We all want to max out brainpower on the day of the ACT. But what can help, besides studying? One factor worth considering is where you take the test. You want a place that allows you to focus completely on the test without other anxieties, concerns or discomfort.
And guess where a lot of test-day anxieties, concerns and discomfort can come from? That's right, they can be direct results of choosing a distracting or inconvenient testing center. In this article, we give you all the information you need to make the right decision about which of all ACT test centers to choose
In this article, we’ll cover how you find the ACT locations administering the test. Then, we’ll discuss the important factors you need to consider to choosing your test location. Finally, we’ll give you a few tips and reminders you might not have known about test centers.
How Do I Find Which Locations Are Near Me?
There are two ways to find test locations.
1) Use the ACT's Search Tool to Find a Test Center Near You
I recommend that on this form you search by state, and not by city. If you enter the city, you’ll only receive schools for that exact city, not neighboring areas. You’ll see a list of cities and center names. When you click on the addition sign, you'll see the center code and the dates the ACT is offered at that center. Not all centers have all test dates, so make sure you plan ahead!
2) Start Registering for the Test
You don't need to go through with the whole registration, and they won't charge you for it. You’ll need to log into your ACT account, and then click the link to register for the test. This will take you through many questionnaires. Finally, when you get to Test Date, choose your intended test date.
Go through a few more pages, and you’ll get to the Test Center.
On this page, you’ll be able to enter a Zip Code, and the ACT will conveniently show all ACT testing centers within 25 miles.
It’s unclear why they don’t make the zip code search available publicly without registering for the test.
Which ACT Test Location Should I Choose?
Your best choice of ACT test locations depends on a number of factors. In order of importance:
- How long does it take to get there?
- How familiar are you with the location and layout?
- Will you know a lot of people at that location? How will that affect you?
- Are there known aspects about the location that make it problematic?
Let’s cover each in order.
How Long Does It Take to Get There?
Timing is the primary concern when choosing the test location. Because the ACT requires that you arrive by 8AM sharp, you’ll need to wake up early to get to the test location.
For example, if it takes you an hour to drive to the test location, you’ll likely need to wake up around 6AM to have enough time to get energized, eat breakfast, and arrive at the site with time to spare. Keep in mind that the longer you have to travel, the more variability there will be in your arrival time – a 10 minute drive might be delayed only by 5 minutes, but a 60 minute drive can be delayed by 30 minutes.
Recommendation: generally try to choose locations that are closer to where you live.
How Familiar Are You With the Location and Layout?
Knowing exactly how to get to the ACT test center is an advantage. The morning of the test, you want as little distraction as possible when getting yourself in the mindset for acing the test. If you’re driving to an unknown location, you might run into unexpected traffic or construction, and you might confuse directions. This can cause anxiety that might not wear off until well into the test.
Similarly, knowing the layout of the test center is helpful during bathroom breaks. Because breaks are tightly regulated in time, getting lost in the hallways of a school can be damaging to your concentration. Test centers at high schools typically use only a small portion of the school for testing, so it’s possible for you to lose your way if you’re unfamiliar with the location.
Recommendation: Try to choose a location that you’re familiar with. If you must choose an unfamiliar location, try to scope it out beforehand, or budget extra time to get there and know the layout.
Will You Know a Lot of People at That Location? How Will That Affect You?
If you choose your local high school like most students, you’ll likely run into a lot of people you know. People respond very differently to this.
To some, being around friends is helpful. It relieves the stress of the situation, and chatting casually during breaks might help them feel less nervous. To these people, going to an unfamiliar location with strangers causes additional stress.
To others, the opposite is true - being around friends for the ACT is stressful. You might want as little distraction as possible, and talking to your friends might take your head out of the game. You want to concentrate silently during breaks, but you don’t want to give the impression that you’re rudely brushing off your friends. Plus, what if you take the test in the same room as your crush? It might be hard to take the test without sneaking glances at the person.
Which group do you fit into? Each person is different, so act accordingly.
Recommendation: If being around friends on test day is helpful, register at your high school. If it’s stressful, register elsewhere, keeping in mind the location and layout factors above.
Are There Known Issues at the Location That Bother You?
You’ll usually only know this ahead of time if you’re thinking about taking it at your high school. Here are things that you might worry about:
- Temperature control: do you know if the location can maintain a temperature that’s comfortable for you?
- Windows: do you tend to feel claustrophobic in this location, and might the presence of windows help?
- Testing environment: do you know if the location has noises, smells, or other factors that might be distracting? Do you tend to focus at school or drift off?
Recommendation: Avoid testing centers with known problems that bother you.
All these factors bring us to one important question that affect most students:
Should You Take the ACT at Your High School?
This is the default choice of most test takers, because it happens to be convenient. Some students don’t have this choice because their high school doesn’t offer the ACT – in this case, follow the guidelines above.
But if you are able to take the ACT at your high school, don’t just assume this is the best option. You should NOT take the ACT at your high school if:
- There’s another testing location that is substantially closer to your home (saving more than 10 minutes of transit time)
- Testing around people you know stresses you out and can throw off your concentration
- You know there are problems at your school, like bad temperature control, uneven desks, or others.
Other Tips and Facts
- Your test center may be changed before the test. If the ACT doesn’t have enough registered students at your chosen test center, they will reassign you to a different location you didn’t expect. Your test might even get rescheduled due to bad weather or other factors.
- If the location is unfamiliar, consider visiting it days before the test. You’ll practice getting to the location quickly, and you can take a brief look around so the environment is familiar the day of the test.
- If you have to choose a test center far away (30 minutes or more), here are some tips. Wake up earlier to give yourself buffer time in case problems happen. Prepare a breakfast to eat on the way, and notes to review on the way there. If music relaxes you, listen to it along the way.
- You can change your location, but it’ll cost you. If you make the change by the registration deadline, there’s a $23 fee. If you change it after your late registration deadline, your only option is to request standby testing, at which point you might as well take it at your original location.
Now that you know where to take the ACT, learn WHEN to take it. Find out the best ACT test dates and how you should schedule your tests.
What's a good ACT score for you? Read this guide to figure out what score you need to aim for.
Want to improve by 4 points or more on the ACT? Click below to get our free guide to 5 strategies you must remember to make big improvements on the ACT.
Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Laura has over a decade of teaching experience at leading universities and scored a perfect score on the SAT.