When Should I Take the ACT? And should I do Test Information Release?

act phase 3 test prep Oct 19, 2020

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One of my ACT students emailed me asking "Should I sign up for Test Information Release (also referred to as TIR)?" so I wanted to address that issue and talk about choosing your test dates.

Test Schedule Overview

The ACT is typically offered 7 times a year: September, October, December, February, April, June and July. 

You can take the ACT multiple times, and should plan on taking the exam 3-4 times to reach your target score (and prepping for each of those dates!). So with that in mind, let's break down some considerations:

When To Take Your First Test

Your first test should typically be during either your Junior year (or your Sophomore year if you are ahead in math). On the ACT, math is the limiting factor (it covers topics from Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry). Unlike many college prep consultants, I don't recommend starting super early in high school on test prep (unless you took Algebra 1 super early). I would rather families first focus on building a firm academic foundation (Phase 1), and then explore career paths (Phase 2) before jumping into test prep.

Obviously everyone's situation is different, but generally speaking I recommend the following:

  • Take your first test no later than the fall of your junior year. This gives you enough time to have seen at least most of the math covered by the test, but still early enough for you to get 3-4 tests in before applications with time in between to learn from your mistakes and put in at least 4 weeks of prep for each test.
    • If you started Algebra 1 in 8th grade you might want to move your first test back to the spring of your sophomore year.
    • If you started Algebra 1 in 7th grade then I would recommend the fall of your sophomore year.
    • Ultimately, your goal should be for your first test to fall at the end (or shortly after) your core three maths.
  • It’s also best if your first test falls on a test date that has Test Information Release (details here), typically offered in April, June and December), so your first test should ideally be one of those dates (i.e. December of your Junior year, or April or June of your sophomore year if you finish your core maths early).

What is Test Information Release?

Test Information Release (TIR) is an optional add-on service to the ACT that allows for you to receive the full test that your teen took, along with the answer key and what your teen's answers were for each question.

Essentially, it's a goldmine! 

It is the best way for you to go back and learn from your mistakes, identify trends, and ultimately determine what you need to focus on in your prep efforts to improve. This is especially helpful for your first test!

BUT... it's only offered for 3 of the 7 test dates (again, April, June and December), so it's worthwhile to build your test prep plans around have your first test fall on one of those dates.

Scheduling Following Exams

You should then schedule the second and third tests (and a backup, last-resort fourth test) to allow enough time to get your scores back and adjust your practice. Typically I recommend 8-16 weeks in between test dates.

You should get your scores typically 2 weeks after the exam date, and then allow a minimum of 4 weeks after that to prepare for the next test.

If you utilize TIR, it will typically take 4-6 weeks for you to get your results back, pushing your timetable back even further.

So an example timetable would be:

  • TEST 1: DECEMBER of Junior Year (TIR)
  • TEST 2: APRIL of Junior Year (TIR)
  • TEST 3: JUNE (TIR) or July Following Junior Year
  • TEST 4 (Backup, If Needed): SEPTEMBER or OCTOBER of Senior Year

If your student took Algebra 1 in 8th grade you could keep the same schedule as above, or could push back to the spring of your Sophomore year:

  • TEST 1: APRIL or JUNE of Sophomore Year (TIR)
  • TEST 2: SEPTEMBER or OCTOBER of Junior Year 
  • TEST 3: DECEMBER  (TIR) of Junior Year
  • TEST 4 (Backup, If Needed): APRIL or JUNE of Junior Year

If your student took Algebra 1 in 7th grade I would recommend the following schedule:

  • TEST 1: DECEMBER of Sophomore Year (TIR)
  • TEST 2: APRIL of Sophomore Year (TIR)
  • TEST 3: JUNE (TIR) or July Following Sophomore Year
  • TEST 4 (Backup, If Needed): SEPTEMBER or OCTOBER of Junior Year

Important Caveat

While these recommendations work in a lot of cases, it is important to also consider your personal schedule, vacation dates, final exams, sports, theater, academic workload etc. Even if it is a TIR date, it doesn't make sense to take the ACT the same day you have a Christmas concert, so merge my recommendations with your individual situation!

So there you have it, my recommendations for scheduling your ACT exams! If you would like to talk with me personally about your college plan and learn more about UniversityReady you can schedule a FREE consultation with me hereIf you want my FREE 10-Page ACT Prep Guide you can visit here to download, and you can also learn more about my Online ACT Prep Course here (with both 4 and 16 week study plans, and access to both Magoosh and Study.com's ACT Prep Courses!).

Let me know how it goes, and post any questions you have about the test prep process in the comments below!

Matthew Bullington

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