The ACT test was started by the American College Testing Program and is a standardized test used as a college entrance exam. Most colleges require students to take a standardized exam as part of the admissions process; either the ACT or SAT and the weight placed on ACT scores varies from school to school. Other important factors that schools consider in their admissions are your high school GPA, academic transcript, letters of recommendation, interviews and personal essays. The ACT test is comprised of a total of 215 scored questions and is made up of four individual tests, each of which is designed to measure academic achievement in a major area:
- Science Reasoning
Along with these four subject tests, there is also an optional 30 minute essay. Some schools may require the essay, so it is important to ask before you take the test. The test is about three and a half hours and long and includes the four individual tests along with a short break between the second and third subtests.
The ACT tests English grammar and writing. You are expected to know the fundamentals of usage, diction, sentence construction and rhetorical skills as well as the ability to distinguish between commonly confused words, such as “affect” versus “effect”. In this section, you have 45 minutes to read five passages or essays and answer 75 multiple choice questions. The questions will follow into two categories: usage/mechanics (punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure) and rhetorical skills (writing strategy, organization, style). Luckily the English test, more than any other ACT subject test, assesses what you already know, rather than what you can figure out given certain information.
On the ACT math test, you are given 60 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions. The questions are designed to measure your achievement of the mathematical knowledge, skills and reasoning techniques and cover a full range of topics. It requires basic skills in arithmetic, geometry, algebra, and a small portion of trigonometry - all concepts and practices that federal and state standards mandate should be learned by the 11th grade. The test is designed to check for mathematical reasoning and basic computational skills, so no complex formulas or elaborate computations will be included on the exam.
The ACT Reading Test gives you 35 minutes to read four rather lengthy passages and answer 40 questions on the reading. The passages in the Reading Test are placed into four categories and usually come from published materials such as books and magazines. The categories are: Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Humanities, and Prose Fiction. While taking the ACT test, you will receive one passage of about 1,000 words long in each category.
Science Reasoning Test
In this subject test, time is of the essence! The test is made up of seven test units, each of which contains a passage containing scientific information. You are only given 35 minutes to digest these 7 science passages and answer the 40 multiple-choice questions that follow them. The questions test your interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills in the following categories: Biology, Earth/Space Sciences, Chemistry and Physics.
Writing Test (optional)
The Writing Test, an optional portion of the ACT, is a short written exercise that is given at the end of the regular exam. It consists of a writing prompt, generally about a social issue, and two opposing points of view on the subject. The student is then expected to write a short essay declaring their position on the issue and supporting his or her reasons behind it.
If you are not quite sure which test to take, then you have not done enough homework on the schools to which you are applying. To determine which test to take, you need to see what test scores your schools of interest will accept. Though the SAT is more widely accepted, some schools require ACT test scores, while others will accept scores from either test. Be sure to check if you will need to supplement either SAT or ACT scores with SAT II subject test scores. If you are applying to a multitude of schools your best bet is to take both the SAT and the ACT tests to cover all bases.
Selective schools use these scores to determine acceptance
Along with grades, class rank and extra curricular activities, colleges use SAT scores to determine whose application to accept or reject. Colleges that receive more applications than they can accept can afford to be more selective and tend to rely heavily on SAT scores. In that regard, SAT scores do matter if you are set on attending a selective or top rated school.
Differences between the SAT and the ACT
Though both the SAT and the ACT help colleges assess your academic accomplishments, the two tests are structured a bit differently from each other. The ACT measures scholastic proficiency in English, mathematics, reading, and science, while the SAT focuses on logic and reasoning in math, critical reading and writing tests. The ACT has an optional Essay question, whereas the SAT has a mandatory essay question.
As expected, the tests have their own scoring methods. The ACT awards up to 36 points for a given section and the SAT awards points up to 800 per section. The SAT also subtracts partial points for incorrect answers, and the ACT does not.
The Test is given about five times a year across American in October, December, February, April and June. There is no longer an age requirement and anyone may sign up for the test. It is generally recommended that high school students take the ACT late in their junior year or early in their senior year to assist the college application process. The basic registration fee for the ACT is $32.00; however, if you are taking the ACT plus writing, it will be $47.00. Upcoming test dates are as follows:
- December 13th, 2014
- February 7th, 2015
- April 18th, 2015
- June 13th, 2015
In order to register, it is recommended to create an ACT student account online through the official ACT Web site. This site allows students to select a test time, test center, and pay for exam fees with a credit card. For students who are unable to sign up online, the traditional registration packet is still available for signing up. The packet can be ordered directly from ACT, Inc., or can generally be found from the guidance office or other administrative personnel at your local junior high or high school.
Technically, preparation for the ACT should begin in your freshman year of high school by selecting a strong curriculum with plenty of relevant courses. As for shorter term ACT preparation, a good bet is to engage in a 6-8 week practice test study plan, and read plenty of books and periodicals to improve your vocabulary.
ACT Preparation and Study Plan
Before you start preparing for the ACT test, you should map out a study plan. Determine what subjects you need to focus on and then determine the methods of study you will use. You should also schedule in actual study dates, times and location(s), and stick to your schedule.
Areas of Focus
Practice tests contain sample ACT questions, and taking them can help you get used to the format and length of this test. Further, practice tests will be able to reveal your strengths and weaknesses, and help you determine how much study time to allocate to a particular topic: Math, Critical Reading and Writing. Take a practice test and see how you score in each area.
Methods of Study
There’s no better way to prepare for the ACT than to start taking practice tests. You should have covered much of the underlying subject matter tested on the ACT in school, and thus spending too much time on a lesson is not a good idea. The ACT’s challenge lies more in the manner questions are cleverly positioned than the core math, writing or critical reading material tested. Practice – Grade – Review – Repeat. This is the proven ePrep method of study, and it can work for anyone. Get a set of practice tests, begin by taking one in its entirety, have it scored, review what you missed, and go on to study the areas you need work on -- and then repeat the process. This sounds easy, but it is actually a lengthy process requiring committed dedication. Go into this process knowing you will have to allocate a large chunk of time to your method of study.
Create a Schedule
Creating a study schedule is more than jotting down “ACT Study, 6-7 pm” on one of your calendar’s Sunday cell. Think about when you are less prone to procrastination, and also think about where you intend on studying.
Depending on what test date you signed up for will determine how many weeks you have to prepare for your test. Ideally you want to begin preparing for the test at least 8 weeks in advance. Look to take one practice test per week, and do the follow up review and study the days following your practice test. Take the practice test, or better yet, take a different variation of your practice test on the same day of the week, abut the same time of day. This will give you a routine, and routines make for a quicker rate of habit adoption.
Be sure to have your test graded immediately after your practice test, and review your missed or skipped questions. Allocate about 1 hour of focused review post-practice test, and then bookmark the rest of the missed questions for review later in the week. Approximate about 3 hours per study session – 2 hours for the practice test, and one hour for review. Approximate about 2 hours per day on each day of your follow up study session.
Because ePrep.com has its grading component online, it’s important that you have close access to a computer when using the ePrep Learning Cycle. With this in mind, if you have a computer at home, look to find a place that is relatively quiet, but not silent. For example – the dining room or kitchen table away from a noisy TV or family members is a good option, or how about the patio table? If home is not an ideal option, seek out your local library as they often have computer access. Another option is a friend’s house that is also on the ACT study path. Teaming up with peers is a great way to find support and a possible place to study.
The best way to ensure you will do well on the ACT is to do the prep work consistently. A few hours per week using the ePrep study method and you will significantly improve your ACT test taking ability.
How the ACT Is Scored
The ACT score for each of the four subject tests ranges from 1(low) to 36(high). Specifically, English: 1-36, Math: 1-36, Reading: 1-36 and Science Reasoning: 1-36. Upon finishing your exam, scorers first count the number of questions on each test that you answered correctly (unlike the SAT, which takes ¼ point off for every wrong answer, no points are deducted on the ACT for incorrect answers). Then, your raw scores, or the number of correct answers on each test, are converted to scale scores. The overall score you receive is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest number. Fractions less than one-half are rounded down and fractions one-half or higher are rounded up. For example, if you received a 25 in English, 30 in Math, 27 in Reading and a 21 in Science, your overall score would be a 26.
How the Writing Test is Scored
Scoring of the writing essay is different than that of the regular exam. Two essay readers will read the student’s essay and score it on a scale of 0 to 6. Zeros can be earned if the essay is illegible, not written in English, left blank, and/or completely off-topic or fails to meet the stated guidelines for the exam. The scores are then summed to create the composite score. However, if the scorers disagree by a margin greater than one point, then a “senior scorer” is brought in to evaluate the essay and provide a final scoring.
By the time your actual test day arrives, you will have completed your study course, watched scores of ePrep video lessons, and learned hundreds of new vocabulary words. Be sure all your prep work pays off and prepare one last time – this time for the big day. Here are our tips on what to do, bring and expect on your ACT test day.
- Get a good nights rest and wake up on time. Set your alarm the night before and try to get to bed at a decent hour. Not too early, but not so late that you will be groggy the next day.
- Consider doing some light exercise to clear the cobwebs from your head.
- Eat a light, nutrition breakfast. Don’t overeat, but don’t skip eating a breakfast meal that can help rev up your energy, keep hunger at bay and make for a poised and ready mind. Be sure to avoid sugary foods that can zap your energy soon after consumption.
- Go over your notes, review the day’s paper to warm you mind up before you walk into the test.
- Dress in layers. Since you may not know what the temperature will be in the test room, bring a jacket or sweater in case the room gets chilly. You don’t want to be distracted by temperature nuances, so best to be prepared. Also, setting out your clothes the night before is a good idea.
- Bring your supplies. Prepare your supplies and charge your cell phone the night before. You should bring your admission ticket, your photo ID, pencils, sharpeners, eraser, a healthy snack and beverage for the break, and other items such as your purse, or backpack.
- Don’t be late. If you have never been to the test center before, make sure you know how to get there. Map the location from your home, and set aside more than enough time to arrive about at least 15 minutes before your test start time. Getting there early will allow you to get your bearings and put you a bit more at ease. You’ll also be able to be one of the first people into the exam room so you can choose a good seat.
- What you can’t do or bring. You can’t eat or drink during the test, but you can bring a snack for the break. Store your snacks in a backpack or bag as you are allowed to bring one be stowed beneath your seat. You also can’t bring scratch paper, cell phones into laptops, PDAs, books, you can not use pens on the test either.
- The Registration Process. When you arrive, you will likely experience some type of registration process. You will be asked to present your admission ticket and you may have to be assigned to a particular test room if there is a large group taking the test.
- Test Administration. Once in, test administrators will read information and instructions from a booklet and will also inform students about the duration of the test and break times. Students will be asked to keep books sealed and not write anything until instructed to do so.
Test booklets and answer sheets are handed out simultaneously. Test administrators then guide students through the initial standard information entry form – date, ID number, name, Social Security Number, birth date, etc.
After the test is completed, administrators collect and count the test material from everyone and then everyone is dismissed.
The whole process is about 4 hours long, so be prepared for a long day.
Proper training, preparation and common sense are all paramount for a successful test day and a successful test score. That aside, here are few good tips to take with you on your test day.
- Bring the proper supplies. Bring a bottle of water, a pencil sharpener or extra lead for mechanical pencils and bring an approved calculator. Be sure to shop or find these items early on and have them ready the night before the test day.
- Know all of the instructions before stepping foot into the test room. Don’t waste valuable time by reading these instructions on the test day. Your best bet is to familiarize yourself with them very well so that you area ready to go once the clock starts.
- Use your test booklet as scratch paper. There is no need to keep this booklet neat and clean as no one will read it afterwards anyway. Use the booklet to help work through a problem or to mark a particular question for review later on.
- Be very careful when bubbling in your answers. The answer sheet can do a number on your eyes after a while and it can be easy to bubble in a “D” for number 11 when it was meant for number 12. Be sure you bubble in the correct answer for the given questions. Otherwise one misstep can throw off your whole test.
- Be mindful of each question. It’s easy to go too quickly and make careless mistakes. Don’t overlook the heart of a question, or not take in each answer possibility. You must move through the test quickly, but the key is finding a balance between a quick pace and recklessness.
- Answer the easier questions first. If you come across a hard one, skip it and come back to it later. Time is of the essence, so be sure to tackle questions you know you can get right first. If you find yourself working on a question for more than 90 seconds, move on to the next. Come back to it at the end.
- Don’t rush, but don’t waste time. Though you know that you can’t afford to waste time you also want to be accurate on the ACT. Be sure to focus and read each question thoroughly before attempting to answer. After reading the question, review the multiple-choice questions if applicable, and then make your choice. If you can’t decide what to do on a question, mark it as something to come back to. It’s best to keep moving, you can always return to that question later. If you find yourself skimming through the questions to fast, take a step back and refocus.
- Have confidence! Don’t assume a question may be too difficult to answer. Be sure to read each question and think about the answer before determining that you need to guess or skip that question. Have a “CEO’s” mentality; leave your emotions at the classroom door and go in with focused confidence.
- Know when to guess. On more difficult questions, try to eliminate as many wrong answers as possible before making a guess. Remember that you are penalized only ¼ point for an incorrect question. You receive 1 point for a correct answer, and 0 for a skipped answer.
- Breathe. Bring a sense of perspective to this test. Yes, the ACT is an important test, and you should concentrate to do well, but keep in mind that this is only a test. Remembering this throughout your test day may even help you to relax, in turn help you do better over all.
All great successes begin with hard work. ePrep for the ACT will help you achieve your maximum score if you apply yourself in our program. The follow are the keys to ACT success, and the roles expected from you and ePrep to achieve them.
- Knowledge of specific math facts and concepts
Throughout the course, ePrep for the ACT will teach and re-teach everything math-related that you need to know. You will be responsible for working diligently through the course.
- Knowledge of specific grammar rules and idiomatic constructions
ePrep will teach you virtually everything you need to know in this area. However, you will be responsible for working through the course and applying what you learn to improve your everyday spoken and written English.
- A large and varied working vocabulary
ePrep features the innovative WordSmith vocabulary builder. You have to make using it part of your daily routine. Establishing the routine, and making it a habit, will likely be the hardest part.
- Reasoning skills
Your reasoning skills will develop naturally as you work diligently through the course.
- Problem-solving skills
Like your reasoning skills, your problem-solving skills will develop naturally as you work diligently through the course.
- Reading comprehension skills
The course will certainly help in this area. To maximize your ACT score and prepare for college, however, you have to start, and continue, reading widely outside of the course and your school assignments.
- Critical reading skills
The course will help you become a more critical reader. We think you’ll find that critical reading is actually more fun than plain old reading.
- Ability to complete a specific problem without lapses in concentration
ePrep will train you to take short breaks in between problems, not during problems.
- Stamina to endure several hours of testing
You can build your endurance by taking full-length ePrep tests or by simply making an effort to read for longer periods of time.
- Ability to work quickly
Your speed will increase naturally as you work diligently through the course.
- Maturity to complete tasks unemotionally
As you work through the course–experimenting with the idea of leaving your emotions at home on test day–you will be rewarded with higher scores and a more pleasant ACT experience.
- Familiarity with test-taking strategies
I will teach you all the strategies you need. You have to work through the course and master them.
- Familiarity with the overall format of the ACT
You will gain this familiarity by simply working through the course.
- Familiarity with the various ACT question types
You will gain this familiarity by simply working through the course.
While the last two ingredients are not really useful for anything other than the ACT, all of the others will help you succeed in both college and life beyond. Thus, “ePrep-ing”for the ACT will certainly be worth your efforts.
Remember, there is no such thing as a magic ACT wand. All you really need for ACT success is a genuine desire to succeed and a willingness to work earnestly. So here’s the deal: You work hard and take this course seriously, and ePrep will do the rest.
CEO, ePrep, Inc
Test preparation can be confusing and expensive. If you’re motivated, you can prepare yourself well for under $25. (See our video post entitled “How You Can Prepare for Standardized Tests on a $25 Budget”) If you are not super motivated or are willing to spend some more money, there are plenty of options. Below is my take on the options currently available. I hope my thoughts help you make informed decisions about how you can best prepare for the ACT.
The ACT Self-Help Book
For between $15 and $30, a student can purchase a book that contains practice tests, answer keys and answer explanations.
Positive Aspects: Self-help books are relatively inexpensive and, thus, very affordable.
Negative Aspects: Self-help books tend to be dry (i.e., boring) and working through them is typically a very labor intensive process. The answer explanations contained in self-help books are static in nature, they often fail to offer adequate solutions and, for practical reasons, they typically present only one solution to each problem (even when multiple approaches are valid). An obvious shortcoming of self-help books is that they do not offer parent feedback.
Conclusions: Self-help books are best suited for students who are extremely talented academically and extremely independent and motivated.
The ACT Prep Classroom Course
For between $800 and $2,500, a student can participate in a classroom preparation course.
Positive Aspects: Students typically take practice tests under conditions that closely simulate the actual test-day environment. Instruction is dynamic in nature and instructors can answer student-generated questions. Students can interact socially with their peers. Most classroom preparation courses offer some parent feedback.
Negative Aspects: Classroom preparation courses are expensive. They are typically only offered in densely populated regions. They require the otherwise busy student to make a long-term and regular time commitment (e.g., every Saturday morning or weekday evening for several consecutive weeks). Students often miss classes due to illness or unexpected schedule conflicts. Practice tests may be of substandard quality. Instructor quality is difficult to regulate. (Many instructors have little or no teaching experience.) To maximize profits, classes are often overcrowded. Classroom preparation courses are typically populated with students who vary greatly in academic ability, forcing the top students to sit through answer explanations that benefit only the less capable students in the classroom. Lower-achieving students are typically reluctant to ask questions in a group setting. Finally, because classroom time is typically used for both testing and review, the number of practice-grade-review cycles completed is typically insufficient.
Conclusions: Assuming a qualified instructor and quality practice tests, classroom preparation courses are best for below-average students with sufficient financial resources and manageable schedules. From an educational or time-management point of view, classroom preparation courses are not well suited for average, above-average or advanced students.
The Private ACT Tutor
For between $100 and $350 per hour (aggregate $5,000 to $15,000), students can receive one-on-one private tutoring.
Positive Aspects: Assuming a qualified master teacher, private tutoring affords a test preparation experience that is personal, dynamic and uniquely tailored to maximize the individual student’s test scores and academic potential. The personal relationship between the private tutor and the student often enables the tutor to inspire the student to practice with enthusiasm and, ultimately, to test with confidence. Private tutors typically offer detailed feedback to parents.
Negative Aspects: Private tutoring is very costly. Furthermore, depending on the locality, it may be difficult or impossible to find an experienced and qualified private tutor. Unlike self-help books, once a given tutoring session is over, access to answer explanations is no longer available without payment of additional fees.
Conclusions: Assuming a qualified instructor, private tutoring is a great option for students of all ability levels with sufficient financial resources.
Online ACT Preparation Products and Courses:
For between $30 and $1,000, students can purchase online preparation products and courses.
Positive Aspects: Online products and courses offer (i) a wide range of products and services, (ii) a wide range of prices, (iii) programs that offer diagnostics and (iv) programs that cater to the various and changing ability levels of students. Most importantly, however, properly designed online products and courses offer convenience. Properly designed online products and courses hold the promise of time-shifting education in the same way that pay-per-view and TiVo have begun to time-shift home entertainment in America. These products can offer students around the world rewarding educational experiences when it is most convenient and beneficial for them as individuals.
Negative Aspects: The range of products and prices can make choosing the right product difficult for consumers. Some online preparation products are not very interactive or dynamic. In fact, a few are not much more than an internet-delivered self-help book. Students sometimes experience frustrating technical difficulties when using online products. Many online courses have students practice and review online; this is problematic because simulated practice conditions require that students practice offline with pencil and paper. Some of the companies that offer online products share the private information collected from students with third parties. Such third parties, in turn, often direct-market their unrelated products and services to users. Finally, while a few online products include audio files containing spoken instruction, most online preparation products lack important personal interaction.
Conclusion: Online preparation products and courses are well-suited for busy students who have internet access and possess average to above-average computer skills. Since most teenagers are busy, have internet access, and possess at least average computer skills, it is no surprise that the online educational product have become extremely popular.