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Five facts you must know before taking the ACT

Five facts you must know before taking the ACT

The ACT can be one of the most important, yet challenging tests a student will take during his or her journey to the school of their choice.  In order to give you a competitive edge, the education professionals at Action Potential Learning have put together a list of 5 critical facts on the ACT's structure, content and objectives.  Make sure you know these facts prior to your test date.

1. Having a clear test taking strategy before taking the ACT will give you an edge over other test takers. The ACT, like many other standardized tests, is a test designed to be difficult to finish within the allotted amount of time. You need to work more quickly on the ACT than you do on the SAT, so don’t make the mistake of assuming the two tests are the same. Time keeping strategies are extremely important to performing your best. You should be very familiar with each section of the ACT (explained more in #2) and know all the directions by heart before taking your test. There is no penalty for guessing incorrectly on the ACT because you only get points for correct answers, so make sure you have a strategy for answering all the questions in the time allowed. Of course, you will have spent so many hours studying and taking practice tests that you will have no problem properly pacing yourself on the real test!

2. Know exactly what to expect in each section of the ACT to boost your test taking abilities. The ACT is extremely predictable. There are four sections on the ACT (plus one writing section), and each section has precisely the same percentage and type of questions year after year. See the table below for more detailed information on each section:

Section   Time  Question Types
English 75 Questions in 45 Minutes 13% punctuation; 13% grammar and usage; 24% sentence structure; 16% strategy; 15% organization; 16% style
Mathematics 60 Questions in 60 Minutes 23% pre-algebra; 17% elementary algebra; 15% intermediate algebra; 15% coordinate geometry; 23% plane geometry; 7% trigonometry
Reading  40 Questions in 35 Minutes 25% social studies; 25% natural science; 25% prose fiction; 25% humanities
Science 40 Questions in 35 Minutes 38% data representation; 45% research summaries; 17% conflicting viewpoints
Writing 1 Prompt in 30 Minutes writing skills

The ACT even maintains the same order sections for every test- so you always know what section comes next. It may have an experimental section, but unlike the SAT, you will know it when you see it. The experimental section may not be present on your test and if it is, it will not affect your score.

This information was taken directly from the official ACT website: http://www.actstudent.org/testprep/descriptions/
The official ACT website is there for your benefit. You should know every corner of that site and use all its resources to your advantage.

3. Understanding how the ACT tests your knowledge is important to your success. Unlike the SAT, the ACT is a test known to better test the content you learned in high school. It is considered less reasoning based than the SAT and its questions tend to be more direct and straightforward. The ACT covers more content than the SAT and it has a more stringent time constraint. You are better prepared if you focus your study time directly on learning content in math and english, and then focusing on test taking strategies once you are confident in your the content areas.

4. Know what scores colleges care about. Colleges care about your composite score (the avg of the four sections on the ACT) and your percentile rank (how well you do compared to students in the rest of the country). This is good news if you struggle with one section of the ACT- as long as you perform well enough to maintain a high average composite score, you are still a competitive candidate for admission into college. The composite score does not factor in the score of your essay in the written section of the ACT- that’s separate. The ACT calls the writing section “optional”- but don’t be fooled by this. “Optional” simply means that not all college necessarily require you to take it; however it will reflect poorly on your motivation for college if you do not answer that section and do it well. Plus, even if colleges don’t require it doesn’t mean you should take it. If you perform well on that section you want your college to see that. Make sure you know the average ACT scores of entering freshmen when you research your colleges. It will give you a better idea of the goal you should set for yourself when studying and will give you another motivating factor to perform at your best. Of course, you will have heavily prepared for the four sections and the writing section of the ACT before taking the test and will be confident that you will perform well the day of the test!

5. The most prepared student will perform the best on the ACT. When you step into the ACT testing room, you should know exactly what score you will get on the test because you should have prepared by studying with a private tutor, taking practice tests, and practicing test taking strategies. Nothing should come as a surprise! Your test date should be set well in advance (you can register at http://www.actstudent.org/regist/ ), your strategies for performing well should be perfected, and you should have complete confidence in your ability to perform on the test. If you don’t, you probably need the help of a private tutor or private tutoring service to help you maximize your score.


Article written by Shayna L. Pond and Action Potential Learning


Action Potential Learning provides private tutoring in math and science as well as standardized test prep. As math and science specialists, our tutors know and understand difficult math and science concepts and can help you improve your grades and perform on standardized tests.

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