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ACT Exam Facts and Information

What you should know about the ACT


Preparation The best way to prepare for the ACT is by taking challenging courses throughout high school. After all, this is what the ACT is designed to measure – how well you have learned what you should have been taught in high school and how ready you are to complete more challenging college-level coursework.

If you feel like you want a refresher as your test date approaches, you can visit www.actstudent.org. It offers practice questions and testing tips, sells prep guides and full sample tests, and sponsors the only ACT-developed test-prep program, ACT Online Prep™.

ACT vs. SAT Although the ACT was originally developed in 1959 as competition for the SAT, today they are seen as very different tests that measure very different things. However, they are accepted almost reciprocally by U.S. colleges and universities including all Ivy League schools.

Basically, the ACT is intended to measure what you have learned throughout high school and your ability to complete college-level work, while the SAT is intended to measure your inherent abilities and your critical thinking skills. In short, this means that it is achievement vs. aptitude: The ACT measures what you have learned, and the SAT measures your capacity for learning.

Since the ACT covers a broader range of skill sets, you may have a better chance of achieving a high score on it than on the SAT if you feel that you are stronger in some areas than others.

Test Day Tips
• Get plenty of rest the night before, eat a good breakfast, and dress in comfortable layers for the test.
• Be sure you know how to get to your assigned test center because you will not be permitted to take the test if you arrive late. Testing usually begins at 8:00 am.
• Remember your admission ticket and acceptable identification (all forms of acceptable identification are listed at www.actstudent.org), because you won’t be admitted without them.
• A test center supervisor will check you in, provide you with testing materials, and direct you to a specific seat.
• A test center supervisor will examine your calculator to make sure it is permissible. A list of unauthorized calculators and other prohibited test day behaviors is provided at www.actstudent.org.
• Use a #2 pencil with an eraser – not a mechanical pencil or a pen.
• Answer every question. Unlike on the SAT, there is no penalty for guessing. If you must guess, get rid of as many wrong answers as you can, then make an educated guess among the remaining choices.

The Test The ACT is comprised of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science and an optional Writing test.

The English section is comprised of 75 questions that you are given 45 minutes to answer. This section covers usage, rhetoric and mechanics.

The Mathematics section is comprised of 60 questions that you are given 60 minutes to answer. This section covers pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, geometry and trigonometry.

The Reading section is comprised of 40 questions that you are given 35 minutes to answer. This Section covers social studies and arts and literature.

The Science section is comprised of 40 questions that you are given 35 minutes to answer. This section covers interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning and problem-solving.

The optional Writing test is comprised of one essay prompt that you are given 30 minutes to answer. This section measures your writing skills.

Scoring Each of the four sections of the ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36. The average of these four sections is known as the composite score, or your ACT score, which can also range from 1-36. The optional Writing test is scored on a scale of 2-12 and does not get factored into the composite score.

Average scores on each section of the ACT are:

• English: 20.6
• Mathematics: 20.8
• Reading: 21.4
• Science: 20.9
• Writing: 7.7

Your composite score is the score that schools look at when considering you for admission. Many schools require a minimum ACT score for admission. For example, the University of Kansas in Lawrence requires a minimum composite score of 21 for admission.

Often when discussing ACT scores, high schools and colleges refer to the score percentile. The national score percentile roughly means the percent of test takers that year who scored at or below your score. So, for example, if you scored a 24 out of 36 on the ACT in 2006, that would put you in the 76th percentile, because 76% of all testers received a composite score of 24 or below.

In 2006:
• A score of 12 would place you in the 2nd percentile.
• A score of 17 would place you in the 33rd percentile.
• A score of 21 would place you in the 56th percentile.
• A score of 25 would place you in the 81st percentile.
• A score of 28 would place you in the 92nd percentile.
• A score of 33 would place you in the 99th percentile.
• A score of 36 would place you in the 100th percentile.

Refer to www.actstudent.org for a complete listing of national composite scores.

Now What? After completing the test, there’s nothing you can do but wait – at least for a little while. Then, it’s time to view your scores. For an $8 fee, you can view your scores online starting about 10-12 days after testing. Or, you can wait for your score report to arrive at your home address and your high school approximately 4-7 weeks after testing. For confidentiality reasons, ACT is not allowed to release any scores over phone, e-mail or fax. For further information on score reports, go to www.actstudent.org.

If you are satisfied with your scores, you can send them on to college admissions departments through the ACT organization. Just go to www.actstudent.org/scores/send/index.html, and you will be able to choose where your scores are sent. A credit card will be required, although fees for sending requests vary.

Of course, you can always choose to take the ACT again as many times as you like. You will be required to pay the testing fee again, but retesting can be a smart idea.

Consider taking the ACT again if:
• You had any problems on the day of your first test like not feeling well or misunderstanding directions.
• You don’t feel that your current composite score represents your academic abilities, or there is a major inconsistency between your score and your GPA.
• You have completed courses since testing that you feel could greatly contribute to your achievement on the ACT.

As you have certainly noticed by now, the most relevant source for more information on the ACT is www.actstudent.org. Go to the web site, look around, and prepare yourself for the ACT! Good luck!


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