Before You Register for the ACT or SAT

A majority of high school juniors will take at least one SAT or ACT this spring. There are some things you should know before you register. 

1. Deadlines

This Friday (Jan 6) is the regular deadline to register for the February 11 ACT. Of course, both ACT and College Board are ready to accept late registration fees from you. You want to register before the deadline to save money and secure a seat at the most convenient test center. 

Here are the spring deadlines:


  • Jan 6 —           deadline for the Feb 11 ACT
  • March 10 —    deadline for the April 15 ACT
  • May 5 —         deadline for the June 10 ACT


  • Feb 10 —         deadline for March 11 SAT
  • April 7 —         deadline for May 6 SAT
  • May 4 —         deadline for June 3 SAT

2. No Written Essays

Two years ago, College Board abandoned its optional written essay. The few schools that had asked for written essays stopped. But ACT continues to offer the “Full ACT with Writing.” 

Save your time and money. DO NOT register for the optional ACT essay. 

No colleges require it. The essay does not impact your ACT Composite score. The written essay will not help you get into college. (No, schools will not be impressed with your “effort” to pay for the essay and sit for 40 minutes after the exam to write it.)

3. Wait to Send Scores

When you register for your exam, you will be given the opportunity to send four score reports at no extra charge. Don’t. 

There are good reasons to wait. 

First, I would want to see how I did on the test before sending my scores. Next, many juniors haven’t finalized their college lists yet. Finally, probably the most significant reason, with so many schools adopting test optional policies, you might have a better chance of admission to some of your top schools if you don’t send any scores. 

If you wait to send scores, you maintain control over the information and make decisions when you have all the facts. 

4. Don’t Schedule a “Cold” Trial Run

Never. Take. The. Real. Test. For. Practice!

“But, it can’t hurt, right?” Wrong!

Both ACT and College Board see “too much score improvement” as a sign of potential cheating. Your lower test score from that trial run could put your improved “actual” score in jeopardy. Don’t risk it. 

You can find out more HERE or HERE.

The solution to this problem is to take a full-length practice test under timed conditions on your own. Tests can be printed from ACT and College Board sites and you can set aside time some Saturday morning to sit at your kitchen table or a study room at the public library to do your own practice test. (And you never have to worry about colleges seeing those scores!)

5. Get Your Own Calculator

It may not come as a surprise that you have to bring your own calculator to the ACT / SAT. But I find many students who assume calculators will be provided. 

I think the problem comes from the fact that most public schools in my area give the PSAT during the school day and allow juniors to use the classroom sets of calculators during the exam. Those calculators will not be made available when you take the SAT or ACT. 

Most students can take the same calculator they use for homework, but if they use their phone, an online program, or one of the prohibited models, you will want to get a basic calculator for test day. More about that HERE and HERE.

You can find the ACT approved calculators HERE and the SAT approved calculators HERE.

I wouldn’t invest in an expensive graphing calculator just to take the ACT or SAT, but I would get a decent scientific calculator which can be found for $10-$20 dollars at Target or your local drug store.

A Couple Last Tips

Make sure you save your login information. This is how you will access your results and send scores later. 

Feel free to skip the optional questions on the registration forms. (You don’t need to provide your full schedule, for example.) 

Double check that you have registered for the correct test center. A good way to do this and to confirm your registration is to go back into your account and look at your confirmation. 

Finally, if you have problems, you can message or call ACT or College Board. 

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