The ACT test is one of two college admissions tests. Neither of these tests impact your overall high school GPA, but they are commonly seen as an important part of the admissions process. Some students take both the ACT and SAT, while others choose one of the two. In the 2019-2020 school year, over 1.67 million students took the ACT, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The national average composite score was 20.6. You don't have to have an ACT score to apply for college, but some colleges do require you to include an ACT or SAT score in your college application. You can take the SAT instead of the ACT or, in some cases, you may be able to avoid standardized tests altogether.
SAT vs. ACT
In 2020, nearly 2.2 million students took the SAT exceeding the number who took the ACT, according to the College Board, but this doesn't mean you have to take the ACT to apply to college. Per the College Board, more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the U.S. and 85 other countries consider SAT scores. Likewise the ACT will be considered. Colleges allow students to choose between the SAT and ACT, so if taking the ACT seems too stressful or if you've already taken the SAT and don't want to take another test, you can steer clear of the ACT without necessarily affecting your chances of getting into school.
Avoiding the Test
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing reports that 800 colleges now allow students to attend college without taking standardized tests. These test-optional schools include well-known colleges such as American University, Columbia College, George Mason University and Saint Lawrence University. If you're already enrolled in college and planning to transfer, your new school might not ask for standardized test scores if you've already completed your first year of school.
Note: Test-blind schools are schools that do not look at ACT or SAT scores, even if you submit them. For these schools, test scores are not at all part of the application process. For example, all of the University of California schools were required to be test-blind for the 2020/2021 year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Note: At test-optional schools, you can decide if you want to submit ACT or SAT scores. If you choose not to, other parts of your application will be weighed a little more to fill in for the test scores.
It might seem like a hassle to take the ACT, but some students do better on this test than on the SAT. Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a science section. The test is designed to be an achievement test rather than an aptitude test like the SAT, which means that students who have excelled in high school are particularly likely to do well. Similarly, if you have low SAT scores, you might get a higher score on the ACT, boosting your chances of getting into college.
How to Decide
If you haven't taken any standardized tests, you'll need to consider whether the college you're interested in will admit you without taking the ACT or SAT. Students who have stellar grades and outstanding college recommendations/letters of recommendation might not need standardized test scores to boost their college admission chances. If you've already taken the SAT, look at your scores. If they're good enough to get you into the school of your choice, taking the ACT could be little more than a source of stress. No matter which option you choose, it’s important to prepare accordingly by taking practice tests and taking a close look at testing policies for whichever exam you choose.
The college admissions process can be stressful and scary, but one must remember that ACT/SAT test scores are not the only determinants of your college readiness. While, for some four year colleges, these standardized test scores are an important factor in the admissions process, there are many other factors that could draw admissions officers to your application. Don’t forget to write down any achievements, leadership roles, extracurricular activities, honors activity, etc. on your application to give a better picture of who you are as a student.
If you don’t think the ACT test or SAT test is for you, remember that there are colleges that have become more flexible regarding these tests, especially in recent years with the pandemic. Whether it’s a test-flexible, test-optional, or test-blind college, people who are not great test-takers and would rather not pursue these standardized tests do have alternative options.
- Georgia Southern University: Transfer Students
- The ACT: Description of the ACT
- National Center for Education Statistics: Number of Students Who Took the ACT and Percentage of ACT Test-Taking Population Meeting College Readiness Benchmark Scores, By Subject
- College Board: SAT Report -- Only 43 Percent of 2012 College-Bound Seniors Are Ready
- The Princeton Review: The SAT vs. the ACT
- FairTest: SAT/ACT Optional 4-Year Universities Test Optional List
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.