By Charlene Liebau
College Admissions Editor
Now that PSAT scores have been received by high school juniors thoughts turn to taking the SAT or ACT “for real.” I discussed the format of the SAT in an article several weeks ago and now focus on the “other” college admission test, the ACT.
The ACT is a widely used college admission test and accepted by most colleges, including the University of California. Originally, ACT was the name of a company founded in 1959: American College Testing. In 1996 the name was changed, and shortened, to ACT and now reflects the name of the company and the test it produces. With its beginnings in Iowa, the test first became popular among colleges and universities in the Midwest.
The ACT is an achievement test – that is, it is closely aligned with the typical high school curriculum and measures what a student has learned in English, mathematics, and science. Contrast that with the SAT - developed as an aptitude test, a measure of one’s abilities.
The ACT is a test with four distinct sections: English, reading, mathematics, and science. In addition, there is a separate Writing Test required by most colleges, but not all.
The ACT contains a total of 215 multiple-choice questions: the English section has 75 questions measuring a student’s skill level using standard written English; the reading section has 40 questions on reading comprehension in social studies, sciences, arts and literature; the mathematics section contains 60 questions based on a student’s understanding of algebra, geometry, and trigonometry; and the science portion of the test has 40 questions in the natural sciences. All questions in the test are based on the material covered in a typical high school curriculum.
The ACT Plus Writing test requires the student to write an essay within a 30 minute testing time. An essay prompt is given defining an issue and describing two different points of view. The student is asked to take a position, to respond to one of the points of view presented, or to present one’s own view. The position the student chooses to write about will not affect the score. Preparation for the writing section is to read and become aware of current issues and to practice writing within time limits.
Scoring for the ACT is based on the results of each of the four tests (English, math, reading, and science) from a low of 1 to a high of 36. A multiple-choice test, scores reflect only correct answers – unlike the SAT no points are deducted for incorrect answers. Sub scores for each of the four tests are also provided. In addition, a composite score is given and represents the average of the four tests. Scores are presented as a number, a percentile, and within a band or range of scores. Studies show that of the students who repeat the test 55% increase their composite score while 22% show no change and 23% actually receive a lower score.
Time for ACT testing requires 3 hours 30 minutes, including breaks. If the student elects to take the Writing Test, an additional 30 minutes is added to the testing time.
Cost for the basic ACT is $33, the ACT plus Writing is an additional $15. This fee includes sending score reports to four of the student’s college choices.
The ACT is offered in September, October, December, February, April, and June on both high school and college campuses.
Charlene Liebau is the former director of admissions for CalTech and Occidental College. She is also a finalist judge of the National Merit Scholarship Corporation.