American College Testing (ACT) is a non-profit organization that developed a standardized test to gauge students' college readiness. The ACT is an entrance exam considered by colleges and universities during the admissions process. Students choose to take the ACT or SAT (increasingly both) depending on their strengths.
Students who are better suited to analyzing charts, graphs, and data might opt for the ACT, whereas students whose strengths lie in critical thinking and reading would thrive on the SAT. A high ACT score increases a student’s chances of acceptance and unlocking opportunities for academic scholarships.
ACT Components & Structure
The ACT consists of four sections — English, Reading, Math, Science, and an optional writing section. The test lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes, with 40 minutes allotted for the optional writing portion.
The English component of the ACT includes 75 questions to answer in 45 minutes. Students must prove mastery in grammar & usage, punctuation, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.
The reading component of the ACT includes 40 questions in a 35-minute session. This section tests the student’s ability to find and interpret details, main ideas, comparative relationships, cause-effect relationships, generalizations, vocabulary in context, sequence of events, and author’s voice. The student must read passages and answer multiple-choice questions based on their reasoning skills.
The math component of the ACT includes 60 multiple-choice questions within a 60-minute session. This tests the student’s competency in pre-algebra, algebra, coordinate & plane geometry, and trigonometry.
The science component of the ACT consists of 40 questions in a 35-minute session. Test-takers must demonstrate their ability to interpret data, understand research summaries, and evaluate conflicting viewpoints.
The writing component of the ACT is optional. The student must answer one essay question in 40 minutes. The students receive a prompt about contemporary issues, encouraging them to form an opinion in a concise essay. This tests students’ critical thinking, analysis, and evaluation skills. Some colleges require or recommend the ACT writing component for admission.
How is the ACT Scored?
When applying to colleges, students must already know the minimum scores required to secure admission. The ACT exam is scored on a scale of 1-36. The ACT score is the overall average of the four individual component scores, with the writing portion scored separately. The average national ACT score in 2020 was 20.8. Colleges and universities vary greatly in their ACT score requirements.
For more selective universities, students should aim for a 30 or higher. Rather than looking at your score, it is helpful to look at the percentile. Students who score above the 50th percentile are considered to have a good ACT score.
When to Take the ACT
The optimal time to take the ACT’s is during the spring of junior year and fall of senior year. This allows enough time for preparation and time to retake the exam if desired scores are not initially achieved. Scores are usually available within 2 -8 weeks after taking the exam. Meanwhile, the scores for the optional essay become available within 5-8 weeks after the exam. Furthermore, students can register for test dates in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July.
How to Prepare for the ACT
Students taking the ACT should prepare by taking practice exams and focusing on sections that prove challenging. This will increase familiarity with the format of the test and improve time management skills. Practicing will reduce pressure during the actual exam. Many students choose to take ACT prep classes to form test-taking strategies and study for the ACT.
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