What you need to know about the ACT


You’ve probably heard the saying the sooner you start, the better. Well, if you’re a high school junior, you may want to consider getting an early start on taking the ACT this year. Why? There are several advantages to taking the exam prior to your senior year. First of all, it will give colleges a heads up about your interest and many may send you information about summer programs, scholarships and other admissions requirements. Secondly, you’ve probably completed enough coursework to make you competitive on the exam. And finally, if you don’t score high enough this year, you’ll have plenty of time to study and retake the exam before you start submitting college applications next fall.

How is it Different from the SAT?

Unlike the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which measures your aptitude (hence the name!) for reasoning and verbal abilities, the ACT actually measures what you have learned in school. The test has a total of five components: English, math, science, reading, and an optional writing test. If you dislike writing essays, the ACT is probably your best choice, as the SAT has a mandatory writing segment. Check with the colleges on your list before electing to bypass this component. Some schools do require it for admissions.

Another benefit to the ACT is that you will not be penalized for guessing (the SAT deducts points for wrong answers), so if you are fairly good at ‘guestimating’ this could actually work to your advantage. The ACT also includes an Interest Inventory that helps you target potential career choices and college majors, which can help connect you to colleges that are a good match for your interests and abilities.

college planningWhen is it Available?

To avoid paying a $23 late registration fee, plan ahead and register early on the ACT website. If you need to change your testing date, you can, but there will be a $22 fee. The regular test fee (no writing) is $36.50 or $52.50 with the writing segment.  



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  Your scores will be sent to four colleges at no charge, but additional fees will apply if you want to send your scores to more colleges or request reports after you have tested.  You can typically view your scores online within three to eight weeks after taking the exam.

What Should I Bring?

When you arrive at the testing center, be prepared to bring the following items:

  • Your printed admission ticket
  • An official photo ID
  • An approved calculator
  • Sharpened No. 2 pencils with erasers

Although you can bring an approved calculator, all problems on the math section of the ACT can be solved without one, and it cannot be used in any other areas of the test; if you bring the TI-89 (often used on the SAT), you will not be allowed to take the exam. Other items you should leave at home include: dictionaries, scratch paper, highlighters, colored pens or pencils, correction fluid/tape, any electronic devices (other than the approved calculator), reading materials, or tobacco products. It’s a good idea to review the list of prohibited behavior before taking the test, as well.

Where Can I Get Help?

test helpIf you are thinking about taking the ACT in the next few months, there are several resources available to help you prepare for the exam. Here are just a few examples:

If you cannot afford the exam fees, be sure to speak with your guidance counselor, as you may qualify for a fee waiver.  Students who are juniors or seniors, U.S. citizens, and meet specific financial guidelines may be eligible for up to two waivers. Forms are available through your school counselor only, but not directly through the ACT. If you have additional questions about the exam or registering, be sure to visit the FAQ section on the ACT website.

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