What is ACT Testing?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 April 2020
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ACT testing is the administration of a voluntary exam or participation in that exam by students. Usually students who take the ACT test, which was developed in the 1950s, do so in order to submit scores to colleges. The test has received frequent comparison with the other well-known American college readiness test called the SAT. ACT tests have traditionally been more used in the mid-section of the US, and the SAT, but there are now many East Coast students who prefer taking the ACT. Even in many states where the SAT is considered the more standard of the two tests there may be multiple locations and multiple opportunities to instead take the ACT.

The subject areas ACT testing examines are English up to freshman college English topics, reading comprehension, math that includes material up to trigonometry, and science. Students have the option to complete a written essay in a final half hour, which can be used to assess writing skills. Scoring for the test is very different than SAT. The highest score on the test is 36, which could roughly correspond with a 2400 or perfect SAT score. There are several colleges and institutions that have established comparison guidelines between ACT scores and SAT scores, and students can easily find these to determine how their ACT testing score would be perceived by a college that evaluates both tests; in an SAT heavy state, a school might still require the SAT instead of the ACT, and some students take both tests so they can apply in predominantly ACT preferred areas.

One thing that students do like about ACT testing and scoring is that wrong answers do no cause penalization of score. This can allow a student to make a reasonable guess with no concerns if a guess is wrong. Students with certain learning disabilities may be eligible for a variety of accommodations when they take testing, another plus, and this could include lengthening total time allowed to test. Such modifications can’t be noted on testing or scores.

The final score is called a composite or average of each of the test sections. Schools may have a variety of requirements on score. Typical scores for each section range at about 20, and these are often thought to be the approximate level a student needs to be in when entering college. The degree ACT testing scores are given weight in college applications can vary. Some colleges want near perfect scoring and others are quite satisfied with lower scores if a student shows potential in grading, participation in a community, and in things like student interviews. There are some schools that do not require either SAT or ACT testing, and these include most community colleges.

If students are interested they can take a sample ACT test online. This might give them a way to compare scoring on this test with SAT. Practice like this is usually good for the student preparing for either test. It can demonstrate material that needs extra study and point to a student’s strengths. Students can also visit the ACT website to get information about when and where testing occurs.


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