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It’s been a few years since I’ve had a high school jr/sr, not sure how things have changed (aside from knowing that some universities are actually starting to waive test requirements). Student did well on PSAT last two years and is ready to take the ACT. 
 

Is it ok to take it “cold” (no prep) the first time and just not send scores anywhere? What is the likelihood that a university applied to would request every single test score? No Ivy League sort of applications anticipated, looking at liberal arts. I just don’t want a set of first-timer scores to end up hurting, kwim?

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Not a risk for colleges - they nearly all take self-reported scores and the ones that want a score sent will just see the score report for the date you send. I *think* the newest announcement from the ACT says that superscored scores will additionally be on the score reports? That was really recently announced. But that hardly hurts your kid. It just means that the college would see that the kid had a higher score on a section from a different test date (but presumably a lower overall score - but they don't see what that score is and for all they know it was extremely close).

A few years ago, there was a big buzz because the ACT canceled the scores of some students who had big score discrepancies between one exam to the next. Generally, because a kid took it cold, then did serious prep, and raised the score a lot. Or - IIRC - in one case because a kid took it while sick for school and totally blew it off because they knew they were taking it again soon and the score difference was pretty big. So I think that's the only risk. But even that is not much of a risk. It's pretty rare. And the amount that prep raises your score in a short time is usually not astounding - assuming you don't totally blow the test off the first go around.

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I would take a practice test of both the ACT and the SAT in full test conditions instead. (On different days, a bit draining to take the full test.) My daughter does about a standard deviation higher on the ACT, my son the same delta but higher on the SAT.

If you give in full test conditions, it should be close to the score you would get on an actual test and then you'll know for sure which test is better to give; I haven't seen a college that doesn't take either test. The breaks are very short in between, you can google how long the breaks are for each test or test timing and see. Also, you have to take the test in a mask now, so you may want to practice that way.

Then, you'll know which test and how much study you need before taking it. You can send individual tests to most colleges, but a few colleges require all tests sent. Also, if the score goes up a lot they could tie it up with investigations from the College Board people (rare but possible, easy to avoid by practicing before ready to test.)

SAT practice tests:

https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/practice/full-length-practice-tests

ACT practice tests:

https://blog.prepscholar.com/printable-act-practice-tests-5-free

Edited by ElizabethB
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I would not suggest taking it cold-  Do a practice test at least!  

As for colleges going test-optional, that's for admission and I have found that they still want them for the best merit aid.  If they offer alternatives to merit aid (essay, GPA, etc), it seems like it's less. 

After seeing how its all played out with my oldest, I've decided to do dedicated prep time with my younger kids.  My oldest just kind of did it on her own, and shes a great test-taker.  She ended up with a full-ride.  I know my other kids can't all do as well, but it could be the biggest return on investment they can have!  If its the difference between a $3k scholarship per year and a $5k scholarship,  that's 2K per year,  or $8k over the 4 years!  How long would they have to work to earn that?

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The timing for the ACT is intense! I would, like others have done, recommend your student take one full practice test at home under testing conditions to get the hang of it. 
 

My DD is taking it in April for the fourth (!) and final time. She has since completed nearly all of pre-calculus and AP Stats, so she’s hoping her math score will get a bump. Even though she’s already well-prepared, she has a practice test on her planner in the next week just to get the timing/rhythm down and refresh her brain because it’s been a few months since she even thought about the ACT!

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Another vote for don't do it totally cold! If you know you are going to take the test in advance, then you should have at least some time during one day that you could set aside for a practice run. Seeing the directions in advance and becoming somewhat familiar with how things will go can cut down on extra mental overhead on the day of the test. 

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My dd took it cold due to a series of covid-related unknowns.  I would not necessarily recommend it for all of the reasons stated above but in our case it worked out perfectly.  Dd got the score she needed and did not waste time with prep or multiple tests.  I am sure she would have done better, probably much better, had she prepped but in her particular circumstance, a higher score would not have changed anything.  She was already admitted and had accepted admittance at the school she will attend.  She only needed test scores for merit aid.  Her score landed her the highest merit aid available so any extra prep would have been time wasted IMO.  

In your shoes, I would start with a practice test at home then decide where to go from there....how much prep, what kind, and when to test.  

 

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