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Three Reasons Your High School Junior Should Take the December ACT

In early December most high school juniors are thinking about winter break or compiling their holiday wish list. Not mine. They have typically spent that second Saturday at our nearest ACT testing site, taking what I call a “no-stress test.” When my oldest was a junior, I realized how fast the year evaporates, making it a necessity to have a good college entrance test strategy, in case they need to take it more than once. (Hint: A large percentage of students do.) Our family used the December date as a chance to see where their scores landed, so they knew where to concentrate their efforts for the spring test.

But that’s just one reason your high schooler might want to sign up for the ACT on December 12, 2020. Here are three reasons to urge them to fill out that registration now, before the November 20 deadline:

Why Take the ACT?

Seniors can use results for 2021 college deadlines

We all know that the spring was severely disrupted, which put a crimp in most juniors’ testing plans—and for many, their college plans. For students who are on the fence about what next year will bring, taking the December 12 ACT test means they’ll have their results back in time for most 2021 application deadlines so they can keep options open—even in a season when many schools have gone “test optional.”

“Taking the ACT is a great way for students to showcase their strengths and demonstrate what they know. Colleges value that information, but not just for admissions,” notes Krista Mattern, Ph.D., senior director of applied research and services for ACT. “They also use it to offer merit scholarships, and to help them make placement decisions for many first-year classes, like math and English.” For example, scoring well on the math section could allow your child to skip an entry-level math class, allowing them to advance more quickly or take something more interesting.

As teens weigh their options, there’s another aspect of taking the ACT that can come in handy. Not everyone realizes it’s more than just an achievement test; it also has a career and education navigation component that can help your teen explore possibilities based on the interest inventory they filled out. “If students are already considering a major, they can confirm if it’s a good fit or it can help point them to a major that better aligns with their interests,” Mattern says.

Juniors can get a benchmark score

The winter of junior year is an ideal time for your teen to get a test under their belt in order to see where they shine and where they might need some additional work. My son, for example, came home from his December ACT test claiming that the science section had been so much easier than anticipated; in fact, he said he was pretty sure he had “gotten them all right.” (Cue internal mom eye roll.)  Unfortunately, he was in for a painful surprise as that’s definitely not what his score reflected. Fortunately, there was plenty of time for him to strengthen that area before taking the test again.

Even more helpful, those who take the December test can request a “Test Information Release” (TIR). For $22, your student will receive a copy of the multiple-choice test questions used for the test, their answers, and the answer key, so they can focus on where they need to improve. There are also a number of free resources teens can use to study for the next exam, says Mattern. “Taking the ACT earlier can give students a good sense of where they are and what skills or areas they need to bolster.”

Retesting can improve scores for scholarships

The December 12 ACT is one last chance for your senior to earn a score that might help them get into the college of their dreams—and maybe even earn a pile of merit money.

ACT recently released data showing that over 40% of the students who graduated in 2020 retested and increased their score by an average gain of more than one point—while over one-quarter increased their composite score by three or more points.

Even though many colleges have updated their admissions requirements to be “test optional,” any school that’s not “test blind” may still consider your child’s ACT score, explains Mattern.

And while an improvement of one point might sound modest, that one point can have a significant influence on their options. “It can make the difference in being accepted by a more competitive school where they might be on the bubble. In addition, that one point can boost you up to the next tier and earn you a more attractive aid package,” says Mattern.

And as we parents know, the more doors that are open, the better.

Ready to register for the ACT? The final deadline is Friday, Nov. 20, and no late fees will apply. Go to today.

Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon, and mom of three teen boys. Read more about Cathie at

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