Few acronyms induce as much stress as ACT. Creating anxiety among high school students across the United States, the ACT is a standardized test administered to assess a student’s readiness for college. Higher scores often lead to better
chances at college acceptance and scholarship awards as well as other forms of financial aid. As a result, the higher your ACT score, the more college
options you tend to have.
What College Admissions Officers Look For College admissions officers look at a variety of different factors when evaluating applicants. In many cases, extracurricular activities, personal
accomplishments, as well as essays and other written componentsof the application
are assessed. But in almost all cases, high school transcripts along with ACT and/or SAT scores are considered first.
Colleges attempt to admit students who have the skills and academic capabilities to succeed, and many colleges look to ACT scores to help make that determination. Once they accept the students, many colleges also use ACT scores to place students in first-year courses in an effort to address academic weaknesses. College advisers often use ACT results to assist students when planning an appropriate course of study that bolsters weaker areas. Some financial aid and scholarship agencies look at the ACT score, along with high school grades, extracurricular activities and educational needs, to determine eligibility. A higher ACT score can put you on a faster academic track with more financial options.
Dissecting the ACT
The ACT, originally called American College Testing, was first administered in 1959. It was developed as a competitor to the College Board’s Scholastic
Aptitude Test, now called the SAT. The ACT gradually gained acceptance and over 1.6 million students took the test in 2012, more than took the SAT. While
the ACT now boasts more national test takers than the SAT, it is particularly more popular in the Southern, Rocky Mountain and Midwestern United States,
although it is gaining ground on the East Coast. Administered in all 50 states, the ACT is now accepted by all four-year universities and colleges in the
The ACT is a 2 hour and 55 minute test broken up into four main sections. The English section is intended to measure standard rhetorical and written
English. It has 75 questions and is 45 minutes long. The 60-minute mathematics section is designed to assess mathematics skills and has 60 questions. The
reading section, which has 40 questions and is 35 minutes long, is designed to measure comprehension. The 40-question science section is also 35 minutes
long and attempts to evaluate reasoning, problem solving and interpretation in the natural sciences. The ACT also includes an optional writing portion, in
which students are allotted 30 minutes to write an essay in response to a prompt. The writing test is intended to assess college composition writing
It Pays to Prepare
Many students go into the ACT unprepared because it’s not a typical high school exam. Many students simply take the ACT once during their junior years in high school and again as seniors. The idea behind this approach is that the junior year ACT test results could give students an indication about academic strengths and weaknesses and provide test familiarity. Students could then have time to focus on specific areas with academic tutoring or specialized programs.
Students who take the test a second time experience an increase in their composite score 57 percent of the time and have a choice about which score is sent to colleges or financial aid programs. In most cases, taking the test a second time after strengthening weak areas is a smart move.