ACT® Parent's Guide
Ways to Help Your Child Prepare For The ACT

As the parent of a high school student, you probably already know the advantages of a high ACT® score when it comes to college admissions and scholarship opportunities. While you might not be able to take the test for them, there’s plenty you can do to support their success. This ACT parent’s guide details how to help your child prepare and stay motivated.

When Should Your Kid Start Preparing for the ACT?

Students need time to prepare with ACT practice tests. This will familiarize them with the test formats and help gauge their strengths and weaknesses. Preparing early also provides a buffer for poor performance because students can retest before colleges’ early or regular decision deadlines. Retaking the ACT also provides the advantage of “superscoring”, in which a student’s composite score is generated by averaging their best score in each section. An ACT prep schedule that includes one retake should look like this:

Timeline Process
Fall (September - November) Take a diagnostic test
Create ACT study plan
Start ACT prep
End of fall through winter 6-month prep time
Spring (March - May) Take the ACT for the first time
End of spring through summer ACT prep for retake
Fall of Senior year Retake the ACT

Encourage your child to take diagnostic practice tests throughout their studies. These assessments help students feel more comfortable with the test format, identify weak content areas, and improve their time management. If your child is more than 10 points below their target score, begin studying at least six months ahead of their expected test date. However, if your child consistently scores at or above their target score during full-length, timed practice tests, consider having them test sooner.

Work with your child to organize a realistic study schedule that encourages consistency. A study plan starting in the spring or summer before their junior year will increase the likelihood of them hitting their target score before senior year.

How Parents Can Help Their Child for the ACT Test?

The core components of an effective study plan are an early start and a realistic outlook. The following ACT information is important for parents to help prepare their child for the test:

Understand the ACT

By better understanding the ACT, you can not only help your child study for the test more effectively but also limit stress and misconceptions about the test. Even though the ACT has been given for many years, its content, format, and scoring periodically change, so parents may not be familiar with the current version.

In terms of content, the ACT consists of four equally weighted sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science, and an optional writing section that does not count towards the final score. It is important that your child understands the ACT test format and the topics and concepts in each subject to kickstart their test preparation.

Each section of the test is graded on a 36-point scale, and a student’s “Composite Score” is the average scores on all four sections. Students are awarded points for correct answers but do not lose points for wrong answers, and scores from any given administration of the test are equated. This means that the number of correct responses required for a given score varies from test to test (on some tests, a student who missed one question in each section could still get a 36, while on others, they might get a 32).

The ACT is administered multiple times throughout the year, generally on a Saturday in mid-February, -April, -June, -July, -September, -October, and -December. The registration deadline is usually about five weeks before the test date (late registration is available up to three weeks before a test), and scores are typically given out about two weeks after the test.

For the current ACT test schedule, visit our page on ACT Registration and Test Dates.

Start preparing early

To ensure your child is well prepared for the ACT, it's important to start planning early, even in the spring or summer before junior year. This will give them time to take practice tests, familiarize themselves with the test format, and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Encourage your child to take challenging courses in high school. A strong, foundational knowledge will be a valuable asset on the ACT and in life. Taking the released ACT practice tests can also help gauge proficiency. Also, make sure that you keep track of important test dates to avoid missing registration dates and deadlines.

Make sure your child follows a study plan

Creating an effective study plan for the ACT test is critical. Following a study plan will ensure enough time is dedicated to each subject. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Discuss with your child how much time they can devote to prepare for each subject on the ACT in a week.
  • Help your child set realistic goals. Develop a study plan based on the available time and your child’s learning capacity.
  • Check that your child is strictly following the study plan so as to avoid any last-minute hustle before test day.

If you need help creating a study plan, our ACT study guide will show you how to develop a 6-month, 3-month, or 1-month study schedule based on the amount of prep time available.

Our active-learning method helps you master each section of the ACT®.
Viewing how two independent clauses are joined by a comma on the ACT
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Find quality test prep resources

Even with a schedule firmly established, your child may feel lost at first. The number of test-prep resources makes choosing difficult. Focus on finding resources that fit your student’s needs without breaking your budget. The most valuable resources will be those that provide many exam-like questions and provide quality information to fill any knowledge gaps your child may have. Practicing questions not only actively engages students in learning far more effectively than reading or watching videos, but also makes them feel more at ease on test day, as they will have already seen hundreds of similar questions.

UWorld’s ACT question bank provides 3,000+ exam-like questions, and its comprehensive explanations include strategies and tips to build confidence ahead of test day.

Focus on tracking performance

Practice alone doesn’t make perfect. Encourage your child to keep a progress journal to track what works and what needs improvement. Immediate reflection and analysis of questions answered incorrectly facilitates growth and ensures they don’t repeat their mistakes.

Be your child’s cheerleader

Applying to college and getting ready for the ACT test can be very stressful. It’s important to provide your child with support and positive reinforcement during this period. Encourage them to keep things in perspective. Remind them that getting into college is crucial, but even if they do not get into their first choice school, it doesn’t mean the end of everything. It is important to tell them that they can always retake the exam or apply to their dream school as a transfer.

How Do I Motivate My Teen to Prepare for the ACT?

If your student does not feel naturally motivated to prepare for the test, make sure you're on the same page regarding the benefits of performing well on the ACT. Students who recognize that preparation directly affects their chances of accomplishing their dreams will be more motivated.

Explore colleges with your teen, and when you’ve settled on a few, look up average ACT scores. With these target scores in mind, help your child free up four hours on a weekend to take a practice test and have them grade it. Any discrepancy between their practice score and their goal score should help them understand the value of preparing for the test.

If that discrepancy is dishearteningly large, make sure your teen understands that the ACT is not a test of intelligence but rather of preparedness. Students who score poorly on a practice test might assume that a low score is a foregone conclusion and that there’s no point in studying. However, with consistent practice, even an ACT score in the 30s is achievable for everyone.

Tips for Parents on ACT Test Day

The last thing you want on the ACT test day is for your kid to feel unnecessarily stressed. Review the instructions on your child’s ACT admission ticket regarding what’s required and prohibited. Encourage your child to get organized the night before so they can focus on the test itself that morning.

Similarly, encourage your child to rest well the night before their test day. If they’ve been following a study plan, there is little that can be gained from cramming the night before. Instead, focus on a good night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast.

In the hour before sitting for the test, a student should double check that they have the materials and supplies (e.g., ID, pencil, calculator, snack) they need for the test. Ideally, all these items should be laid out the night before the test. Make sure your child has a healthy breakfast and arrives at the testing center early. Students may not be allowed to take the test if they arrive after the time stated on their admission ticket (typically 8 a.m.).

Our thousands of high-quality questions and in-depth explanations are affordable and proven to work.
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Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)

Besides taking an actual ACT, the best measurements of your child’s progress are diagnostic practice tests. A student’s performance on a practice test will reflect what they are likely to score on their ACT. Encourage your child to take a practice test at least once or twice a month while preparing for the test.
Your student’s MyACT account includes an option to “Make Changes to Your Registration.” You can also call the ACT registration office directly. Either way, be sure to request any changes prior to the late registration deadline for the test in question.
The ACT automatically superscores, which means a student’s composite score is generated by averaging their best score for each section across all tests.
Yes. However, requests for ACT testing accommodations must be made by a school official at your child’s high school. These requests must be submitted by the late registration deadline posted for any given test date (typically about three weeks before the test).
Yes, the ACT only sends scores to colleges at your student’s request.

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