When Should You Take the ACT?

portrait of Juliann Scholl
by Juliann Scholl

Published on September 28, 2021 · Updated on November 16, 2021

Share this Article

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

When Should You Take the ACT?

Many U.S. colleges and universities use the ACT and SAT to assess high school students' preparedness for postsecondary education. These exam scores provide a helpful metric schools can use to compare applicants and make both scholarship and admission decisions.

You must register ahead of time to take the ACT. On test day, you'll go to a monitored location to take the ACT with other students. Most students take the ACT in the spring of their junior year and/or the fall of their senior year.

When Is the ACT? 2021-22 Dates and Deadlines

The ACT is offered several times each academic year. Students can consult the ACT registration website to double-check dates and find out about potential cancellations.

Each exam date has both regular and late registration deadlines. If you register for a test date after the regular deadline has passed, you'll need to pay a $36 late registration fee. If you miss the late registration deadline, you may still be able to take the exam by requesting standby testing, which works on a first-come-first-served basis. If admitted to the test center, you must pay a $57 standby fee.

Testing locations in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories hold the same testing dates in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July. However, some states, like New York and California, might not administer tests during some of the scheduled months.

ACT Test Date Registration Deadline Late Registration Deadline Standby Deadline
September 11, 2021 August 6, 2021 August 20, 2021 September 3, 2021
October 23, 2021 September 17, 2021 October 1, 2021 October 15, 2021
December 11, 2021 November 5, 2021 November 19, 2021 December 3, 2021
February 12, 2022 January 7, 2022 January 21, 2022 February 4, 2022
April 2, 2022 February 25, 2022 March 11, 2022 March 25, 2022
June 11, 2022 May 6, 2022 May 20, 2022 June 3, 2022
July 16, 2022 June 17, 2022 June 24, 2022 July 8, 2022

Source: ACT Inc.

When Should You Take the ACT for the First Time?

Some high school students take the ACT for the first time in the fall of their senior year. That said, those interested in taking the test more than once to try and improve their scores should strongly consider registering for their first ACT in either the fall or spring of their junior year. Be sure to leave plenty of time between your final (or only) attempt and your college application deadlines.

It's recommended that students pick a test date that's at least two months before college applications are due. Students typically receive their ACT score report 2-8 weeks after they take the test. If you took the ACT with Writing, you can expect to receive your scores in around 4-8 weeks.

How Many Times Should You Take the ACT?

Students can retake the ACT to raise their scores. Although individuals may attempt the test up to 12 times, most students should probably not try more than 2-3 times. Beyond that, students are not likely to boost their scores substantially. Also, multiple retakes might reflect negatively on a student's college application.

In addition to boosting scores on individual portions of the exam, retaking the ACT can yield a higher Superscore, which comprises the highest subscores from each section if a student takes the test more than once. College admissions personnel see the ACT Superscore in addition to individual scores on a student's report.

When to Take the ACT: 4 Key Factors to Consider

While deciding when to take the ACT, students should consider critical factors like their schedule and the importance of their test results for their academic goals.

College Scholarship Opportunities

High ACT scores can qualify students to earn merit scholarships for college. Many institutions take college entrance exam scores into account when allocating awards because these scores partially reflect a student's academic achievement.

If a student's first ACT score fails to qualify them for a scholarship, they might consider retaking the exam to try to raise their score. Even an improvement of 1 or 2 points can mean more scholarship money.

Your PreACT Scores and Test Preparation

Students typically feel more confident if they set aside some time to prepare for the ACT. The appropriate study time varies by student and depends on how long they want to spend reviewing materials like ACT study guides and practice exams.

Before their junior year, students might take the PreACT (for 10th graders) or PreACT 8/9 (for eighth and ninth graders). These exams provide in-class practice and give students a predicted ACT score. Test-takers whose practice scores fall below their target scores might hold off on registering for the ACT until after they've had more time to prepare.

How Many Times You Plan to Take the Test

While high school students may take the ACT up to 12 times, you should generally refrain from taking it more than 2-3 times. Students interested in raising their scores or trying to earn a particularly high Superscore might begin testing as early as the fall of their junior year. This would allow enough time for multiple retakes.

Students who only want to take the ACT once should register, at the latest, for a fall date at the beginning of their senior year. This way they can get their scores well before college applications are due.

Your Academic and Extracurricular Schedule

Students participating in sports, extracurricular activities, or other programs should familiarize themselves with upcoming ACT test dates. Doing this can help you avoid scheduling conflicts that might force you to take the ACT later than you initially planned.

You should also learn to manage your time and balance preparing for the ACT with other obligations. For instance, students may need to make room for studying for AP exams and devoting enough time to their college-prep classes.

Frequently Asked Questions About When to Take the ACT

Is it bad to take the ACT four times?

While taking the ACT multiple times can improve a student's score, attempting it more than 2-3 times probably won't raise it significantly. Also, college admissions personnel might look unfavorably upon students with many test attempts. What's more, retaking the ACT several times requires considerable preparation and additional registration fees.

Can you take the ACT in 10th grade?

Students can take the ACT during their sophomore year. If they do not like their score, they can register for the test again at a later date. Sophomores who choose not to take the exam might still benefit from preparing for it and/or taking the PreACT instead.

What is the best month to take the ACT?

Students planning on 2-3 attempts should register for their first ACT during the fall or spring of their junior year. Individuals who only plan on taking the test once can sign up for a test date during the fall of their senior year — this should allow enough time to report their scores on their college applications.

Feature Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

Many high school students struggle to choose between the SAT and ACT. Discover the exams' biggest differences and which to take based on your unique strengths. The ACT can make or break your college application. Learn what a good ACT score is for you based on the schools you're applying to. We've compiled the best ACT prep books for 2022. Find a guide to boost your scores and impress college admissions committees.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.