You can technically take the ACT up to 12 times, and while some students may choose to do so, it’s far more common to take the ACT 2 or 3 times before applying to college. Over 45% of students do choose to retest at least once, but it’s certainly not a hard and fast requirement. Many students take the ACT once and call it good.

But, I’m guessing if you landed here, you are not a one-and-done type of person.

Maybe you’ve already taken the ACT a few times and you aren’t seeing much of an improvement. Or, maybe you’re worried that colleges will discredit your score if you’ve taken it “too many times.”

A few important things to know about ACT test scores.

  • You can take the ACT up to 12 times.
  • ACT scores technically never expire, but the ACT does recommend you retest if it’s been more than 5 years.
  • You choose if you want to send ACT test scores to colleges or not. A college will only see scores that you choose to send.
  • Some colleges will superscore. This could change your ACT strategy significantly.
Real footage of Jake getting a 19 when he thought he’d get a 36.

Should I Retake the ACT?

About half of all high-school students who took the ACT will choose to retest at least once. 57% of students who retake the ACT see a score improvement, and on average, students who took the ACT more than once had a Composite score that was 2.9 points higher than students who just took it once.

All these fun statistics tell us that it can be helpful to retake the ACT, but results do vary.

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Some students (and parents) are hesitant to opt for a re-test because they think that taking the ACT multiple times will detract from a student’s application. But, worry not. It’s a myth that college admissions counselors will punish you for taking the ACT a certain umber of times. There’s no proof that retesting or even taking the ACT an “excessive” number of times will hurt your chances at admission.

Colleges will consider test scores in one of two ways:

  • Consider your highest composite score. In other words, they will look at whichever test date you got your highest composite score, ignoring all other scores.
  • Superscore. In other words, they will combine all of your top sub-section scores into a new “superscore,” regardless of test dates. This means you could do really well on the Math and Science on one test date and really well on the Reading and Writing on a totally different test date, and the admissions team will combine these best scores in each subsection into a new superscore.

Reasons Why You Might Want to Retake the ACT

The obvious answer is that you didn’t get the score you want. Not sure what is a good ACT score? We’ll help answer that for you.

The truth is, there could be a number of reasons why you want to retake the ACT. We know there are many things that can affect test scores, from environmental and mental factors to more obvious factors like how much you studied.

The ACT is a high-stakes test. You likely have a lot of pressure on you to do well. And if you don’t, well, count yourself one of the lucky few.

Let’s look at some of the most common reasons a student wants to take the ACT for a 2nd (or maybe 3rd or 4th time).

#1 Test day anxiety

It’s estimated that 16-20% of teenagers have high test anxiety and even more are affected by lower levels of test day anxiety. The feelings could range from a low level of nervousness the morning of the test to a debilitating level of anxiety that prevents you from performing anywhere close to you thought you would.

Many students go into the ACT knowing that they’ll experience anxiety (and may be able to prepare for it), but many more will walk into the testing center not having any idea that test day anxiety will hit.

Any level of anxiety is a common reason why you want to re-test.

It’s possible that on the second go ’round your anxiety will be lower. You know what to expect, you know what the room will feel like, etc. For other students, you might need to work with a tutor who specializes in reducing test day anxiety.

Look familiar?

#2 Lack of rest

Did you lose sleep the night before the ACT? Lack of sleep can seriously affect your test day performance. Without rest, you just aren’t yourself. Your brain isn’t going to perform the same without a proper amount of beauty rest.

You might find you score wasn’t what you hoped if you had a particularly bad night’s rest or overall fatigue from late nights with your boyfriend…oh…I mean…studying and at club meetings…

Let’s be real. High school is BUSY. It’s been almost a decade since I was in high school, and so far, those years were the busiest of my life. I know it can be hard to carve out enough time to rest. It’s totally common to feel exhausted on Saturday morning when you walk into the test center. You’re not alone if you want a re-do thanks to exhaustion.

#3 Lack of preparation

This one is sort of obvious, right? The more you study, the better you will do. This sentiment certainly has its merits when it comes to the ACT. The reality is most of the material you are tested on you likely haven’t seen in a while (maybe even years). You need to brush up on this knowledge that you once had as well as strengthen skills you haven’t yet seen in school.

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You might have gone in blind on your first ACT and want to retest after doing some targeted preparation. Or, maybe you have already studied, but you know you need even more time to put in those study hours. Whether you do self-study or work with a tutor, preparation is key for the ACT.

How Many Times You Should Take the ACT

Generally, we recommend students plan to take the ACT 2 or 3 times. These test dates would most likely be during your junior year, but some students may choose to take the ACT during the sophomore year or even early in their senior year.

There isn’t really a hard and fast rule of how many times you should take the ACT; it’s really all about getting the score you want in time for application deadlines. For some students this would mean taking the test once. For others it could mean taking the test 5+ times.

Our advice: Aim to have the score you want by the end of your junior year.

This leaves plenty of time between when you receive your test scores and when you’ll need to submit scores for college admissions deadlines (even including early admit deadlines).

So how do you decide when the right time is to take your first ACT? The answer to this lies in the timing of your high school math classes.

Scenario 1: You will (or have) completed Algebra II by the end of sophomore year.

Congrats! You’ll have completed all of the math needed for the ACT by the end of your sophomore year. If this is you, you should consider prepping during the summer after your sophomore year and taking your first ACT in August or September of your junior year.

A little head start never hurt anyone. This will leave the rest of your junior year for a retest or two if you need it.

Scenario 2: You won’t (or haven’t) completed Algebra II by the end of sophomore year.

If this is you, aim for a February or March test date during your junior year. By this point you will have seen 80-90% of the math material on the ACT. A tutor or some self study can help fill in the gaps.

Testing in February or March will leave time for a retest or two in May or June. This will ensure you have your final test scores before any application deadlines.

Stop scrolling on TikTok and start studying!

Top Tips when Taking the ACT for the 2nd (or 3rd or 4th…) Time

#1 Be strategic about when you take the ACT.

Here’s the thing. If you get your scores back and they weren’t what you hoped, your devastation might make you want to log onto the ACT website right then and there and book another test date. Please resist the urge.

Registering for the next available ACT test date will likely leave you without much time to prepare.

Stop and breathe.

Now consider your own timeline. Which test dates are left that will allow you to still meet your admissions deadlines? Write them all out.

Now cross off any that you know you can’t take. Maybe you have a family vacation or a basketball game that day. Hopefully you’re left with at least a couple options (maybe more).

If possible, schedule your next test date for 2-4 months from today. This will give you an adequate amount of time to really sit down and prepare, setting you up for the best chance to see the improvement you want.

#2 STUDY…yes, you do actually need to study.

I know. It’s shocking. You’ll do better if you actually study before you go into your next test day. Many students just want to retest right away and don’t bother to do any amount of studying. You’re going to waste money and time doing this.

Instead, sit down and make a plan. After you’ve selected your test date, put together a weekly study plan. You might consider attending an ACT prep class or working one-on-one with a tutor who can help you prioritize what to study. Or, if you’re really motivated, you can absolutely do your own self-study.

Tip: Focus on the lowest hanging fruit. Don’t try to master the hardest of hard topics on the math section. Instead, focus on the easiest math topics that you know you missed on the test.

#3 Know if your target schools superscore.

If you’re preparing to retake the ACT, it can be helpful to understand how a superscore is calculated and if the colleges on your short-list superscore as part of the admissions process. The reality is – most schools do not superscore. Usually it’s best to reach out to individual schools to understand their policy.

What is a superscore?

The ACT itself describes a superscore as “the average of your best scores from each subject from multiple test attempts.”

This is different than your composite score, which is from a single test date.

How to calculate a superscore?

Your superscore is essentially the average of your best subsection scores. Determine the average of the best score you have for each subsection by adding the four scores together and dividing by four. Round up or down to the nearest whole number.

How to strategize for a better superscore?

If you know your target school superscores on the ACT, you might consider doing some highly focused prep for only one or two sections at a time. This can work especially well if you already have one or two great subsection scores. By limiting your focus, you should be able to more drastically improve subsection scores, without worrying about your composite score.

Final Thoughts: How Many Times Can You Take the ACT?

Ideally, you take the ACT once and you have the score you need for admission to your dream school and all the scholarship money you need.

I know it’s a shocker, but that very rarely happens.

Many students opt to take the ACT at least twice, some many more times than that. You can take the ACT up to 12 times, but we recommend putting a strategic plan together and aiming to take the ACT 2 or 3 times.

Ally Kotwica
Ally is the Director of Marketing at Test Geek. She is passionate about connecting with students and families and helping them craft an actionable plan to a score improvement. In her free time, you'll find her sewing her own wardrobe or cuddling with her pup, Penny.

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