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To beat the ACT, one of the most important things you can do is educate yourself
for what to expect. The testing day is very structured and strict in terms of
what is allowed, but it is pretty straight forward and simple to follow as long
as you keep focus in the place where it belongs, and that is on the test itself.
We've taken a moment to break it down for you. The following represents the type
of content you should expect and what you should know about scoring.
The first 45 minutes of the ACT exam is reserved for English. During this time,
you will demonstrate your skill level for word usage, mechanics and rhetorical
skills through a series of multiple choice questions. The testing battery is
designed to weigh what you do know against a national scale of high school
students. Technically, you are not penalized for guessing as the assessment
involves determining how many questions you answered correctly.
When your test results come back a few weeks later, you will learn where you
stand compared to others throughout the country. College readiness usually
begins at 18, but the average is a tad higher (20.6). Anything north of that is
considered above the average, though a 22 or 23 on this part of the exam - or
any part of the exam - will not necessarily make you eligible for a scholarship
or award. More on that later.
Math scores tend to improve throughout one's secondary education pathway, so it
pays to take the ACT more than once. You will not necessarily be exposed to
trigonometry in the ninth or tenth grade, so you may be at a disadvantage if
taking the ACT early in your high school career. No matter. It's good to have a
benchmark of the knowledge you have and the knowledge that you still need for
focusing future study efforts.
The battery itself consists of 60 questions and a 60-minute time limit. Topics
covered include pre-algebra as well as elementary and intermediate, geometry
(both standard and coordinate) and elementary trigonometry. The average student
will score around 21, while 22 is generally considered "ready for college."
The entire reading portion of the ACT is structured around your level of
comprehension. In other words, you read a passage and answer 40 multiple choice
questions that relate to that passage in a 35-minute time period. The time
element makes this battery a bit more difficult, but you can master it if you
know how to summarize and interpret while reading, and if you focus primarily on
word groupings rather than making sure you read every "a," "an," or "the." The
college readiness barometer starts at 21. The average student is able to edge
that total with a 21.4 score.
The science portion of the exam seems to be the one that gives students the most
trouble. While the 20.9 average is a little higher than the average English
score, the 24 college readiness score presents the widest margin between
expectations for the next level of education and actual performance.
Science reasoning is a rather difficult thing for many students to wrap their
minds around. They have 40 questions and only 35 minutes to answer them, and the
section is structured in such a way that one must possess strong reading and
science skills - two content areas that generally attract polar opposites on the
One does not have to take the writing portion of the ACT - it is completely
optional - but should you be thinking "What's the harm," here's what to expect:
one essay prompt, 30 minutes, the major objective being a quality thesis
statement supported with compelling evidence and communicated in a clear and
concise manner. The average score is 7.7.
The ACT scoring on each of the required subsections are averaged together for a
final composite score. The average high school student earns a composite score
of 21.1 out of 36. While scoring above this number places you in the "above
average" realm, most colleges and universities require a minimum composite of 24
before earning one a scholarship or award.
The great thing about the ACT is that you can take it as many times as you
desire. You'll never take the same test twice, but the concepts remain the same,
and with a never-say-die attitude, significant improvement is possible. And
rewards are scalable depending on how well you do, so even if you are eligible
for a scholarship after that first exam, it is best to keep taking it for as
long as possible.