They say that knowing is half the battle because winning the other half depends on you acting on the knowledge you gained. If you’re in the process of preparing for college, you’re probably already aware that performing well on a standardized test like the ACT is a critical part of the admission process, but how much do you know about the test itself?

Taking the time to gather as many ACT facts as possible and practicing all the content areas it covers will help give you the confidence and skills you need to excel. The more you know about the ACT test and what it entails, the better your chances of earning top marks and increasing your odds of admission at any of the colleges you’ve been eyeing.

What's the ACT Test?

The ACT, which stands for American College Test, is one of two standardized tests that colleges use to determine your academic readiness for college level courses. All colleges require that prospective students take either the ACT or SAT as part of the admission process. The ACT is designed to measure the content you learned in high school.

It includes sections on English, math, reading and science. The ACT also has an optional writing component that some colleges require. Colleges that require the ACT writing section will indicate it on their admission policy, so make sure to check the requirements for each college that you plan to apply to before you take the ACT.

Plan to spend at least two hours and 55 minutes taking the four main sections of the ACT and allot an extra 40 minutes for the writing section if you’re taking that too. The cost of the test is $67.00 with the writing section or $50.50 without. The highest possible score on the ACT is 36 with 21 considered an average score.

How Is the ACT Scored?

The ACT uses a composite score to measure your overall performance on the test, which is what most colleges are interested in. The composite score is determined by averaging your scores for each of the four sections you’re tested on (English, math, reading and science). The composite score, like the scores for each individual section, ranges from one to 36.

The higher your number, the better your score. Keep in mind that the ACT does not penalize for incorrect answers. A top score on the ACT requires that your performance falls in the 28 to 36 range for composite score, which would put you in the top 10 percent of all ACT test takers. You can remain competitive, however, with a composite score of 24 to 27, which will land you among the top 25 percent of all ACT test takers.

A composite score in the range of 20 to 26 is good enough to get into most colleges but might fall short of helpful if you’re applying to a more competitive program. A composite score of 19 is below average, but there are many college programs available that would accept it.

The ACT Writing Score

The writing section of the ACT is scored differently than the other sections. Two independent readers measure performance using a rubric in four domains that includes ideas and analysis, development and support, organization and language use and conventions. Each domain is given a score from two to 12.

The overall writing score is determined by averaging the scores on all four domains and is reported in a two to 12 range, with 12 being the highest possible score. A good ACT writing score that can pave the way to your dream college is a 10 or higher, but you need at least an eight to remain competitive. Whether the ACT writing score matters depends on the requirements for your college of choice.

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