Fall takes a lot out of kids. They have just spent some (or all) of their time relaxing, kicking back, going at their own pace. Suddenly, August 1 rolls around and they have two-a-day practices, captain’s practices, conditioning, weight lifting and team-bonding activities. In addition to the physical aspects, there are also the mental demands of trying to be the player the coach wants them to be, maintaining friendships while competing for a spot, learning new plays, drills, or even a new position. Less than three weeks later, they are thrust back into school. New classes, subjects, teachers and even lunch periods can throw a teenager into fits of angst.
Trying to earn playing time, understand a new teacher’s expectations and grading methods, and learning new material is not conducive to scoring well on the ACT. I often hear high schools recommend the June ACT to high school juniors as their first foray into college admission tests. This is very concerning. If a student does not achieve their desired score in June, they must take it in September to apply early admission or early decision. Now they have the additional pressure of “must achieve” knowing it may be their only chance to get accepted to their dream school. If that pressure is combined with the rigors of participating in a fall sport, it is a recipe for disaster.
There is a rationale for recommending the June test date: students will have the required curriculum used on the test. However, that truly only pertains to the math section, and even then I have seen freshman in high school score 28-31 in math because they understood the strategy. Whereas, I have witnessed seniors who have taken AP classes score 22 on the ACT because they did not understand the strategy used in a standardized test taking.
The best strategy for students is to test early. Gain a baseline. Students need to grasp the reality of the timing during the ACT to better understand the importance of the strategies. Using their baseline, they can then focus on the areas they need work. I encourage freshman and sophomores to take the test. Having more opportunities to take it at a time convenient to the student’s schedule allows for the best outcome. The ideal situation is for a student to take their final ACT (not their first) in June immediately following their junior year. They can then use the summer to begin working on essays, the Common App, or revisiting schools on their list.