How to Plan Your ACT Prep

If attaining your target ACT score is the ultimate, final step of the journey that is taking the ACT, then the first step you will need to take is choosing your test date. While this may seem obvious, it’s an important step to focus on because when it comes to performing well on the ACT, proper preparation and timing is everything. 

When to take the ACT

All else being equal, spring of junior year is the best time to test, as it yields the most advantages for the test taker. It puts the maximum amount of schooling under your belt while still leaving you a window the following fall to retake the ACT if your first run doesn’t go as well as you had hoped. And as an added perk, if your first test does go well, your scores will come in early enough to apply via Early Decision for one of your target schools.

That said, if you know that preparing for a spring date is going to be rough, feel free to choose an earlier or later Test Day.

[ RELATED: 2022-2023 ACT Test Dates + Registration ]

The most important thing is that you get at least month or two of quality prep time, so if the easiest time to get the test done is the fall of your sophomore year, go for it. Your scores are good for five years, so unless you’re chomping at the bit to finish your ACT in seventh grade, testing too early isn’t an issue.

Try to stick to your ACT test date

We’ve found that students tend to become a lot more motivated to practice once money has changed hands and a specific Test Day is officially in the books. If you know when you are going to take the test, there is no point in delaying your registration. And until you do register, there is always going to be a higher chance that you find a reason to delay your test date as it gets closer. Try to eliminate pushing back your test date to keep your preparation as streamlined and consistent as possible. Plus, delaying your test date only limits your ability to improve on that initial score, if need be.

Consider Costs for the ACT

You can save yourself (or your parents) some money by picking the right test day and registering at the right time. There are different registration fees involved that you will want to avoid.

We must note that you should never make important testing decisions on the basis of fees. For example, if you have registered for a test and find yourself unprepared as the date approaches, don’t take a bad test just to avoid a test change fee. Conversely, if you forget to sign up for a test you are prepared for, the late registration fee may very well be totally worth it. It is just nice if you can avoid such moments in the first place thanks to planning a bit in advance.

Once you’ve selected your ACT test date, you can plan out your monthly, daily and weekly study routines and goals.

Planning your ACT prep time

Calculate how many hours per week you plan to study for the ACT

Consider time needed for schoolwork, extracurriculars, family and friends, and of course, relaxation. We will discuss how to calculate how many total hours of ACT prep time should suffice, but it is important to calculate your number based on how you realistically envision ACT prep fitting into your life.

Let’s say you have 12 weeks to prep for the ACT. Three months is no magic number, so be sure to capitalize on any additional weeks/months you have at your disposal, if possible. But your timeline should not be much shorter than this.

It is probably safe to assume that your weekdays are already fairly full. Start by trying to fit in at least one hour of studying for the ACT on 3 of the 5 weeknights. This will keep your mind focused on your ACT prep more days than not, which can be effective in making sure you do not string together too many ‘off days.’ Plus studying for 2 hours once-per-weekend (you deserve your relaxation time!), this would add up to 5 hours per week, and 60 hours of ACT prep time in total. Just be sure to not become too fixated on that ‘total’ number of prep time, as the consistency of your study routine is probably of even more importance.

How to determine if your ACT study plan is sufficient

One quick method is to count how many ACT Practice tests you want to take. Each test takes about 3 hours to complete (if you skip the essay) and about 6 hours to review. Remember, you should review every problem, right or wrong, that you ever take. You learn nothing by simply completing questions; you learn by reinforcing your correct behaviors and by finding and fixing your mistakes. That happens when reviewing, which is why it takes twice as long to properly review a question as it does to answer it in the first place.
Let’s say you want to take 3 practice tests (9 hours total for each) … that would take up 27 of the 60 hours you’ve planned for. Based on your confidence with each subject, does the 33 remaining hours of ACT prep time feel sufficient? Think about how many hours/weeks/days you may want to allot to each test subject.

If you are not happy with this plan, now is the time to make an adjustment! You can always add to your weekly schedule, add a bit of time to your daily study routine, sign up for ACT tutoring, or revisit when you plan to take the ACT, but now is certainly the best time to make those decisions.

Make a calendar and treat your ACT prep like a class

As an example, maybe you like to ease into and out of your school weeks, so you could schedule an hour of ACT prep time for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. And if you are prone to the Sunday scaries, consider studying on Saturdays. Whatever your preferences are, it is most important to be honest with yourself when creating this ‘calendar’ so that your routine stays as consistent as possible.

Just ask yourself: would you skip English class to play a video game? Would you skip basketball practice to go to a movie? Imagine that your prep is no different than any other scheduled obligation, and you’ll have a much easier time committing to it as the weeks go by.

Prepare to see the fruits of your ACT test prep labor

Prep like a boss, and get an awesome test score. If you’re not testing soon, bookmark this page and come back to it when you do begin to prep. A tiny bit of arithmetic and planning up front can help you feel a lot less stressed about your upcoming prep time.

[ GOOD TO KNOW: ACT Test Day Tips + Top 5 Tips for the Night Before the ACT ]