How Far in Advance Should I Study for the ACT?

A key factor in many students’ college applications is their ACT score—but how far in advance do you need to study for the ACT? Is it really necessary to start preparations a year in advance? Or would you be better off throwing in some studying just a month before the test? If these questions are on your mind, read on to get a better grasp of how soon you need to begin your ACT prep.

Determine your ideal ACT score

A good starting point in order to clarify your amount of prep time is to figure out your target ACT score. There are quite a few factors you may want to consider when calculating your ideal score:

  • Admissions requirements of schools you want to attend

  • Scholarships you may want to apply for

  • Awards and honors you hope to receive

  • Prestigious groups you may want to join

Believe it or not, all of these factors may require a certain ACT score. Knowing the minimum ACT scores for everything you want to accomplish is going to help you understand the score you need to get to achieve your goals.

[RELATED: What is an Average ACT Score?]

Know your starting point

Now that you have an idea of the score you are shooting for, it is important to get a general idea of the score you can expect to get. This step is going to be the biggest factor in how much you need to study in the future, so be sure to take this seriously.

The best way to determine the score you would get now, with no test prep, is to take an ACT practice test. Force yourself to take one of these practice exams exactly as you would the real one. I.E. Time yourself, don’t reference study materials, and limit distractions so you can really get a good idea of the type of score you can expect to get when you take the real exam.

Plan your ACT study schedule

Was your actual score close to your target score? Great! You probably do not have to spend too many additional hours on end studying for the exam. Keep in mind, though, that it is always a good idea to sharpen your skills as the test approaches.

If your practice score was substantially lower than you expected, however, you should consider making a more detailed study schedule to help you meet your ACT goal. Don’t feel discouraged if you didn’t score as highly as you had hoped—there is always room for improvement!

[RELATED: How to Identify Your Study Style]

Consider increasing your overall prep plan’s study time by 10-15 hours for every couple of points you hope to improve your score. With this in mind, make sure to schedule your official ACT test day with plenty of time to study in advance, depending on how much you want to raise your score. Remember that in order to be honest with yourself and truly succeed, you have to be realistic with your goals. If you want to raise your score by 10 points, for example, you are probably going to need study for quite a few months—do not try to cram 130 hours worth of studying into just one week! You don’t want to feel too overwhelmed and subsequently see your score take a hit for it. Give yourself an actual chance to excel. Don’t forget to utilize powerful prep tools as well, such as the free Varsity Tutors ACT Prep book.

It’s a good idea to take your first test early on during your junior year of high school so you can have enough time to retake the exam, if necessary, later on in the school year.

Good luck, and remember to just relax. You can do this!