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Mastering the ACT

The ACT, originally known as the American College Testing Assessment, was developed in the 1950’s as an alternative to the SAT. Rather than measuring “aptitude,” as the SAT initially claimed, as a standardized test the ACT sought to measure what students had learned in high school that would prepare them for college success. As a result, the ACT contains four multiple-choice sections plus a writing component, as compared to the SAT’s three sections.

ACT scores range from 1-36, with the composite score being determined by averaging a student’s score from the four multiple-choice test sections. The four sections are English, Math, Reading and Science Reasoning, with an optional Writing section at the end of the test not factoring into the composite. A student’s ACT score is said to be an indicator of “college readiness,” meaning basic proficiency in the ACT’s subject areas, which correspond to entry-level college work, according to research by ACT, Inc.

The ACT is commonly used for college admissions, scholarship awards, and high school assessment. ACT scores may also be used to place students in different levels of college work. For example, a high ACT math score could allow a student to test into a more advanced college math class without taking the school’s placement test.

ACT Test Prep

Since doing well on the ACT can help you in everything from getting into college to paying for college to skipping onerous prerequisites, doing your best on the test is important. As a test that specifically sets out to measure a student’s level of preparation for college coursework, the ACT can, and likely should, be studied for.

The amount of preparation you put into the ACT is up to you and largely depends on your confidence in your abilities and the scores you hope to achieve. High school students gunning for admission to their dream colleges, as well as substantial financial aid awards, may find themselves putting a lot of effort into studying for the ACT. Luckily, regardless of the level of preparation you want to put into the ACT, there are resources to help.

Free ACT study guides are widely available online. We offer a set of sample questions on Scholarships.com, and a number of organizations, including ACT, Inc., provide free practice tests online. Paying for standardized test prep services, such as private tutoring or test-taking classes is also an option, but many students may find they can prepare adequately using free or low-cost preparation materials on their own.

ACT, Inc. also offers a practice test for students who want the full ACT experience as high school sophomores. The PLAN test is offered through a student’s school district, and is typically administered by a counselor or teacher at your high school. If you’re interested in taking this test, talk to your high school’s college counselor.

The Test Day and After

Beyond studying for the ACT and taking practice tests, you can also boost your score by showing up to the test center on time, well-rested, and well-prepared on your test day. Students who are confident in their test-taking abilities, or who at least are not crippled by anxiety and stress, tend to do better on tests. Plus, there’s no reason to stress out about your ACT score. Sure, doing well on the test can help you get into a good college or win a scholarship, but standardized test scores aren’t the only things colleges and scholarship providers look at when judging applications. If you have good grades and you’ve participated in lots of extracurricular activities or community service projects, those things can more than make up for a lackluster ACT score.

If you do choose to retake the ACT, though, you do have the option. The ACT will report only the scores you request to the colleges and scholarships for which you’re applying. However, be aware that some colleges or scholarship providers may specifically request to see all your scores for a particular standardized test. If you write to ACT, Inc. requesting to have the record of a particular test date completely deleted, they also offer that service. Students who know they need to achieve a certain score on the ACT or who just want to leave themselves the option of retaking the test should be sure to register for the test early, preferably as high school juniors. Typically, the last date you can retake the test occurs during the fall semester of your senior year, so plan accordingly.

As a final note, some students who struggle with the ACT do better on the SAT and vice versa. If after all your efforts, you still aren’t getting where you want on this test, you can always try the other. Nearly all colleges accept scores from either test for admissions, as well as for university scholarship awards.

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