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What exactly is the ACT and do I need to take it?

The ACT Assessment is a battery of multiple-choice tests used by colleges and universities to help decide which applicants to choose. Even though there are other types of standardized tests available, almost all colleges accept the ACT Assessment, and many colleges require it. The ACT Assessment is given five times each year at locations throughout the United States, and Canada as well as overseas. There are several parts to the ACT Assessment. One part is a personal interest inventory. The results of this section are useful in career planning by suggesting several occupations related to those subjects or areas that appeal to you or that are suited to your personality. In addition, the ACT Assessment includes a course and grade information questionnaire and a student profile. These help create a picture of you for college admissions boards. Each board knows from years of experience what type of student fits in well with its programs and other students. There are always exceptions, and many other elements go into the acceptance process, but the questionnaire and profile provide the board a quick “snapshot” of you.

Of course, the ACT Assessment also includes the part that concerns you most–the test itself. This is actually a series of tests based on a standard high school curriculum. In other words, the ACT Assessment tests what most high school students learn every day.

ACT Assessment Contents and Format

The ACT Assessment is a 3-hour exam broken into four sections, each of which is separately timed. With breaks and with time spent listening to instructions and passing out and returning forms, the actual time spent taking the exam is 4 or more hours.

The four sections test Standard English skills, math skills, reading comprehension skills, and science reasoning skills. No one is expected to know every answer to every section. Because the ACT Assessment assesses the full range of students, from the less-than-average to the brilliant, there will be questions that most students will not be able to answer. That is taken into account in the scoring.

The Test Booklet and Answer Sheet
The format of the ACT Assessment exam should be familiar to you from standardized tests in school. All of the questions are printed in a booklet you will receive the day of the test. Although you may mark up this booklet, for scoring purposes the answers must be put on the answer sheet, which is a separate piece of paper. Questions for all four subject tests go on this separate answer sheet. You should be familiar with this type of answer sheet from other standardized tests–a fill-in-the-circle grid. All questions are multiple choice. The English, Reading, and Science Reasoning Tests have four choices for each answer; the Math Test has five choices for each answer.

Completely fill in the circle of your choice with your pencil. The sheets are “read” and graded by computer, so it’s important that your mark is clear and complete. Be sure to mark only one circle per question, and do not skip lines by mistake, because one misplaced mark can make every answer following it wrong.

Marking the Answer Sheet
To help prevent test takers from skipping answers, the ACT Assessment answer sheet is formatted a bit differently from what you might be used to seeing. Instead of each set of choices being A, B, C, and D–or A, B, C, D, and E for Math–the ACT Assessment answer sheet alternates between sets of answers. The odd-numbered questions, starting with Question 1, use A, B, C, and D–or A, B, C, D, and E for Math–then the even-numbered questions, starting with Question 2, use F, G, H, and J–or F, G, H, J, and K for Math. This format is to help catch your attention if you miss a line and begin to fill in an answer for the wrong question.

How the ACT Assessment Is Scored
For each of the four tests, the number of correct answers is determined, giving you a raw score. The raw score for each subject is then “scaled” or calculated in such a way as to make the varying ACT Assessment exams given on that day equal to each other. The scaled scores range from 1 to the highest of 36. In recent years the average score for each subject has been 21.

In addition, within each subject you get subscores for different areas of that subject. Subscores range from 1 to the highest of 18. You’ll also receive a composite score that’s the average of all four subject scores. Because everyone taking the ACT Assessment is a potential competitor for the same college seat that you want, the ACT Assessment results also include a percentile score. The percentile score–based on the more familiar 100 percent–measures your composite score against the composite score of other test takers. The number indicates the percentage of students who are below you.

CHECKLIST – What You Need to Know about the ACT

  • The ACT Assessment, a battery of multiple-choice tests used by colleges and universities to assess applicants, is given five times each year across the United States and Canada and overseas.
  • The ACT Assessment is a 3-hour exam of 215 questions, divided into four sections that test skills in Standard English, math, reading comprehension, and science reasoning. The questions are designed to cover these areas at the standard level taught in most high schools across the country.
  • For each of the four ACT Assessment tests, your score is based on a “scaled score”; because the specific content of each ACT Assessment might be different, scaling is necessary to standardize your results with those of everyone else who takes the exam. Your raw score is determined by the number of correct answers on your exam; the raw score is then scaled.
  • Your ACT Assessment score is only one of the factors considered by college admissions offices; they also assess your high school performance, your personal profile and circumstances, and other information you submit with your application.
  • Take the ACT Assessment as early as you can, so you have time to retake it if necessary. For your scores to be available for your college applications, you should take the ACT Assessment no less than eight weeks before the earliest college application deadline that you have.

Test and Registration Dates

Test Dates Registration Deadlines Late Registration Deadlines (extra fee)
June 12, 2004 May 7, 2004 May 21, 2004
September 25, 2004 (Only administered in some states) August 20, 2004 September 3, 2004
October 23, 2004 September 17, 2004 October 1, 2004
December 11, 2004 November 5, 2004 November 18, 2004
February 12, 2005 (Not in New York) January 7, 2005 January 21, 2005
April 9, 2005 March 4, 2005 March 18, 2005
June 11, 2005 May 6, 2005 May 20, 2005

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