When Should My Child Start ACT Prep?
ACT prep should start the summer after your child's sophomore year. This may seem early, but when you consider the complete prep timeline, as well as college application deadlines, your student may be glad he or she started early. Here is a better look at when your child should start prepping for the ACT:
Consider relevant application deadlines
Most college deadlines are in January or February of your senior year. However, Early Decision (or Early Action) deadlines can be as early as November 1.
The ACT recommends that students allow eight weeks for colleges to receive their score reports. Colleges may then need several extra weeks to review these score reports. So, the entire process may take 10+ weeks. If you want the option to submit early applications, your child needs to take his or her last type essays online in early or mid September. If you're not going to apply early, your child should still be taking his or her final ACT in November or December of senior year.
How many times should students take the ACT?
The ACT recommends that students test twice - once during junior year and once during senior year. However, some students need to take the test three or more times to reach their goal scores. According to the ACT, 57% of students who took the test more than once increased their composite score, while only 22% decreased their score. Statistics are from the 2013 graduating class.
Remember: you can send whichever ACT scores your child did best on, but you cannot combine scores. Also, students cannot take the test more than 12 times.
When to actually take the ACT
If you plan to take the test three times, you should allow for about six months of prep for the first test and 3-4 months between tests. That will give your child enough time to receive scores and start prep for the next test.
Consider this test schedule (if you want Early Action/Decision to be an option):
- First test: Fall or early winter of junior year
- Second test: Spring of junior year
- Third test: September of senior year (if you don't plan for Early Action/Decision, you can push your child's last test back a few months).
ACT prep schedule
The ACT claims that taking schoolwork seriously is the best prep; however, if your child needs an elite score, you may need to pursue work outside of school. That's why the summer after his or her sophomore year is the best time to start ACT prep. He or she will have plenty of time to read about the test and understand all the sections. Consider the following rough outline for a six-month prep plan.
- Step 1 (Month 1), take a full-length ACT practice test: Your child needs to understand what he or she is up against. It's important to know the starting point to determine how intense prep needs to be to reach his or her goal score. Make sure you always use official ACT practice tests.
- Step 2 (Months 1-2), read ACT materials: Encourage your child to read test prep guides cover-to-cover to really understand all the content, pacing strategies, trap questions, and more.
- Step 3 (Months 2-3), take timed practice questions: First have your child start taking timed practice questions to become faster and more accurate. Focus the prep on your child's most difficult questions and encourage him or her to refer back to the guides as needed.
- Step 4 (Months 3-4), take another full-length test: This test will help determine if your child is on track for his or her goal score. If so, then simply keep taking timed practice questions and mix in full-length tests as needed. If your child is not on track, he or she may need to up the intensity by practicing more or finding an ACT prep class or tutor. At this point, it's critical to set the prep strategy all the way up to test day.
- Step 5 (Months 4-6), continue newly focused prep strategy: This will lead all the way up to your test day. After your first test, your child can start prep all over again. But, he or she may be able to skip step two, focusing more on practice questions and researching his or her weaker areas.
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