What is the ACT?
The ACT is one measurement of your college readiness. It is a nationwide, standardized “college entrance exam” based on the skills and information you have learned during your educational journey to this point. There is also an optional writing portion to the ACT where you can show off your writing skills if you are a strong scribe.
Why Should I Take It?
The ACT can be very useful if you are planning on attending college. These are its most important benefits:
First, some kind of standardized test is usually required for college admission and the ACT is widely accepted. Check with the colleges to which you plan to apply to make sure it is accepted by them.
You want to take the ACT to show colleges, universities, and scholarship boards your level of knowledge and understanding of academic material, including science, math, English, and reading.
Taking the ACT helps you determine your areas of academic strength and areas in which you might need a little more help and support. Your test results include not only the scores for each subject area, but a breakdown of where you excelled and where you struggled so that you can focus on those less-developed areas before retaking the test or taking course placement tests once you are accepted to a school.
Why Now…Can’t I Wait?
The ACT is offered several times a year. Testing includes a date in each of these months: April, June, July, September, October, and December. California and New York state residents, be sure to check the ACT website to ensure that testing centers will be open for the testing dates you are considering. Taking it early and getting your scores back will help you determine if you need to take it again to boost those scores and will give you time to do so. If you wait until one of the later testing dates, you may not have an opportunity to retake it after you receive your scores. According to the ACT website, “43% of ACT test takers chose to take the test more than once last year, and more than half of them improved their scores.” Sometimes becoming more comfortable with the test and reviewing areas of lower performance can pay off big when you retest.
What Do I Do With the Scores?
When you register for the ACT, you will be allowed to select up to four schools to which you would like the scores sent automatically, free of charge. You may also elect not to notify any schools until you have reviewed your scores first. Then you can request scores be sent out to particular schools. There is a fee for sending your scores out after the testing date and for sending scores to more than four schools. If you take the ACT multiple times, you decide which scores to send to your desired schools. Note that you may not send section scores from different test dates—all the scores from one test date must be sent. You may also elect to have your scores shared with scholarship agencies. These agencies will then send you information on scholarships available, based on your scores and personal information.
So How Do I Sign Up?
Registering for the ACT is easy. Your high school may offer sign up opportunities on campus or you can go online to the ACT website and set up an account. Your ACT account allows you to register for the test and get access to your test scores online. From your account you can also send additional score reports to more schools and register for the next testing date if you want to take it again. There is a cost for taking the ACT, but fee waivers are available to students who qualify. Testing centers are located throughout the country. Go online to find the one closest to you. The registration process includes a form to complete and requires submission of a recent photo of the test taker. Be sure that you are aware not only of the application deadlines, but the photo upload deadline as well. If you register late, there is an additional fee.
Once you have registered for the ACT administration date that works best for you, put it on the family calendar so that you and your parents or guardians know when they big day is and don’t schedule anything for that day (or the night before). You should also prepare in these ways:
If the testing site is at an unfamiliar location, drive the route there a few times beforehand so that you can anticipate travel time, recognize the building, and locate parking facilities. If your testing site is outside of your town, be sure you know how long it will take to travel there and that you account for the possibility of changing road conditions.
Check the ACT website for a list of materials to bring (#2 pencils, a snack, clothing layers, etc.) and what not to bring (a smartphone, fitness tracker, anything with an alarm that could go off and make noise, etc.).
To prepare for the test content, determine what you know and access what you need. This means you should take some practice tests and see where you struggle or where your score dips and focus on those areas before the test. For some students, a little extra practice with the question types or some online test prep might do the trick. Other students may find that forming a study group with others to review material and prepare for the test is helpful. Other options are hiring a tutor or signing up for an ACT prep class. You know what will work best for you. The point is to give yourself some practice before the big day. Walking in feeling comfortable and confident because you are familiar with the ACT question content, format, and time restrictions will help you do better on the exam.
Yes, this test will be a challenge, but it’s a challenge at which you can excel if you have taken the time to prepare and familiarize yourself with the beast. Good luck!