multiple-choice scoresyour composite ACT score and your individual section scores for English, Math, Reading, and Science. The second date is for complete ACT scores; these are your multiple-choice scores plus 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.

If you take the ACT with Writing, note that the essay usually takes an additional two weeks for scoring, meaning you won't receive your full ACT score report (with your essay grade) until about four weeks after your test date. Also, be aware that any colleges you put down to get your scores won't have access to your official ACT score report until your essay has been graded as well.


ACT Test Dates 2019-20: Visual Calendar and Trends

To help you plan your test-taking schedule, we've created a handy visual representation of the 2019-20 ACT dates. 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:

body_testdates20192020-ACT_Revised(C) 2019 PrepScholar Inc, Use with Link to Allowed

You probably noticed right away that ACT test dates are clustered closely together in the fall and more spread out in the spring. This is done to give seniors more chances at attaining their ACT goal scores before college application deadlines (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 back-to-back exams, but you will usually get at least your multiple-choice scores before the late registration deadline, so it's still possible (though 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 go over here.


#1: When Are Your College Applications Due?

One of the most important factors is your college application deadlines.

Generally, ACT scores are released 10-14 days after the exam. After that, ACT, Inc. sends score reports in batches to schools as often as schools choose to receive them (usually this is at least once every two weeks). This time frame, however, does not include the processing time for ACT 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 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 even more time—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 passed, your application could get 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 you're applying to, make sure that you're OK with having to fork out extra money for priority reports.

With priority ACT reports, your scores should face little difficulty getting to your schools before the 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?

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 (or the summer before fall semester)

If you didn't take the exam 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 ACT 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 need to improve your baseline score by to reach your goal score? (Your baseline score is the score you start with before you begin any 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 total 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 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 a minimum, try to commit to 10 hours of ACT prep. If you only have a month or so before test day, our in-depth guide will show you what steps to take to get the score you want.


#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 date or in the time leading up to it? Do you have any commitments that might prevent you from being able to study effectively for the ACT?

I suggest using a planner to keep track of major events and tests you have coming up. Include all major school and extracurricular activities, such as school plays, AP exams, school projects, family vacations, weddings, etc.

If there are any conflicts with your desired test date, you can then look for an alternate date that'll better fit into your personal schedule.




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 test 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 since all your college applications won't be due until sometime during your senior year. Really, you can take the SAT whenever you want!

That said, I recommend taking the test at least twice: once in the fall of 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 to consider for retakes before your senior year.


Scenario 2: You're a Senior

Best Dates: July, 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 college applications are due. Incoming seniors 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. If you've got deadlines in early January, December ACT scores might not get to your schools in time. (This partly depends on whether you're taking 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, September
Riskier Dates: October

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

Just don't rely on the October test date. Only if your deadlines are on or after November 30 (as is the case with the University of California system) would I suggest possibly opting for the October test date. But this is 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 to be submitted 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 their latest recommended ACT test dates and riskier ACT dates. Recommended dates should have little to no trouble in getting your scores to schools in time, whereas riskier dates are less reliable and might fail to get your scores in by the deadline. Choose wisely!

College App Deadline Latest Recommended ACT Test Date Riskier ACT Test Date
February December
March December February
April February
May February April
June April
July April June
August June July
September July





ACT Test Dates: Summary

The ACT is offered seven times a year:
  • September
  • October
  • December
  • February
  • April
  • June
  • July

Note that the July test date is only be available within the US (though it's not administered in New York, much like the February test date).

When choosing an ACT test date, it's important to consider the following factors:

  • When your college application deadlines are
  • Whether you're taking the Writing section or not
  • How much time you're willing to dedicate to ACT prep

Once you've answered 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 find 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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