For a long time, the SAT was by far the most popular college entrance exam in the United States. Even though a high percentage of high school students who hope to earn an undergraduate degree still rely on the SAT to show their academic prowess, the ACT has gained a lot of ground over the years.
What is it?
What does the ACT Measure?ACT questions focus upon academic knowledge that high school seniors should already have acquired. Since the four sections of the ACT correspond with introductory courses most students will be required to complete during their freshman year, the ACT is a good indication of whether or not students are adequately prepared for the academic challenges of the university.
When was the ACT First Administered?The first group of students were tested on the ACT in 1959. From the very beginning, the ACT was intended to be a competitor to the SAT. Today, the test is administered and overseen by ACT, Inc. It is more popular than ever before and, in 2007, a little over 40% of U.S. high school graduates opted to take the ACT in lieu of the SAT. Part of the reason for this preference is the belief among many educators that the SAT is culturally biased and therefore an unfair assessment tool.
How are ACT Scores Used by Universities?Exactly how a student's ACT scores will be used by a university varies from school to school. In some schools, a student's ACT score, along with their GPA, is the chief criteria upon which acceptance decisions are made. At other schools, ACT scores play only a minor role in determining acceptance, and an applicant's GPA, class rank, and community background may be viewed as more important. In any case, a strong ACT score will boost a student's chances of being accepted to the program of their choice. Along with using ACT scores to make acceptance decisions, colleges can use a student's test results in other ways as well. Some colleges offer different course sections - there may be a regular and an advanced course in English literature, for example. Looking at a student's scores on the English and reading sections of the ACT can help college officials choose which course selections would be more suitable to that student's skill level. Colleges that grant scholarships and loans may also consider ACT scores.
How are ACT Scores Used by High Schools?The questions found on the ACT are based on information taught in high schools throughout the United States. This makes the test a great resource for high schools. Administering the ACT to all high school students is a good way to gauge how well teachers are doing their jobs. If all students scored extremely high on the science section, for example, it would be obvious that teachers in the school were adequately covering the material outlined in the curriculum. On the other hand, dismal ACT test scores would show a need to take a closer look at teachers, current instructional methods, and perhaps the curriculum as a whole. ACT scores are also a good tool to evaluate individual students. By looking at a student's score in each section, schools could identify whether a student was having problems in one or more subject areas. The college or university could then try to identify and resolve these issues, and also by arranging for extra help sessions in the areas where the student is experiencing difficulty.
Four Things You Need to Know About the ACTDuring the ACT prep process, you've probably worked through countless sample questions, made an effort to address your weak areas, and read everything you could get your hands on about the best ways to approach different sections of the test. Although the following topics don't relate specifically to the academic subject matters addressed within the ACT, they are reliable tips that every individual preparing for the test should know.
Your Calculator May be ProhibitedEven though all questions in the math section can be answered without using a calculator, it is in your best interest to take one to the exam with you. However, it's important to make sure that the type of calculator you intend to bring to your test is permitted in the examination room. The people administering the ACT have very strict regulations about this - if you are found to be using a prohibited calculator, or a monitor finds you are using a calculator on a section other than the math component, you will be asked to leave. In addition, your answer sheet will not be scored, meaning you'll have to take the entire test again at a later date. The following types of calculators are not permitted: TI-89, TI-92, and TI-Nspire CAS models from Texas Instruments. Certain HP and Casio models are also prohibited. Be sure to check with the testing center to see whether your calculator is acceptable before you go to the test center.
There are No Penalties for Incorrect AnswersOn many standardized tests, including the SAT, there are penalties for providing incorrect answers. In such cases, it is better for the test taker to leave a question blank when there is a high probability of entering an incorrect answer. The scoring method used for the ACT is different, however. Points are added for correct answers, but there are no deductions for providing incorrect responses. Because there is no penalty for guessing incorrectly, you should answer every question on the test, regardless of whether or not you are sure of the answer.
All Questions and Sections Are Worth the Same ValueInevitably, you will find some questions and sections on the ACT more difficult than others. Keep in mind, however, that all questions on the test have the same value. This means you should never let yourself get stuck on one question. Simply move on if you find yourself spending too much time on a single question. Come back to the difficult question later if you have time, or just make an educated guess. The separate sections of the exam are weighted equally as well. So, if you experience a significant degree of difficulty in the math section, and that tends to slow you down, you can make up for that deficit by doing well in the other three sections.
You Can Take the Test AgainEven if you've studied for months and feel fully prepared for the test, there may be circumstances which prevent you from performing as well as you might have. You may be tired on the day of the test, you might be distracted by events in your personal life, or simple anxiety might cause you to forget everything you've learned. The great thing about the ACT is that you can take it again. There are no penalties for retaking the test, and you get to choose which set of scores will be sent to the colleges you are interested in. If you're not pleased with how you did on the ACT, try not to take it too hard - study some more, learn from your mistakes, and give it another try as soon as you can.
Last Updated: 04/24/2014