If you keep improving every time you take the ACT, should you take it as many times as you can to get the highest score? Even though you can take the ACT up to 12 times, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should. Let's look at when you should retake the test, and when it's time to pack up and call it a day.
How Many Times Can You Take the ACT?
You are allowed to take the ACT up to 12 times. Of course you're limited by time and test dates, so actually taking the ACT 12 times would involve multiple retests every year. The ACT is administered seven times a year in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.
Most of you reading this are probably wondering, "Why on earth would I take the ACT 12 times?!" I agree that this would be a bit excessive, but there are definitely good reasons to take the ACT at least more than once.
Why You Should Take the ACT More Than Once
The fact of the matter is, students almost always improve when they retake the ACT. But why?
For one, sitting for the real test is valuable experience. Doing this helps you gauge your level and identify your areas of weakness so you'll know exactly what you need to study in order to do well.
The real test also gives you experience with handling test-day pressures, from what you need to bring to managing your time on each ACT section. If you get stressed out about the test, you can use your experience to figure out ways to calm your nerves and stay focused.
If you end up scoring much lower than expected on the ACT, you might have had a fluke test day. Maybe you were tired or ill that day, or got unlucky with the reading passages or essay question. If this happens, you should register to take the test again on the next available test date.
Since the ACT lets you choose which score reports you send to colleges, you generally don't have to worry about your colleges seeing fluke test scores or how many times you sat for the test. You can just send the scores from your best sitting.
Some colleges superscore the ACT if you send score reports from multiple sittings, meaning they'll take your highest scores by section and recombine them to make a new, highest composite score. Schools that do this include Tufts, MIT, Boston College, and Amherst College.
If your schools have a superscoring policy, you might want to build up your score by focusing on one or two sections at a time. You could really focus in on Math and Science on one test date, and then do most of your prep in English and Reading for the next date.
That said, you shouldn't completely dismiss the other sections, as large score fluctuations could raise red flags. Another reason to be wary of neglecting a section is that some schools, even those that superscore, request to see all your scores.
Only a small number of schools want you to send all your scores from every time you took the ACT and trust that you'll abide by this expectation. These schools include the following:
- Boston University
- Washington University
- Hamilton College
Research your school's standardized testing policy to find out exactly what they want to see. If they want you to send all your ACT scores, you might think twice about taking the ACT more than six or so times, as this might send the message that you're not taking the test seriously or are really struggling to improve your scores.
Besides how it might look to schools with "send all scores" policies, what are some other reasons to be cautious when you answer the question, "How many times can I take the ACT?"
How to Avoid Taking the ACT Too Many Times
For most students, I would say that taking the ACT more than six times might be taking it too many times. If you find yourself registering to test again and again, pause to reflect on your approach. Are you dissatisfied with your scores? Are you not taking it seriously?
Instead of taking the ACT again and again, here are some tips for what you can do instead.
#1: Focus On Effective Test-Prep Methods
If you continue to be unhappy with your ACT scores after repeated attempts, reevaluate your approach to test prep. While taking the ACT is a valuable experience, it is not going to take you far if you don't couple with it with purposeful, efficient studying.
Start by customizing your studying so that you're identifying your weaknesses and filling in any gaps in knowledge. Rather than studying everything at once, zero in on the concepts and practices that are most significant to you and most relevant for improving your scores.
Are you weak in geometry? Do you have trouble writing timed essays? Do you often run out of time in Reading because the passages take too long to get through? The key here is to identify your areas of growth and the concepts or strategies you must learn in order to get better.
#2: Follow an ACT Study Plan
As you use effective test-prep methods, you'll also want to have a long-term ACT study plan to help you stay on track. Building a study plan has many benefits and allows you to do the following:
- Familiarize yourself with all aspects of the ACT, from its question types to its structure
- Spread out your practice tests so that you're not taking them too often or not enough
- Spend time prepping for each section, with a slightly bigger focus on your weaknesses
- Pace yourself in your prep so that you're not wearing yourself out too quickly
Essentially, by using a well-thought-out plan, you can rest assured that you are studying everything you need to know for the ACT, and are studying it as effectively as possible. In turn, this will likely reduce the number of times you take the test.
#3: Treat Every ACT Sitting Seriously
Besides taking control of your test prep, make sure you're taking every opportunity to test seriously. In other words, don't treat any ACT sitting as a "throwaway" test!
Every test is an opportunity to achieve strong scores for your college applications, and if you are applying to a "send all scores" college, admissions officers might not look highly on the fact that it took you six or more tries to hit your target scores. If you're really afraid of a school seeing one of your poorer score reports, you might want to consider canceling those scores.
On a similar note, multiple sittings and large score fluctuations could raise red flags for ACT scorers, and your scores could even be withheld if ACT, Inc., suspects possible cheating. To avoid this worst case scenario, approach every test with the intention of doing your best in all sections.
#4: Devote Energy to Other Admission Factors, Too
Along with taking the test seriously, make sure you're devoting energy to your other pursuits, all of which make up your college application in important ways.
While test scores are an important part of your applications, so are your grades, your activities (such as clubs, sports, and community service projects), and your relationships with your teachers and counselor who might eventually write you letters of recommendation.
All in all, don't drop everything in pursuit of the best ACT score. You don't want to stress yourself out too much by throwing things out of balance.
#5: Take a Deep Breath
Taking the ACT is a nerve-wracking experience for most, if not all, students. Taking the ACT several times can be a great opportunity to learn how to calm your anxiety, clear your head, and focus on the test.
However, you probably don't want to put yourself through the experience too many times! Thus, by prepping effectively and taking every test seriously, you'll conserve mental and emotional energy, not to mention both time and money!
#6: Be Strategic About Your Score Reports
Unlike the SAT, the ACT doesn't send a summary report of all your scores to your colleges. Instead, you have to send individual score reports from each test sitting (that you choose to send).
It costs $13 per test date per report. If you took the ACT upwards of 10 times, this could add up to well over $100 to send all your test scores to a single school!
Given all these considerations, you want to approach the ACT with a plan, both in terms of your test prep and your testing schedule. Read on for my recommendations for how to schedule your time and design a study and testing plan for the ACT.
Quick Guide to Your ACT Testing Timeline
This timeline works well for a lot of students. It gives you multiple test dates to retake the ACT but avoids excessive test-taking and lets you spread out your studying over the course of a year. This guide answers the question of how many times can you take the ACT while still leaving time and energy for all your other interests and responsibilities.
- Prep for the ACT the summer before junior year. You can draw on a variety of resources, including online courses, ACT Questions of the Day, official practice tests, prep websites, and ACT prep books.
- Register and take the ACT in the fall of junior year (September or October). September might be preferable, as your summer studying will be fresh in your mind and you won't be too busy with schoolwork yet. Depending on your scores, you can register to take the test again in the spring.
- Prep in the winter of junior year, and take the ACT again in the spring. The spring of junior year is the most popular time for students to take the ACT. If you aren't satisfied with these scores either, you can prep throughout the summer before senior year and take the ACT a third time in September or October, depending on your college application deadlines.
- If you still feel you've fallen short of your target scores or were unlucky and had a fluke test, you might be able to take one more crack at it in December. Before registering and taking this test, though, check with the admissions officers at your colleges to make sure they will accept these test scores. Assuming you put in the effort to prep before the previous test administrations, hopefully you'll be able to focus on completing and submitting the other parts of your college applications in December of your senior year and won't find yourself retaking the ACT during this busy time.
With this plan in place, you should be able to achieve your target scores within four tests.
If you're ambitious and feel you have the skills to achieve your target scores earlier, you could move this schedule up a year and take the ACT as a sophomore. This way you'll be all set with your test scores and can focus on everything else going on in your life and with your college applications.
Taking the ACT is valuable training experience that can help you build up your scores, so try to leave yourself enough test dates to retake it if you wish. Just make sure you find balance between taking the ACT, crafting your college application, and making the most of your high school experience!
Has your test date snuck up on you, and you need to get in some last-minute studying? Check out our guide for raising your ACT score by 7 points with just 10 days of prep.
What's a good score on the ACT? A bad score? This article will help you figure out exactly what scores you should be aiming for in each section, and what you need to do to achieve them.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.