January 22, 2018

The ACT Exam

One of the primary ways that colleges evaluate students for admission is through the use of standardized tests.  There are several tests available, but the two most commonly used evaluations are the SAT and the ACT.  Today, we’ll be discussing the ACT exam.


Time to start studying!

The ACT is a knowledge-based test and contains four sections:  English, Mathematics, Reading, Science as well as an optional writing section.  The primary goal of the ACT is to determine what the student knows.  (The SAT is more logic based – its goal is to determine how well you think.)  The ACT aims to cover information the typical 11th grade student will have studied.  More specifically, students will be tested in the areas of grammar usage and mechanics, evaluating writing organization and style, as well as reading comprehension. The science section assumes students have been exposed to basic science courses and tests their ability to interpret data, research and hypotheses.  The mathematics section tests through geometry, intermediate algebra and will even have a few questions in trigonometry.

Each of the four sections is scored from 1 to 36 and the results are averaged together for a composite score.  Thus, a perfect score on the ACT would be 36.  Depending upon the college(s) you would like to apply for, you should be shooting for a MINIMUM score in the 20s – obviously much higher scores give you greater options with both college choice and scholarship offerings.  The ACT differs from the SAT in that there is no penalty for wrong answers so while I don’t recommend outright guessing on the majority of the questions – I do recommend being sure that you have answered all of the questions before time is up, so a few last-minute fast fill-ins is better than leaving an answer blank.

In addition to the four sections, you may choose to opt in for an additional writing section in which the student will be asked to complete a first draft essay in a 30-minute time limit.  The student will be given a writing prompt and asked to choose a viewpoint and defend it. Since the writing section is optional, if you have already taken the SAT and are satisfied with your writing score there, feel free to skip this section.  However, if this isn’t the case – I do recommend that you opt in.

Most test scores are viewable online within three weeks.  If you’ve opted in for the writing section, expect those scores to take much longer – often up to eight weeks.

This test is offered six times a year – from September through June.  You can choose to take the test more than once.  In fact, I highly recommend it.  Most colleges will allow you to superscore your tests – meaning that you can take the highest scores from each section and put them together to arrive at your composite test score.  Even though the test is aimed at an 11th grade knowledge base, you are welcome to take it before your junior year.  This will allow you to become familiar with the test and its patterns so that you can work to maximize your scores in your junior and senior years.  To register, log on here at least two months prior to your desired test date. You’ll be given the option of several local testing locations – I always recommend that you choose a college campus rather than your local high school as the test-taking environment is usually a little less intimidating.

As with all tests – spending time in test preparation pays off.  With the case of college entrance exams – this can literally mean in dollars.  So encourage your students to prepare well each time they take a test.  ACT offers an ACT Prep program or you can purchase one of several that are on the market.  You can also get their ACT Question of the Day.  Remember: practice makes perfect! (Or pretty close to perfect….)

~to your success!


Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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