Don’t Let Poor Planning Wreck Your Fall Test Score

Lisa Mader_sm
Juniors and seniors considering fall ACT and SAT testing: Remember that diving in without planning can result in less-than-optimal test scores and other problems.


Since 57 percent of students improve their ACT score on the second attempt, many senior testers fall into a re-test scenario. If you only tested once as a junior, re-testing is recommended. The higher your starting score, the less likely you are to improve on a subsequent attempt.

For seniors who have already tested more than once, you need to know what is at stake if you invest time in testing again. Remember, most improvements come on the second attempt, not the third or fourth.

Ask yourself: Do you even need to improve? If an improvement could mean getting accepted or nabbing scholarships, then go for it! However, keep in mind that test prep—and test taking itself—can distract you from completing applications and maintaining those crucial senior-year grades that many colleges will begin requesting in January. Senior year is not the time to slack!

If you still think testing is the right thing to do, carefully consider your timing. Early decision deadline is typically November 1st, making late-September some of the last comfortable ACT/SAT test dates. Even early action deadlines are not much later, with most by early- to mid-December. Arrange to receive your scores a little more than two weeks after the test date, which will give you time to review them and make final decisions on which to send to your prospective colleges.


Many juniors are anxious to get the college-selection process underway and want to begin testing early in their junior year, but to do so before you’ve covered a good deal of Algebra II would be a mistake. Both the ACT and SAT max out with Algebra II concepts, so testing too early may result than lower math scores.

Remember, all juniors take the PSAT in October. If you are a top student (and subsequently have likely taken Algebra II already), you may want to consider taking the October 5th SAT as a warm-up. It’s longer and tougher than the SAT, but could be good practice, especially if you’ve not take the PSAT or SAT before.

For juniors, the most important thing is to plan your testing timeline early. Tips for developing the optimal testing schedule are in LEAP’s previous post, “Timing is Everything with Testing.”

Regardless of where you are in the testing process, don’t leave anything to chance!


This article was written by Lisa Mader

Lisa Mader relies on extensive teaching experience, a master's-level education, and affiliation with some of the industry's most important accreditation boards to help college-bound students maximize their performance and find their best-fit college. Through her company LEAP, Lisa has helped countless families in the areas of test preparation, college selection/application, choosing a major and future career, and much more.

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