The ACT is a comprehensive measurement of exactly what students have learned on a day-to-day basis throughout their high school careers. The ACT is the leading college admissions test in the United States, and 1.8 million students take it each year — more than any other admissions test.
Colleges and universities in the US and abroad recognize this comprehensive test as the education industry “gold standard.” And, test scores are accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the US, including the most highly selective ones.
Unlike other college admissions tests, the ACT is not a reasoning or aptitude test. Instead, it is knowledge-based and students are asked questions about what they have learned in their high school courses.
What is on the ACT test?
The test includes four sections, plus an optional Writing Section. The 40-minute writing section is an essay test that measures a student’s writing skills. Although some colleges require a writing test, others do not. Students will need to decide whether to take the writing test based on the requirements of specific colleges. To find out which colleges require a writing test, students can use the free College Writing Test Requirements Search Tool.
The 45-minute English Section is a 75-question, multiple-choice test. Six elements of effective writing are tested including punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.
The questions covering punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure make up the Usage/Mechanics subscore. The questions covering strategy, organization, and style make up the Rhetorical Skills subscore.
The 60-minute Mathematics Section is a 60-question, multiple-choice test. This section is designed to assess the mathematical skills most students have acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of 12th grade. While the test presents questions that require reasoning skills to solve practical problems in mathematics, no complex formulas or extensive computations are needed. A calculator is permitted, although some models are prohibited.
Three subscores for the test are based on six content areas including pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry.
The 35-minute Reading Section is a 40-question, multiple-choice test. This section measures a student’s reading comprehension. Students use referring and reasoning skills to determine main ideas, locate and interpret significant details, understand sequences of events, make comparisons, comprehend cause-effect relationships, determine the meaning of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements, draw generalizations and analyze the author’s or narrator’s voice and method. Passages on topics in social studies, natural sciences, literary narrative (including prose fiction), and the humanities are included.
The Social Studies/Sciences reading skills subscore is based on the questions on the social studies and natural sciences passages, and the Arts/Literature reading skills subscore is based on the questions on the literary narrative or prose fiction passage, and the humanities passage.
The 35-minute Science Section is a 40-question, multiple-choice test that measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences. Calculators are not permitted for use on this section. The questions students to recognize and understand the basic features of, and concepts related to, the provided information, examine critically the relationship between the information provided and the conclusions drawn or hypotheses developed, and generalize from given information to gain new information, draw conclusions, or make predictions.
What are the differences between the ACT and the SAT?
REASONING VS. KNOWLEDGE: SATs are more of a reasoning test and measure aptitude. A student with strong deductive skills may find the SATs are a better fit.
CONTENT: The ACT contains four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science (plus optional Writing). The SAT emphasizes vocabulary and contains two sections: Critical Reading and Math.
STRUCTURE: ACTs are all multiple choice questions and the level of difficulty is fairly consistent throughout. The test contains about 215 questions. SATs require some student-generated answers and the difficulty increases as the test progresses. There are only 140 questions. Both test require the same amount of time, so students have significantly less time per question with the ACTs.
SCORING: Each section of the ACT counts for 36 points and then a composite score is obtained by averaging the four sections. SATs can earn a maximum of 800 points per section for a maximum total of 1600.
How to help a student prepare for the ACT test
The prospect of taking the ACT college-entrance exam causes anxiety for countless high school students, and their parents are often just as nervous. It is important to keep the tests in perspective. When universities consider applicants, they look at a number of factors, including grades, difficulty of high school curriculum, and extracurricular activities.
Still, there is no getting around the fact that students with higher scores on these standardized tests usually will fare better in the admissions process, particularly at more selective colleges and universities.
Rather than stressing about the test, however, students should channel their energy into becoming as well prepared as possible. At Back to Basics, we advise students to begin preparation at least several months in advance of the exam date. Upcoming dates for the ACT are:
- April 9, 2016
- June 11, 2016
- September 10, 2016
- October 22, 2016
- December 10, 2016
To prepare, students should review material already learned, fill in gaps in knowledge, and take multiple practice exams. Students should be familiar with the test inside and out—the content, timing, and strategies for answering.
If students are motivated and disciplined enough, they can prepare for the exams on their own using a test prep book or online course. If they need a more focused approach, regularly scheduled 1-on-1 sessions, with a professional tutor may be in order.
Preparation will help students to master timing, reduce anxiety and hone test-taking strategies so that on the day of the exam they will be less anxious, more familiar with the material covered, and better able to pace themselves.
To learn more about 1-on-1 ACT test prep at Back to Basics Learning Dynamics in Wilmington and Newark, Delaware, please call 302-594-0754.
To register for the test, visit ACT.org.
Educating Delaware for over 30 years! Back to Basics Learning Dynamics is the undisputed leader in 1-on-1 tutoring in Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania for over 60 subjects, as well as SAT, ACT and Test Prep. The company offers a unique Department of Education-approved 1-on-1 K-12 Private School in Wilmington, Delaware and a Delaware Business and Trade School for ages 16 and older. In addition, the company offers translating and interpreting in 16 languages throughout Delaware. Back to Basics is the winner of numerous awards for academic and business excellence including the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics.