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College 101

ACT
Article Type: Quick and Dirty

The ACT - which used to stand for “American College Testing” but now stands for nothing - is a standardized test used to assess your content mastery in determining how likely you are to succeed in college.  Many people are unfamiliar with the ACT, which makes it the scary stepsister of the SAT.  But don’t ignore taking the ACT just because you don’t know much about it. Some students may do much better on the ACT, so it makes sense to give it a try.  Here’s a Quick & Dirty description so you know what to expect:

What is it and what’s on it?

Unlike the SAT, the ACT is meant to test mastery of high-school curricula.  This means that, to do well, you should have been paying attention in class.  The test is divided into four sections: Math, Reading, Science and English (which contains an optional Essay).  Each section tests separately, with time limits ranging from 35 to 60 minutes.

How often and where is it given?

The ACT is given six times a year in the United States, and five times worldwide.  Tests are given at official testing centers, which may be a high school, on a college campus, or in a community center, but there is certain to be one near you (in fact, the test might even be administered at your school). If you need help signing up, be sure to Get to Know Your High School Counselor.

When should you take it?

What’s important is that you provide yourself with the option to take the test a number of times if you want to improve your score. Since the ACT tests content mastery as well as reasoning, it makes sense that your score might improve over time for a couple of reasons.  First, familiarity with the test and with pacing can help improve your score.  Second, you will have had more time in higher-level classes in between exams, exposing you to more content.   Plan to take the ACT the first time in the middle of your junior year.  This will give you plenty of chances to take it again later that year or in the first part of your senior year before needing to submit scores to colleges.

Prepare for the ACT with Shmoop ACT Prep.

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