When Should You Take the ACT for the First Time?

There are so many things to worry about during your junior and senior years of high school—your GPA, your scholarship applications, which college is the best fit for you, and so on. You’ve got a lot of decisions to make, including when to take the ACT for the first time. And, while this may seem like it has an obvious answer (typically your junior year), there’s a bit more to it.

So when should you take the ACT for the first time? Read on!

You’ve been preparing for months

The first, and probably most obvious, sign that you’re ready to take the ACT is that you’ve spent several months studying for the test. You’ve developed a study plan, reviewed it time and time again, read a prep book, and taken ACT practice tests that you’re doing well on. You feel confident that you’re ready for the ACT—so take it!

If you’ve done the legwork for the ACT and feel like you’ve reached the critical mass of studying, you’re probably ready to take the ACT for the first time.

You’ve got a great ACT Aspire score

Your performance on the ACT Aspire will give you a pretty good indication of your capabilities for the ACT, so if you’re pleased with your score, it may be time to take that next step. Much of the content on the ACT will be similar to that on the ACT Aspire, though question types will be different.

While high performance on the ACT Aspire is rarely enough by itself to prepare you for the ACT, it pairs nicely with other forms of preparation and can be a great indicator that it’s time to move on.

You’ve taken (and aced) appropriate coursework

A clear sign that you’re ready to take the ACT for the first time is the completion of relevant coursework. If you’re really struggling in a particular class, this can be a good indicator that you need additional preparation for certain sections of the ACT before taking it; you may even wish to look into ACT tutoring.

Upon successful completion of your coursework, however, you’re probably in a good place for test-taking. For the mathematics, you will need to have knowledge of pre-algebra and elementary algebra, intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry.

For English, you will need to have mastered usage and mechanics (including punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure). Additionally, you should have finely honed rhetorical skills that include knowledge of strategy, organization, and style.

In the reading section of the ACT, you will need to be able to comprehend questions covering social studies, natural sciences, literary narrative and prose fiction, and humanities.

To go confidently into the science portion of the ACT, you’ll answer questions on data representation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints. A base knowledge in biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth/space sciences (combined with adequate study time) can help ensure success.

Finally, to do well on the writing section of the test, you should be familiar with the set of skills emphasized in high school English classes and entry-level college composition classes. You should also be able to accomplish a complete essay in 40 minutes or less.

You’ve got time to make a game plan pending your results

While you may feel very prepared for the ACT and be ready to take it, there’s always a possibility that something can go wrong. Perhaps you’re not feeling well on test day or a certain question type messes with your mind. With some careful planning, these are not end-of-the-world problems. Schedule the ACT early enough so that you can retake it if necessary.

Schedule the test early enough that you can also make college decisions based on your score. Perhaps you did better than you thought and can be choosier about your college as a result. Maybe you’re now in the running for better scholarships. Either way, strategically schedule the test so that there’s enough time to make a realistic game plan that depends upon your results—good or bad.

[RELATED: What is an Average ACT Score?]

You’ve got the final say

Ultimately, you have a lot of say in determining when you take the ACT for the first time. If you’re prepared and feel ready, there probably is no harm in taking the test. Many students appreciate the opportunity to retake the exam if necessary, so taking the test a little earlier may be a good option for you.

Rest assured knowing that your high school education has prepared you for success on the ACT—good luck!