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ACT Test: How to Prepare and Pass the ACTs

In this standardized testing-laden portion of your life, the ACTs operate with a mysterious stigma to their name. They're offered less often, aren't required by as many colleges, and have this bizarre scoring system that seems as inexplicable as the tests themselves. But the ACTs are actually the perfect standardized-testing sidekick to the mighty SAT beast.

Major differences between the ACTs and SATs

  • Amount of times the test is administered. You can take the SATs seven times per year. The ACTs are only offered five times: October, December, February, April, and June.
  • Scoring. You can score 2400 points on the SATs. The highest score you can earn on the ACT is 36.
  • Subjects. SATs have three sections: reading comprehension, writing, and math. The ACTs offer four: English comprehension, math, reading comprehension, and science. An additional writing section is optional.
  • Question Format. Both tests are mostly answered in the multiple-choice format; the difference is that the ACT suggests five possible answers and the ACT suggests four.
  • Who Takes Each Test? The ACT is widely regarded as being more popular in the Midwest and southern regions of the United States. The SAT has been the more popular test on both of the country's coasts, but recent criticisms about the fairness and effectiveness of the SATs have made the ACTs somewhat more appealing in recent years.

That being said, the general characteristics of these two tests are the same. They're both used by colleges to determine your eligibility, and they're both intended to test your problem-solving skills and writing comprehension abilities. More and more these days students are given the option to take either test.

Colleges used to place an extremely high premium on you submitting your SAT scores, but that's not as much the case anymore. Make sure you know what tests the schools you're applying to want you to take. If you can submit either score, take the test you think you can do best on.

How to prepare for the ACTS

ACT Registration

There are two ways to register for the ACTs: you can sign up online at actstudent.org or you can fill out a registration packet, which is available both online at actstudent.org and through your college counselor. Filling out the registration packet is required if you're requesting disability accommodations, are younger than 13, or would like to pay by check or money order.

You should expect to pay $31.00, with an additional $15.00 charge if you'd like to take the writing section, each time you register. It's a price that includes sending score reports to up to four colleges.

Pick a time and location that best fits your schedule. That's most easily done if you sign up early. The standard registration period for each date runs until there is one month left before the day of the test. If you miss the standard registration period, you can be put on standby registration, which doesn't guarantee you admission into the test but still allows you the possibility that a space may open up.
What to do on Test Day

  • Make sure that you're well rested. You'll be sitting in a chair for about 4 hours and don't want to have even the slightest sense of fatigue.
  • Eat a balanced breakfast. Because of the duration of the test, it's very likely that you'll get hungry and lose your concentration if you don't fortify yourself on the right foods beforehand. You're allowed to bring a snack, but it can only be consumed during a designated break period.
  • Bring a photo ID, your Admission Ticket, No. 2 pencils and an eraser and a calculator (graphing, 4-function, and scientific calculators are all okay).
  • Get to the Testing Location by 8:00am. You should expect to leave sometime between 12:30 and 1pm.

The Actual ACT Test

The ACT is made up of four sections: a reading comprehension section, a math section, a science section, and an English comprehension question. There is an optional fifth writing section, which takes half an hour to complete. Here's how things breakdown, by section:

  • English. This section takes forty-five minutes and covers 75 multiple-choice questions that, just like the SAT, are centered on grammar and vocabulary.
  • Math. 60 questions in 60 minutes - essentially one question a minute. Each question is posed with the expectation that your math skills are at a 12th grade level.
  • Reading. With 90 questions to answer in 35 minutes, this test of your reading comprehension mandates that you read each passage very closely so that you waste less time rereading.
  • Science. The science section, which doesn't show up on the SAT, asks 40 multiple-choice questions in 35 minutes. Each question is intended to challenge your reasoning, interpretational, and analytical skills.

There's an optional writing section that's offered with each test. It's a 30 minute section in which you're asked to write one essay.

Test Taking Tips

You'll hear plenty of "tricks of the trade" from people as you prepare to take the test; try to retain all the advice you can. It's highly possible that some will slip your mind, though, so consult these quick tips for help:

  • Carefully read each passage. Getting the answer right on ACTs comes down more often than not to your ability to use deductive reasoning and problem solving. The College Board isn't trying to trick you; just trying to make you think. Make sure you absorb all the information each passage gives you.
  • Don't be afraid to skip questions. Stressing yourself out over one particular question can put you in bad shape for the rest of the exam. Since all questions are worth the same number of points, it's best to answer the ones you know and then come back to those you were struggling with.
  • Remember the "2 out of 4" rule. This rule dictates that you should expect to see only two attractive answer-choices per question. This allows for increased potential in educated guessing if you can determine which 3 answer-choices are only there to fill space.

It's imperative that you remember the ACT is not something that's supposed to take you by surprise. If you want to go to college then you'll almost certainly need to take them, and you should be amply prepared for success by the time test day comes around. Yes, it can be a daunting undertaking. The best advice we can give you is to take it step by step, focusing on performing each task as well as you can to stay in great shape for the future.

Comparing ACT Scores with the SAT

The ACT scoring system works on a much smaller scale than the SATs. Consult this graph to check how your ACT scores stack up against another student's who only took the SATS:

 

SAT

ACT

Percentile

2400

36

100%

2340

35

100%

2260

34

100%

2190

33

99%

2150

32

99%

2040

31

98%

1980

30

96%

1920

29

94%

1860

28

92%

1820

27

89%

1760

26

85%

1700

25

80%

1650

24

75%

1590

23

69%

1530

22

62%

1500

21

55%

1410

20

47%

1350

19

39%

1290

18

32%

1210

17

25%

1140

16

19%

1060

15

13%

1000

14

9%

900

13

5%

780

12

2%

750

11

1% 

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