The Ivy Coach Daily

June 25, 2023

How Many Times Can a Student Take the ACT?

A few students lay on the lawn at Georgetown University reading and writing notes.
While most elite universities are test-optional, Georgetown requires the submission of either an ACT or SAT (photo credit: Patrickneil).

Many ACT test-takers are under the impression that they can take the ACT as often as they wish. They may sign up for their first ACT administration in April of their sophomore year, retake it in the June and July before junior year, and in September, October, December, February, and April of junior year. Maybe they’ll even continue testing through September, October, and December of senior year! That’s a whole lot of tests!

But even though it’s true that students are allowed to take the ACT as many times as they’d like (ACT, Inc. would be more than happy to receive all of those test registration fees!), should students take the ACT so frequently? And beyond stressing these students out, will taking the ACT so many times be to the detriment of their case for admission to elite universities?

Students Can Take the ACT as Often As They’d Like

Let’s begin with what’s permissible under ACT, Inc.’s rules. Unsurprisingly, since it serves the company’s bottom line, especially with the rise of test-optional admissions policies, students can take the ACT every time the ACT is offered if they’re so inclined.

And, like with the SAT, students take the test under the Score Choice policy, so students can report only their best scores on one sitting (or scores on multiple sittings in the event they wish to superscore their ACT which means they combine their best section scores from more than one administration).

The Advantages of Taking the ACT Multiple Times

At Ivy Coach, we’re all for students taking the ACT multiple times — though not an excessive number of times to the point where the student will pull out their hair and bite their fingernails off.

After all, students often receive their best score after putting in the work, and sitting for actual administrations of the ACT, combined with top-notch tutoring as Ivy Coach offers, is excellent prep for the exam.

And since most colleges superscore the ACT — aggregating the best individual section scores to form a single composite score — it can behoove applicants to take the test multiple times since doing so can boost their composites. 

Let’s say, for instance, that a student scores a 33 English, 33 mathematics, 33 reading, and 33 science on a December ACT administration and then a 32 English, 32 mathematics, 36 reading, and 36 science on a February administration. The student’s superscored composite would be comprised of the 33 English and mathematics section scores from the December administration and the 36 reading and 36 science section scores from the February administration. Combining the scores from the two administrations would significantly boost the student’s composite score.

While we’d always prefer a student to submit all of their best ACT section scores from a single administration, if a student’s composite goes up due to superscoring (like in the previous example), it’s worth reporting the scores from other administration(s).

Superscoring has become even more in vogue since the pandemic because many colleges no longer require students to send in official score reports from ACT, Inc. before the release of their admissions decision. Nowadays, many colleges only ask for score reports to verify the ACT information reported on the application was true before enrollment.

Under this new system, admissions officers — many of whom are no longer privy to the actual score reports — can’t see the lower scores and can only see the highest scores on each section reported on the application. 

In the past, even if a student’s composite went up due to one great section on an ACT administration, if other sections dropped precipitously on that same exam, we’d hesitate to suggest a student submit that additional test. After all, an admissions officer can’t unsee what they’ve seen. But now that score reports are often only requested by colleges before enrollment, it’s ok if some scores are lower — so long as the reporting on the application was all still true.

The Disadvantages of Taking the ACT Multiple Times

That said, there is a disadvantage of submitting a superscored ACT: admissions officers will often be inclined to think the student had to work hard to achieve that score since it took them more than once.

Contrary to popular belief, hard work is not admired in highly selective college admissions. Admissions officers at our nation’s top colleges would much prefer to see that a student can sit and take the ACT once, ace it, and move on — demonstrating that it comes easily to the student and, whether true or not, they likely didn’t have as much fancy ACT tutoring.

Certain Sneaky Elite Universities Ask for All ACT Scores

Curious to know another reason taking the ACT multiple times can be to a student’s detriment? 

Certain sneaky universities, including Stanford University and Georgetown University, ask students who submit ACT scores to include their scores from all administrations. Yes, these schools circumvent ACT’s, Inc.’s Score Choice policy by rudely demanding to see all scores. And if students aren’t candid about their scores to these schools on their applications, it can come back to bite them. Wondering how?

ACT, Inc. will never release ACT scores to colleges that students don’t themselves submit. But the student’s high school is another story entirely. Oftentimes, a Stanford or Georgetown admissions officer will call the student’s school counselor and ask how many times the student took the ACT. The school counselor will then often give an honest answer. But, in doing so, the school counselor — likely unintentionally — violated the student’s FERPA rights. School administrators have no legal right to reveal a score from a private company like ACT, Inc. Yet it happens regularly; students will never know these off-handed conversations occurred behind closed doors.

Ivy Coach’s Students Have An Ethical Workaround to This ACT Pickle

So how exactly can students protect themselves from finding themselves in such a pickle so they can take the ACT as many times as they’d like and not have to worry about reporting bad scores to sneaky, unethical colleges that demand to see all scores in violation of ACT, Inc.’s Score Choice policy?

How does it work, you ask? That’s so cute! While we love sharing lots of great information on Ivy Coach’s college admissions blog, we are a business, and our business has a secret sauce, which is delicious. If you wish to taste Ivy Coach’s delicious secret sauce, we’re afraid you’ll have to become a client. We know. We’re a tease. What can we say?

FAQ on How Many Times Students Can Take the ACT

Is it always worth superscoring?

No, it’s not always worth superscoring. Suppose a student only scored one point higher on a single section on a second administration of the ACT, and that section would not lead to a higher composite. In that case, it may not be worth reporting that additional administration (though we’d have to see the actual score breakdown to make a decision). In short, if it’s not giving a student a boost, why show they had to work hard to achieve their ACT scores?

We at Ivy Coach especially advise not submitting the additional score if the student pulls a science score from a second administration. The science score, after all, is the least important section of the ACT. Why? Quite simply, because there is no SAT equivalent.

Isn’t it wrong that certain colleges are sneaky by asking to see all ACT scores?

Yes, it’s wrong! From atop Ivy Coach’s soapbox in elite college admissions, we’ve been calling for these schools to change these policies for years. In fact, there used to be more elite universities that asked to see all test scores. The list has dwindled. But we will only stop once all elite universities cease asking to see all ACT scores.

When should a student begin prepping for the ACT?

The earlier one starts prepping for the ACT, the better. However, we say this rule within reason. Parents of kindergartners should relax, as should parents of eighth graders. Their children should not be prepping for the ACT. What a waste of time and effort!

Does Ivy Coach offer ACT tutoring?

We do offer ACT tutoring. Fill out Ivy Coach’s consultation form, indicate that you’re interested in our ACT tutoring, and you’ll hear from us promptly.

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