Arguably the only positive aspect of the ACT is that it’s retake-able. Had a bad day and screwed up the Science portion? Your watch beeped in the middle of testing and you got kicked out? The Day of Doom sneaked up on you and you haven’t studied yet? Try, try again, my darlings. Try, try again.

But…how do you know when to stop? If you can test more than once, why not retake and retake and retake until you get the glorious 36–or at least the score you think will get you into that one program at that one school that you really, really, really want to get into?

In his article from last week, my fellow TP college writer Eric Aldieri suggests limiting your testing to three times; I totally agree. Once you take the ACT for the first time, it’s recommended to see if you can improve, especially if you’re disappointed with the results. Go ahead, sign up again! You can do it! The second time, that’s when things get interesting. Did you improve? Awesome! Did you do worse? This is not so awesome, but it’s okay! Did your score stay the same? A bit of a bummer, but it could be worse, right? Sign up one more time to see if you can budge it further, bring it back up, or get it off of that plateau it seems to have hit. No problemo. The third time’s the charm, and three’s your lucky number. Just make sure to stop there.

There are quite a few reasons to limit yourself to what I call the “Golden Three.”

1. Money.

Ca$h. Billz. Dough. Hard-earned sweat and labor and nine-to-five monotony…Money. Sure, there are fee waivers, but for those of us who aren’t eligible, spending about $150 on testing is definitely enough–and that’s just for the ACT alone. Don’t even get me started on sending test scores, transcripts, financial aid documents, and the like to colleges. You’re an up-and-coming college student. You need to save as much as you can so you can stock up on Ramen and Nutella.

2. Scores aren’t everything.

Your test scores will not make or break your applications. If you think only one aspect of your application will guarantee your acceptance, you need to take a second look at the college admissions process, the institution you’re applying to, and maybe your self-worth, too. Remember that even students who perfect the standardized test–36s, 800s, and 2400s galore–still get rejected, so it’s okay to chill out a bit. Acceptances, deferrals, waitlists, and rejections don’t equate to your value as a human on Earth, only how well you can test and present yourself on a document on the Internet (aka the Common App, for most college applicants). Use your time for something else more fun and less stressful, like painting a portrait of your cat with ketchup or making a sculpture from old plastic Wal-Mart bags (that you hopefully will recycle afterwards).

3. Sleep.

We teenagers love our sleep, and with everything else happening in our angsty, drama-filled lives, we need it. Why wake up at cruel and unusual hours on a Saturday morning just to drag your half-asleep mound of flesh into a building where you’ll be tortured for approximately five hours? How lovely. You’ve already done it three times. This time, be content with yourself, know you tried your best, and curl up into your blankie. It might be one of the last times you do. For all you know right now, you might get a horrible roommate in college that will make fun of you for the ripped ol’ dirty thing (I’m kidding… hopefully.). But really, most students buy new blankets for their dorms. Skip the testing and savor your time left with Binky.

It’s hard to know when enough is enough. If you let it, standardized testing can turn you into an ACT tornado that just won’t stop: studying from your 8 prep books every night for eighteen hours straight, talking about nothing but how badly you want just a one point increase, waking up from a nightmare in which your hand was unable to fill in any bubble except for C, dooming you to the lowest score in ACT history. It’s tough, and it’s real. Thousands of rising seniors face this dilemma every year; you’re not alone. But that’s why you’re here, reading this: to prevent it from happening to you. Chill out, and good luck.

P.S. Have you considered applying to these score-optional colleges?

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the author

Jasmine is a Computer Science major at Scripps College in sunny Claremont, California. Besides writing and editing for The Prospect, Jasmine works as a copy editor for [in]Visible Magazine, a writer for Persephone Magazine, and a communications intern for Whirlpool Corp. When she's not binge watching Grey's Anatomy, she enjoys not wearing shoes (no matter the weather), petting strangers' dogs, and jamming on her ukulele. She can be reached by email at

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