Like other college-bound students, you may be asking yourself why the ACT is important on top of submitting grades and your high school class rank. Standardized college entrance tests like the ACT help admissions committees determine how a student compares to peers from other schools.
The ACT is one of many indicators of a student’s readiness for the rigors of college. Course placement in college and scholarships are tied to ACT scores as well.
What’s an ACT Test?
The ACT is a college-readiness test that measures academic proficiency in English, reading, math and science reasoning. The test takes just under three hours, not including an optional 40 minute writing section. Launched in 1959 at the University of Iowa, this college-entrance test is also used as a career-planning tool. When taken in the 11th grade or earlier, the results can help students work on any learning gaps while they are still in high school.
Purpose of the ACT
The ACT helps college admission officers and students recognize strengths and weaknesses in a student’s academic skill set. The purpose of the ACT is to determine the likelihood of a student being able to keep up with peers at that institution and earn good grades. Large gaps between content areas like reading and math may suggest an unidentified learning disorder or a deficiency in past educational instruction. Students with high ACT scores are often heavily recruited and offered merit-based scholarships because they show high potential.
Insider ACT Facts
Low ACT scores are not a deal breaker when it comes to getting into college. Even many elite, highly selective schools take a holistic approach to admission decisions. A below-average ACT score can be offset by strong personal essays, good grades, stellar recommendation letters and extraordinary talent. More and more schools are moving away from requiring the ACT because there are many other factors that predict college success.
Why Take the ACT?
Doing well on the ACT can help you narrow down your choice of schools. If you have high ACT scores, you may win scholarships to attend schools you couldn’t otherwise afford. Low scores on parts of the ACT suggest areas where you may benefit from tutoring or remedial instruction to catch up with peers. Strong reading, writing, math and science skills provide a needed foundation for postsecondary study.
Benefits of ACT Preparation
Many students enroll in individual study or ACT workshops to prep themselves for the ACT. Studying for the ACT is also helpful preparation for the rigors of college. You may find that you have forgotten the quadratic equation or grammar rules, for instance. Because most four-year schools require the ACT, you will have more options when you start applying to different colleges if you take the test.
Free Practice Tests
The ACT is administered by the ACT nonprofit educational organization. Students interested in preparing to take the ACT may wish to consider using the free ACT Academy online learning tool. Through videos and games, students review the high school curriculum and take practice ACT tests. Individualized feedback provides students with diagnostic information to help them know where to focus their efforts when studying.
Range of ACT Scores
Possible ACT test scores on the English, reading, math and science section range from 1 to 36. The four sections are averaged for a composite ACT score. The mean score of all students taking the test is 21. The writing component is scored separately. Open-admission schools like two-year community colleges don’t require the ACT. However, aspiring vocational and technical students with good ACT scores may opt to submit scores to be exempted from placement tests required of new students who didn't take the ACT.
Dr. Mary Dowd is a dean of students whose job includes student conduct, leading the behavioral consultation team, crisis response, retention and the working with the veterans resource center. She enjoys helping parents and students solve problems through advising, teaching and writing online articles that appear on many sites. Dr. Dowd also contributes to scholarly books and journal articles.