What Do I Need to Know About the ACT?

The 22nd day of the month is circled on a white calendar with a red marker with the word Test inside it, illustrating the date of an examination or exam for med

Even though many schools accept both the ACT and SAT, and consider them virtually interchangeable, a lot of students tend to favor one over the other. It can be tricky to figure out the differences between each exam, and more importantly, how to prepare for each of them. Fortunately, both tests are relatively similar with some key differences.

The ACT measures skills across English, math, reading, science and an optional writing section. With writing, the test spans around three and a half hours, and two hours and 55 minutes without it. The exam is scored within a range of 1-36, which is an average of the composite scores in each subject section.

Each section lasts 35 to 60 minutes, and can contain anywhere from 40-75 questions. When preparing for the ACT, it is important to ensure that you can properly pace yourself, as some students find the number of lengthy questions tough to answer in the time limits.

The ACT is considered to be more straightforward than the SAT, but that does not mean that it is any easier. For example, the questions on the exam are not ordered by level of difficulty, and the math section has students primarily answering questions with equations, without a formula chart to consult. Rather than testing for scientific knowledge, the science section focuses on the ability to deduce answers from data provided, which can be tricky for students who might be expecting to restate scientific facts.

Even if all of this seems a bit worrisome, remember that some schools will allow you to superstore on the ACT. That means you can combine the individual subsections with your highest scores across multiple exams to create a ‘super’ composite score that can be sent with your applications.

Statistics have shown that the lower one scores on their first ACT, then the odds of doing better on a retake are strong. Therefore, take the test again if you are able to, as most high school students will take it just once or twice.

However, be careful about taking any standardized test an excessive number of times. If they see too many exam scores, some admissions officers might worry that you’re having trouble getting a higher score- which means you may not be ready for college-level work.  If you are planning on taking the test multiple times, be sure to plan out your study schedule and college application deadlines, since the exam is only offered six times per year.

No matter your preparation strategy, keep in mind that a good score on the ACT can get you thousands of dollars in scholarship money at the school of your choice, and can help you balance out a low GPA in high school. Check out our free Ready4 ACT app to study for the ACT and improve your score today.