The ACT, a college entrance exam that is offered in many states, has for some students become a better option than the SAT. In fact, every four-year institution in the United States now accepts the ACT as a common standardized test that can help a student gain admission to college. As such, it is important to better understand the structure of the ACT and the benefits of taking it, as the exam may, in the long run, be a better overall fit than the SAT.
What does the ACT look like?
Unlike the SAT, the ACT does not contain several sections. Instead, it is divided into four separate, timed tests in the following subjects - English, math, reading, and science. There is also an optional essay that most students choose to complete as part of the exam. As for the structure of the exam, the English portion contains seventy-five questions that a student must finish within forty-five minutes. There are also sixty math problems that must be completed within sixty minutes, plus a reading and science section that have forty questions each, both of which must be completed within thirty-five minutes or less. The ACT is scored between 1 and 36.
Is the ACT right for me, and how can I get the score I want?
If you are thinking about taking the ACT or are undecided, consider the following tips to help you decide if it is the right exam for you, and how to obtain your ideal score:
Know that you have options – experts recommend that you take a practice test of both the ACT and SAT to determine which is right for you. Since colleges put equal weight on the SAT and ACT, there is nothing wrong with taking the ACT if you performed better on it than the SAT. Since getting a high score on a standardized test is critical to getting into college, if you find that the ACT is better suited for you, then don’t hesitate to pursue it as your test of choice.
Consider the ACT if you are strong in math – the ACT contains more challenging math problems than the SAT, which means that the exam may be right for students who have a strong foundation in this subject. It also has a less intense English section, which means that students who are more mathematically inclined but who may have some catching up to do in English may find that the ACT is better for them than the SAT.
Make sure to pay attention in your science classes – unlike the SAT, the ACT has a section that is focused on science reasoning. Hence, it is critically important that you pay attention in science class, especially science lab, as the ACT requires you to have a working knowledge and understanding of key scientific concepts.
Take as many practice tests as possible – the old adage “practice makes perfect” certainly rings true when it comes to taking standardized tests. In essence, the more you practice, the better you will get at completing the ACT and getting an ideal score. Practice tests not only help you to gain familiarity with each section of the ACT, it also helps you to work on your timing so that you complete the exam within the timeframe allowed.
Do not leave questions unanswered – another key difference between the SAT and ACT is that there is no penalty for getting a question wrong on the ACT. That means that even if you are stumped on a question, there is no penalty for guessing. So, if you do not know the answer to a question, you can either skip it for the moment then return to the problem to make an educated guess or immediately guess the answer on the spot. Since there is no penalty for wrong answers, guessing will at least give you some chance of getting the answer right versus leaving it blank, which may ultimately hurt your score.
Know what the exam is asking you to do – understanding the directions is key to succeeding on the ACT, as it saves time due to your familiarity with the requirements. Meaning, if you have taken a number of practice tests, you already know what the expectations are for each section and can jump right in when test time begins.