The ACT can be intimidating for high school students as they prepare to take the exam which could ultimately determine which undergraduate schools they can get into. Increasing your scores and therefore increasing your chances for the future is the goal for most test-takers. In order to optimize your score and chances, familiarizing yourself with the basics of the ACT is key. Before you go into test day, you should know exactly what subjects you’re facing, the format of the test and how your scores will be determined and interpreted.
Obviously one of the first things you should know about the ACT is what subjects you’ll be tested on so that you can study accordingly. The four basic sections of the ACT are English, Math, Reading and Science. There is also an optional writing portion that you’ll probably want to take but it doesn’t factor into the overall score, it’s scored separately.
Just as important as being familiar with what’s on the ACT, you should know the format of the exam and exactly what you’ll be facing. Prepare yourself ahead of time by going over the morning’s routine in your mind including the exam room and what time it’ll be held. Make sure you plan to show up early so you’ll be prepared mentally when you sit down and leave room for something that could potentially delay your arrival.
The actual exam is designed to be somewhat stressful and test your time-management with short windows to answer large amounts of questions. The Math section gives you 60 minutes to answer 60 multiple-choice questions. Both Reading and Science give you 35 minutes to answer 40 challenging questions and the English section gives you only 45 minutes to answer 75 multiple-choice questions. The optional Writing portion allows 40 minutes to complete one solid essay.
Keeping these time constraints in mind, it is important to keep moving throughout the exam and not get hung up on a difficult question. That being said, the ACT does not penalize for wrong answers, so it’ll be the same whether you leave it blank or guess incorrectly. Depending on the number of choices (they range from four to five) you have a 20 to 25 percent chance of at least guessing correctly, so it is wise to go back and fill in any of the difficult questions you had to skip before time runs.
In short, the ACT is the average of your four individual section scores. Each section is scored on a scale from 1 to 36. So if you add all four of your individual scores, divide by four and round down to the nearest whole number, that is the overall score that you’ll receive and which your potential schools will look at. Of course each of your individual section scores will be available for schools to view and take into consideration.
A couple things to keep in mind about the scoring of the exam is the ability to cancel scores and retake the test at a later date. If something went wrong on this particular test day, you can cancel the score altogether. However, this isn’t common since schools generally just look at your highest ACT score and in fact give you the option to send whichever scores you want to them. If you’re going to retake the test, it is usually okay to just retake it without cancelling out your previous test scores. There are very select schools like Yale and Harvard that do require you to send all of your ACT scores so if you plan on applying to these schools and you’re afraid something went wrong, it could be in your best interest to go ahead and cancel the scores.
Overall, ACT test preparation can be daunting and preparing yourself ahead of time by researching what you’ll be facing can help alleviate some of that stress and allow you to arrive on test-day with a cool and calm mind.