Achievement Unlocked:  Uncovering the ACT

Here is a list of the top five things you (and your student) need to know.

an analog clock and blue pencil sit atop a standardized test answer sheet

1. The ACT does NOT test how smart you are. 

The ACT (aside from the math section) is considered a functional test, meaning students are being assessed on their content area skills, not necessarily quizzed on their content area knowledge. It is not asking students to provide answers to factual questions, it is asking them to put that information into practice.

2. You can take the test as many times as you like.

Yes, you can re-test. In fact, students almost certainly should take the test more than once. According to data released by the ACT, over 50% of students whose first score was between 15-31 increased their score with a second testing.

3. Your college or university will accept your highest composite score. 

Each time a student takes the ACT, the scores for each test date are kept as separate records. If a student takes the ACT multiple times, he or she can select which test date scores to submit to colleges. Meaning, there’s no penalty for testing more than once.

4. There’s no guessing penalty.

The ACT does not take off points for wrong answers. You should always fill in an answer for every question. If you are about to run out of time and there are questions you haven’t gotten to yet, guess something.

5. There are strategies, tips, and tricks to scoring well on the exam.

While students cannot necessarily “study” for the ACT, there are certain tips, tricks, and strategies that can help them maximize their scoring potential. Your student’s school or local community education may offer ACT prep courses to specifically teach these strategies. Additionally, there are several companies that offer ACT prep courses, or you can schedule one-on-one tutoring sessions with Homeworks for Students in the months and/or weeks leading up to the exam.

It’s important to remember that colleges aren’t using ACT scores to be jerks – they’re using exam scores, along with a lot of other information (letters of recommendation, admissions essays, GPA, extracurricular involvement, volunteerism, awards and accolades, etc.) to predict how successful you will be at their institution. 

ACT Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My student got an A in his Pre-Calculus class, does that mean he’ll score high on the ACT math section?

Maybe. Oftentimes a student’s grades are comprised of many things, in addition to his/her actual content knowledge. For example, in many traditional and nontraditional schools, students are rewarded for things like organization, effort, timeliness, citizenship, participation, etc.

Furthermore, if your school employs standards based grading, many times students are allowed to retest in an area, until they achieve proficiency. An “A” in any particular class may not always represent complete mastery of the subject. For a more accurate measure of a student’s readiness, check their exam scores or talk with his/her teacher.

Q: Does my student need to take the writing portion of the exam? I heard it is optional.

Most 4-year institutions no longer require it.

Q: What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?  Should my student take the ACT or SAT or both?

Colleges and universities accept the ACT and SAT tests equally, so the choice is really up to you. Generally, both exams test the same types of content. The scoring language is fairly different– SAT scores range from 400-1600 and ACT scores span from 1-36.

Also, the SAT does not have a science section, but does include one mathematics section for which students cannot use a calculator. Click here for a more details side-by-side comparison of the two exams. Talk with your student’s’ guidance counselor, or visit the college’s admissions website to see which tests your student should take.

Q: What resources are available to help my student prepare for the exam?

There are many resources available to help students prepare for the exam  If one-on-one tutoring or an ACT prep course just isn’t in the budget, opt for one of the less expensive ACT Prep books available on Amazon or at your local corner bookstore.

Q: How can I help my student?

Don’t freak out. You freaking out makes them freak out. Make sure they’re happy, healthy, and well fed. Be sure they have transportation to and from the exam. Beyond that, talk about the test and your own anxieties and experiences with it. Reassure and remind them that they do not have to get a perfect score in order to be successful at life.

Students should go into the ACT prepared to do the best they can with the knowledge they have. But they also need to know that the test is only a piece of their college admissions process. They are more than their score and, realistically, the difference between a 33 and a 36 is so much less significant than a great admissions essay, a strong history of good grades in challenging classes, or glowing letters of recommendation. Colleges look at the complete student profile, of which the ACT is just a small part. 

Homeworks for Students, we’re here to help parents and their students navigate the murky waters of the ACT. The truth is, this test can be overwhelming for all parties involved. Call us at 612-871-2043 or fill out our contact form.

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