When preparing to enter college, the best way to show you’re ready is through the knowledge you gained during your earlier education. Even though you may be nearing the end of taking standardized tests, it's necessary to take one more. Before many colleges and universities can even consider you for their programs, they require that you submit scores from an entrance exam.
The ACT is one of the more well-known and most used tests throughout the United States. It’s not surprising that the thought of taking a test that will determine the next chapter of your life might be a little scary, but it doesn’t need to be. Doing your absolute best on the exam is your goal, and that can still be achieved even if you’re not able to confidently answer all of the questions.
How to Be a Successful Test Taker
One of the first things to do when preparing to take the ACT test is relax. The purpose of the test is to learn what you do and don’t know. Unlike the tests you've been accustomed to taking that summarizes all you've learned in a semester in one subject, the ACT is different. You might be surprised by all the things you didn’t realize you knew. Because the test will cover many different topics, it's not necessary to cram a huge amount of information in your head on the evening before the test. While it's natural to want to prepare as best as you can, you'll feel better and do better if you're relaxed. One of the most important tips for successful test taking is to get a study guide.
The ACT Prep Guide is available at your local bookstore and can also be purchased online from the ACT website or other online retailers. If the guide is too expensive for your budget, visit your local library and borrow their copy. The Prep Guide will give you tips on what to expect and provide you with an idea of how the test will look. The Prep Guide will also give you examples of questions, writing prompts and a grading scale so you can get an idea of how you might score on the actual test. With the Prep Guide available online at all times, you can study on the go anytime you have a free moment. If you have access to the internet, you can also visit act.org for free study guide tips.
The ACT Practice Test and How it Can Help You
To get a better sense of how you might do on the test, it’s best to try the ACT practice test. ACT provides sample test questions for English, math, reading, science and writing. These sample questions will be formatted similar to what you'll see on the actual test, including detailed instructions on what you’re expected to complete. In fact, the practice test may include actual questions that were used on previous tests but no longer used on current tests.
Still concerned about how prepared you'll be for the test? Consider looking for an online or in-person ACT Prep study course. These courses, which you'll need to purchase, promise to prepare you as best they can for the live test and possibly improve your scores. Should you decide to take a prep course online, you’ll be able to take it around your schedule. If you're better suited for a face-to-face class, you can normally join these classes for a nine-week session. Each session lasts for about three hours. These sessions offer classroom instruction on how to perform at your best, proctored practice tests to give you an idea of the real thing and customized homework assignments and study guides.
You can find many free testing resources online by visiting Kaplan and The Princeton Review online. Additionally, by doing a quick internet search in your area, asking your school’s guidance counselor or visiting The Princeton Review, you can sign up for free to take a practice test. The results of your practice test will indicate how prepared you are and the areas you should focus on so you’re as ready as you can be.
Do People Finish the ACT Test?
Yes, students do finish the ACT test but not all. Reasons for not completing the test vary as everyone’s test-taking abilities and knowledge vary, but it’s important to remember that the standard ACT test is over three hours long with short breaks. Should you decide to take the optional writing test, it will last a little over four hours with a break. Each area you're tested on is given a set amount of time that you’re able to focus on it, so it’s important to keep track of your time. Additionally, the test proctor will tell you in advance the amount of time available and will also alert you when your time for that section is coming to an end.
Why You Should Answer Every Question
The good news is it’s okay to guess on the ACT test if you don’t know the answer or you’re running out of time. In fact, it's suggested that test takers should guess on ACT test when they need to do so. In previous years, all wrong or uncompleted answers would negatively impact your score. That’s not the case anymore. If you’re stumped by a question, don’t waste time trying to figure it out. Your best strategy is to move on and answer the questions that you do know. Sometimes, focusing on a question that's confusing or you just don’t know the answer to wastes precious time that you could use on answering the questions you do know.
Once you’ve answered the questions you're confident about, go back to the ones you didn't know or understand. Some people wonder what the most common answer on an ACT test is so they can go with that, but a good strategy would be to employ educated and random guessing.
Read the question closely and look at your choices for answers. Decide which choices you believe or know to be incorrect. Once you’ve eliminated those answers, you can now focus on the remaining ones and make an educated guess of what seems like the right choice.
Alternatively, as you prepare for your test, consider the letter and letter combinations that you like best. It could be your favorite letter or just the two-letter combination you know you’ll easily remember when you’re coloring in the bubbles for your answers. Maybe you decide that for every question you don’t know the answer to, you’ll always choose the letter A. Maybe you’ll decide to choose a two-letter combination and alternate them. When it’s an odd number question, you could use A, and if it’s an even number question you could use F. You may also decide that if you don’t know the answer and the answers are labeled A through E, you’ll always choose A. If the answers are lettered F through J, you’ll always choose J.
No matter what you choose, be consistent so that it keeps you moving and you’re not losing precious test-taking time. Since coming up with your own pattern is essentially another way to guess and make sure you’re answering the question, remember that wrong answers don’t count against you. It doesn’t hurt to have a set strategy to help you get to the next question. The best thing that can happen is your strategy helped you earn some points that improve your score.
So, the bottom line is, answer every question if time permits. There's no penalty for guessing the incorrect answer, but a guess with the right answer will add additional points to your score.
When You Can Expect Your ACT Test Scores
After taking your ACT test, you’ll be anxious to see your scores, as those scores will give you a better idea of what types of colleges and programs can benefit from your knowledge and you as a student. ACT tests are given multiple times a year, so notification of your test results will depend on when you took your test.
For the standard ACT test, you should be able to receive your test results within about three weeks after taking the test. Scores for students who also took the optional writing test can expect to see their scores at the same time, but their writing scores won’t be available for an additional two weeks. What this means is that if you take the test in early September, you should receive your scores anytime between the middle of September to early November.
The only time this isn’t true is if you take the test in October. In that month, it can take anywhere from 3 to 8 weeks to receive results due to a mandatory equating procedure. The equating of the test scores makes sure that all reported scores are consistent across all the tests given. You'll receive your scores through your online ACT account and they'll also be sent to your high school. You can also pay for them to be sent to the colleges or universities of your choose at the same time.
When evaluating your ACT test score, it’s important to know that the highest possible score you can receive on the test is a 36. Currently, the average ACT test score is a 21, according to information compiled from graduating seniors in 2017. The scores are determined by averaging together the answers you got right into points for each of the four subject areas. It’s also important to remember that each section has a score of 36 and for each section there's an average score. If you decide to take the optional writing test, that's an additional score that ranges from 2 to 12.
Things to Remember When Preparing for the ACT Test
Preparing for the ACT test can be a nerve-wracking and scary experience, but with the right tools, it doesn’t need to be that way. And if you don’t feel as though you performed your best work on your ACT test, you can certainly try again until you’re comfortable with the scores you receive. The other good news is that there are plenty of free resources available to students online and in-person that will not only help you study but also figure out strategies to do your best.
When it’s finally time for you to take your ACT test, remember to get a good night's sleep so you’re well-rested, have a filling and healthy meal so you’re not distracted during the test and don't forget to make sure you've used the restroom and gather sharpened pencils and ACT approved calculators and always, no matter what, answer every single question – even when you don’t know the answer. As previously stated, there's no penalty for answering a question wrong. It’s important to answer the question with your best guess because your best guess could be the right answer.
As a communications professional in the greater Philadelphia region, Jerisha enjoys writing informative advancement communications pieces for philanthropic organizations. When not writing, Jerisha is an adjunct faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences at Wilmington University where she guides full-time students and full-time working adults through the writing process. Jerisha holds an M.F.A. in creative writing and enjoys writing education articles and essays.