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With December ACT results back and the deadline to register for the February test imminent, many students are wondering how many times they should take the test.

If you are considering another go at the test, you are not alone. About 45% of students take the ACT multiple times. Many students take the test multiple times in the interest of superscoring. Some selective colleges like Amherst, Washington University in St. Louis and Middlebury create a “superscore” by only considering your highest scores in each section, regardless of test date. While there is no magic number of times a student should take it, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Consider Your Goals

You may be happy with your score, and it may even be in range for your target schools. However, many scholarships, honors colleges, and student athlete programs have specific requirements students must meet that are separate from general admissions requirements. Every school awards merit scholarships differently. Some give money on a variable scale based on GPA and test scores while others have very strict minimum requirements. Whatever the system, gaining 1 or 2 more points may mean thousands more dollars in scholarships. Honors programs or special majors may have minimum scores that are 2-3 points higher than the general school. Do your research to make sure you are in the best position possible to take advantage of the opportunities that interest you, whether it is a scholarship or an honors program.

Order Test Information Release

Most students increase their score on a second or third test. That said, you are unlikely to increase your score if you don’t do any prep between tests. The first test can offer valuable insights to make preparation for your second test more targeted and effective. For $20, you can order Test Information Release, which includes a copy of the multiple choice test booklet, a list of answers, and the answer key. You can order it during registration or up to three months after your test date. Test Information Release is only available for the December, April and June tests. The TIR should be your primary study tool. Pay careful attention to your patterns in each section. Were there certain sections you did not finish? Or certain passages in Reading or Science that gave you trouble? Did you get all of the geometry questions wrong? Use this to inform your studying. You can order Test Information Release at http://www.act.org/aap/pdf/release.pdf.


Writing Scores

The new Writing section is scored out of 36. Many students are anxious about Writing scores that fall well below their composite score. Before taking the test again just to bring up your Writing score, look closely at your four subscores and percentile rank. Keep in mind that subscores of 8 equate to a writing score of 22. A writing score of 22 places you in the 80th percentile. Remember that the Writing test is optional, so only students applying to more selective schools even take it; you cannot compare a Writing score of 22 to, say, an English score of 22. If you are thrilled with your composite score and broke 22 on Writing, you do not necessarily need to take the test again.


Bottom Line

Most students do better their second or third go at the test. If you are willing to put in a little more work, the pay off might be substantial. But remember, test scores are not everything. While there are many good reasons to take the test again, for some kids, the time spent prepping for an additional test can be better spent building a strong college application in other ways.

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