Introduction to the ACT Exam and ACT Practice Test

The ACT, or American College Testing, is a standardized collegiate examination, similar to the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). In use since 1959, it is commonly used as an indicator of academic aptitude and readiness to enter college. Although the ACT is not as well-known as the SAT, it is almost as widespread; as of 2008, nearly all four-year colleges and universities in the United States accept the ACT test, although every school factors the results into admission decisions differently.

The test itself consists of four subject multiple-choice examinations; the exams cover English, mathematics, science and reading. A fifth exam, an essay writing test, was added in 2005, though not all schools require the essay portion of the test. Questions on the ACT test are based on testing standards developed by national governing organizations such as the American Educational Research Foundation, as well as national and state standards for education, such as those established per the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Textbook reviews and national surveys of teachers and other educators are also used in determining exam content.

Like the SAT, the ACT test is given only at set time periods during the year, generally four to six times per year, depending on the state where the testing takes place. Testing must be scheduled in advance, and is only available on certain Saturdays. However, students with religious prohibitions against Saturday events can apply to take the examination on Sunday. Accommodations can also be made for students with disabilities. The amount of time allotted for the standard exam is roughly 3.5 hours, which generally includes two 15-minute breaks. Students that take the ACT Plus Writing exam, which includes the essay writing portion, are allotted just over four hours for testing. Students who take the test can send their score reports to up to four different colleges or universities.

Preparing for the test can be done through a number of different venues. The first and simplest method is to review the material in the registration packet, which includes general information about the exam and the instruction set. This material can be of use to students in helping to define the areas needed for further study and familiarizing them with the exam instructions, as well as providing a concept of what students can expect from the exam experience itself.

ACT Exam

Students who wish to spend a considerable amount of time preparing for the exam may choose to purchase prep books, available at many bookstores nationwide. These ACT prep books offer exhaustive looks at the material covered on the ACT, and frequently offer practice exams, study guides and a number of prep exercises to help students get comfortable with the material and format of the ACT. Review an ACT test study guide or study using flashcards so that you strengthen any areas that might be more difficult for you on the test. Many of the newer books come with software that replicates the test experience with drills and practices, as well as full review guides and other practice materials.

Students can also turn to their local guidance office at their high school or college for assistance. Guidance counselors may have additional prep materials on hand that can be checked out or purchased, and most guidance counselors have had considerable experience with standardized testing, so they can offer additional pointers or advice on how to approach the test. Counselors may also have access to other practice materials or software that students can use to gain experience with the test format or material, and can often organize study sessions with other students preparing for the ACT.

Why Take The ACT?

In general, there are four primary reasons why the ACT is recommended for college-bound students. The first of these is the ACT's ubiquity in the U.S. collegiate system; virtually all U.S. colleges and universities accept the ACT as a qualifying college exam. This naturally includes the Ivy League universities, the prestigious University of California system, and individual world-renowned schools like Carnegie Mellon, Caltech and MIT.

Another reason for taking the ACT is that, more so than other admission exams of its type, the ACT is curriculum-based, meaning it draws more from what students have already studied than it does from aptitude testing. Because the ACT is not designed to measure a student's facility with a particular aptitude, or intelligence in general, it is often seen by students to be a more applicable and less threatening test experience. Related to this is the total package of services provided by the ACT, which includes an inventory of interests and a student profile section, both of which can be used to further define a student's background and future plans for college admission officials. The ACT may also help you if you are looking into an online college degree.

The fourth reason for taking the ACT is the cost-benefit ratio. The fees for the ACT are generally significantly lower than for other competing collegiate admission exams, and thus provide students greater access to collegiate admissions than might be otherwise possible. This is due to the ACT being created and administered by a private non-profit corporation. Also, when combined with the service package offered with the ACT, the cost-benefit ratio tilts more favorably to students.

ACT Test Cost

Anyone can take the ACT; there is no age or grade level requirement for taking the test series. Like the SAT, the ACT is a college admission exam, so the primary reason for taking the exam is to qualify for entering college or boosting a student's portfolio. While the ACT is designed for students in the American educational system, there is no requirement that students be educated in the United States. International testing is available through Web-based registration. Students testing outside of the United States, U.S. territories or Canada can only apply to take the ACT through Web-based registration. Students within the United States, its territories or Canada can register online or through registration packets, although some restrictions apply. For example, students younger than 13 or who require accommodations due to disability can only apply using a registration packet.

Fees for the ACT are as follows (all prices given in U.S. dollars): $30 for the basic ACT suite, and $44.50 for the ACT Plus Writing exam. International testing registration is $52. Other fees for non-standard options, such as 5th and 6th college choices for score reporting or changes in the test time or location, may apply. Late fees may also be applicable. Viewing scores online is free to all registered test takers. Before committing to a specific time and date, it is recommended that students speak to a school counselor or testing professional in order to make the best arrangements for their needs.

ACT test blueprint and breakdown

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Last Updated: 08/04/2014

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