As high school students prepare for a College and Career Ready future, it has become increasingly important for high school students to become serious at preparing for their post-high school careers earlier and earlier. One of the tools that can assist them in this preparation is the ACT test. Almost 1.7 million students take the ACT each year.
The ACT is a standardized test that dates back to 1959. The company producing the test has grown by creating prep materials and addressing workforce readiness. The importance of scores has grown as states have adopted ACT scores as a measurement of high school student success. Schools have created ACT prep classes and workshops to assist students in being prepared for the testing situation. ACT itself states that practice tests are the best way to increase a student’s score after they have taken the appropriate core curriculum. These practice tests are useful since students are often not accustomed to timed testing situations.
The test is designed to measure general educational development and a student’s capability to complete college-level work. Scores are used for determining college admission, as a tool in judging scholarship awards, and placement in college level classes.
Students can retake the ACT up to 12 times. Students can register for the nationally administered test by logging onto <www.actstudent.org> and creating an account. The current cost of the test is $39.50 (no writing) and $56.50 (with writing). Test dates can be found in September, October, December, February, April and June and are located at high schools and colleges across the world.
The ACT test consists of four multiple-choice tests covering four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. The optional Writing Test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay. Scores in each of the subtests correspond to skills in entry-level college courses in English, algebra, social science, humanities, and biology.
ACT Composite scores range from 1 to 36. The 2015-2016 national average was 21. The Composite score is derived from an average of the English, Math, Reading and Science subtests. The optional Writing Test is not used for this average but gives valuable information.
According to ACT, students who reach the following benchmarks have the necessary skills to be successful in college. (50% chance of making a “B” and 75% chance of making a “C”).
- English—ACT subscore of 18 or better
- Math—ACT subscore of 22 or better
- Social Studies—ACT Reading subscore of 22 or better
- Biology—ACT Science subscore of 23 or better
The English test consists of 75 questions in which students are given 45 minutes to answer. The section measures standard written English and rhetorical skills. The mathematics section consists of 60 questions to be answered in 60 minutes. The questions measure mathematical skills typically acquired in algebra, geometry, and math analysis/trig. The reading section, measuring reading comprehension, consists of four reading selections with 40 questions that are answered in 35 minutes. The science test measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation and reasoning required in the natural sciences. The test consists of 40 questions and students are given 35 minutes. The writing session of the test, which is an optional test, consists of one prompt that students write about in 30 minutes.
Schools are constantly addressing rigor in their course offerings. Studies show that students who take four years of English, math, science and social studies in high school perform considerably better than those who opt for an easier course load in high school. Completing upper level math and science classes are especially important. According to ACT (www.act.org), students who take four years of the core classes at a rigorous level achieve composite scores that are three to four points higher on the average than those who don’t.
Raising scores in addition to taking the higher-level curriculum can be achieved through preparing for the testing situation. A market for prep materials has skyrocketed over the past several years. ACT offers several opportunities but numerous resources can be for students willing to pay. Schools have utilized some of these resources as well, with schools holding prep sessions and offering credit for classes within their school day. Whatever form students use to prepare for this important instrument, scoring can effect their future for years to come. Taking full advantage of every tip and prep opportunity might mean less student load down the road.
Patty Murray, the author of the above article, has been a school counselor in Joplin, Missouri for more than 30 years.