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What you need to know about the ACT
The ACT test is a national college admissions test and, like the SAT exam, is accepted by all 4-year colleges and universities in the United States. The ACT test comprises subject area achievement tests in four areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. As an achievement test, it measures what you have learned in school. In this way, every time you attend class, you are preparing for the ACT test. This test has an optional Writing section. Students planning to take the test for a specific college should check to see if the Writing section is required for the schools of their choice. Keep in mind that you cannot take the Writing test separately, at a later date. You’ll have to repeat the other four test sections to get a writing test score if you find out you need it later, so it’s probably a good idea to just go ahead and take it with the other tests.
Answers to all your questions about the ACT
Table of Contents
What are the costs?
Registration for the ACT test typically takes place online and costs $68 (no-writing option), which includes a report for you, your high school, and up to four colleges. You will be entering codes for each of these schools when you register. The ACT Plus Writing costs $93. As of the 2021-22 school year there is no longer an option to retake individual sections. There are also late, change, and non-refundable fees so it’s best to double check your test date and location before you register.
What should I bring?
Bring an approved photo ID and your printed pre-registration ticket.
Bring your own sharpened, soft lead No. 2 pencils with good erasers. Other kinds of writing instruments (such as mechanical pens, ink pens, and highlight pens) are not allowed. If you registered for the ACT Plus Writing, you will be required to use a pencil for that, too.
You may bring a four-function, scientific or graphing calculator to the testing room for your own use—but only for the Math section of the test. Sharing calculators is not allowed. Some calculators are prohibited.
Bringing a watch or timer, without an alarm is also recommended, so you can keep track of time.
Snacks, if desired, can be eaten outside of the testing room during the break.
Mask, if applicable
How is it scored?
Your ACT test score can range between 1 and 36 in each of the four mandatory testing areas. These four scores are averaged together for a composite ACT test score. When people ask you for your ACT test results, they are usually referring to this composite amount and the national average is about 21.
If you choose to take the optional writing test, you will be given an essay prompt with 40 minutes to compose your essay response. This score appears as a writing test subscore of between 2 and 12. The ACT test, like the latest version of the SAT exam, imposes no penalty for guessing.
Your ACT test score report will contain a number of other informative scores. There are figures that tell how many correct answers the student got out of the highest number possible. Also, your subscores on each test will be placed on a number line that contains a bar labeled ACT Readiness Range. This way, you will be able to tell where your subscore falls in terms of scores that show readiness for college-level study.
Also included in the score report is an estimated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) benchmark rating. This is shown to help students plan college and career paths. This benchmark is a result of your combined scores on the Math and Science portions of the ACT test.
Even more career-planning information is given to the student in the report by the way of Career Connector summaries and Interest-Major Fit data. These scores are established through student responses given during registration about interests and experience.
In 2021, the ACT introduced Superscoring which gives test-takers the ability to average the best of their subject scores from multiple test attempts.
Here’s an example that shows how superscores work:
Test Attempt 1:
- English= 28
- Reading= 29
- Mathematics= 28
- Science= 28
- Total Score= 113/4= 28.25= 28
Test Attempt 2
- English= 31
- Reading= 30
- Mathematics= 25
- Science= 31
- Total Score=117/4= 29.25= 29
Using Superscoring, you would use your highest scores across both test attempts to calculate your new ACT score.
- English= 31
- Reading= 30
- Mathematics= 28
- Science= 31
- Total Score=120/4= 30
What kind of job can I get?
Think of taking the ACT test as an important step toward your life goal of securing your chosen job. If you score well on test day, your chances of becoming well-trained for that job in college increase. There is no end to the employment opportunities that will be open to you with a specialized college education. Employers look for people with the best, most complete training. Having a degree from a college, with a strong program in your chosen field, will be a huge asset.
Am I eligible?
Students of every age and grade level are eligible to take the ACT test, but students under the age of 13 cannot register online. They must request a registration packet from the test producers. This request may be made online through the official ACT site.
Many students take the test in April of their junior year, but if you want to allow time to retake the test, it is best to take it earlier. You may only take the ACT test a total of 12 times and this includes any tests that were canceled by you or the ACT testing service. There are a very few exceptions to this rule, so check with the ACT organization if you have questions.
Why does it matter?
Your ACT test scores matter because they are part of the total package that decides whether or not you are admitted to the college of your choice. A good test score can mean the difference between getting into the school you want and settling for a lesser one.
What salary can I expect?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has established that the median yearly income for those with a Bachelor’s degree is 63% higher than those with only a high school diploma.
When is it available?
The ACT test is offered nationally, seven times a year: September, October, December, February, April, June and July. Individual states or areas may eliminate the February and July test dates. For the 2023-2024 school year, remaining test dates are as follows:
April 13, 2024
June 8, 2024
July 13, 2024
There are strict deadlines for registering and this must be done about 5 weeks in advance of the actual test date. You can incur late or change fees, so plan your testing schedule well in advance. Approved testing centers, nearest to your place, are listed by state—most states having at least a few geographic areas to accommodate test-takers from all locations. Special accommodations are offered for students who have disabilities, students who are homebound, or students who have religious date conflicts.
How much time is allowed?
Time allowed for the test sections is as follows:
English—45 minutes for 75 questions
Reading—35 minutes for 40 questions
Math—60 minutes for 60 questions
Science—35 minutes for 40 questions
Writing (optional)—40 minutes to write one essay
The total time to test on the four core subjects is close to 4 hours. The total time to test on the four core subjects plus the optional writing portion is about 4 hours and 40 minutes. A short break is given after the first two subject tests on either option.
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