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Before Test Day
What is the ACT?
The ACT, or American College Test, is a multiple-choice standardized test used by colleges and universities in the United States for the admission and placement of incoming students. Students typically take the ACT in high school as part of their college application process; however, students not yet in high school—as well as adults—can also take the ACT. Along with the SAT, it is one of the two main collegiate admissions tests, and each year it is taken by more than 1.6 million prospective college students. Whether you need ACT tutoring in New York, ACT tutoring in Chicago, or ACT tutoring in Los Angeles, working one-on-one with an expert may be just the boost your studies need.
How do I study for the ACT?
You can study for the ACT by using the free ACT Practice Tests offered by Varsity Tutors. Each ACT Practice Test consists of ten to twelve problems and Varsity Tutors offers ACT Practice Tests for each section of the ACT: English, Math, Reading, and Science. A detailed explanation of how to arrive at the correct answer is presented for each Practice Test problem after you finish each Practice Test, so you can identify where you made a mistake in answering any questions that you got wrong and learn from your error. Varsity Tutors offers resources like a free ACT prep book to help with your self-paced study or you may want to consider an ACT tutor. Focusing on the topics and sections that you understand least well will help you study efficiently so you can feel completely prepared on test day.
Varsity Tutors’ Learning Tools also include Full-Length ACT Practice Tests for each section. You may want to begin your preparation by taking a free online Practice Test to help you shape your study plan. The extended format gives you an opportunity to work on your endurance, timing, and focus. As on the concept-specific Practice Tests, the results page includes detailed explanations and helpful information for each question. However, the complete Practice Tests provide the additional benefit of helping you target your ACT review by helping you discover which concepts you have mastered, and the concepts on which you may want to spend more time. Once you have reviewed using the other Learning Tools, you can take another Full-Length Practice Test to gauge your progress. In additional to the ACT Practice Tests and ACT tutoring you may also want to consider taking some of our ACT flashcards
What’s the difference between the ACT and the SAT?
While both the ACT and the SAT are college entrance exams, the ACT is an achievement test, which tests what students have already learned. It consists of either four or five sections, depending on whether one takes the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing. In contrast, the SAT is an aptitude test, which aims to predict how well a student will do in college or university by measuring his or her reasoning and verbal abilities in three sections: Critical Reasoning; Mathematics; and a non-optional Writing section, (which actually tests grammar and expression).
The ACT and SAT also differ significantly in the way that they are scored. Your score on the ACT is determined by the number of questions that you get correct, so there is no penalty for guessing—it can only ever increase your score. The SAT, in contrast, determines your score by the number of questions which you answer incorrectly. So, guessing on the SAT might not be the best idea, because you could decrease your score if you guess incorrectly.
What does the ACT test? What sections are on the ACT?
The ACT is designed to test how well a student has learned material that has been covered in the standard high school curriculum. Students may elect to take either the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing. The ACT consists of an English section, a Math section, a Reading section, and a Science section. The ACT Plus Writing consists of the four aforementioned sections as well as an essay-based Writing test.
In what order are the ACT’s sections given?
The ACT always gives its sections in a consistent order. The English section is always given first, followed by the Math section, the Reading section, and the Science section. On the ACT Plus Writing, the Writing section is always given last. Our free ACT Practice Tests let you study the areas and sections you want to focus on when you want to focus on them, so you don't have to take the tests in the same order as the sections appear on the ACT if you don’t want to do so.
Are students given breaks during the ACT?
In the ACT (without the writing section), students are given one break after completing the English and Math sections, before completing the Reading and Science sections. The ACT Plus Writing includes a second break after the Science section, before the Writing section.
How long is the ACT?
Altogether, the ACT (without the Writing section) takes about four hours and fifteen minutes to complete. The ACT Plus Writing takes about five hours to complete. These times are calculated to include the break students receive after completing the English and Math sections, prior to the Reading and Science sections, along with the second break, between the Science and Writing sections for the ACT Plus Writing.
How much does it cost to take the ACT?
It currently costs $36.50 to register for the ACT, and $52.50 to register for the ACT Plus Writing. These prices include score transmission to up to four colleges or universities. Fee waivers are available for students in their junior or senior year of high school in the United States who demonstrate financial need. Certain states may incorporate the ACT or ACT Plus Writing into their mandatory statewide educational assessments, which students do not pay to take.
On what dates will the ACT be given in 2016?
The ACT will be given in 2016 on the following dates:
Be sure to register well in advance to reserve your seat if you have a particular test date in mind or need to receive your scores to include in college applications by a given date.
On Test Day
What should I bring to the ACT?
You should bring several sharpened No. 2 pencils and a permitted kind of calculator to the ACT, as well as acceptable identification and your test center ticket. If you forget to bring acceptable identification—or you bring a non-permitted calculator—you will not be allowed to take the test.
Can I use a calculator on the ACT?
Yes, but not just any calculator. Certain calculators are not permitted by the ACT, and if you bring one of those calculators to the ACT, you will not be allowed to test.
What kinds of calculators are permitted on the ACT?
While the ACT allows you to use a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator, your calculator may not include any of the following features:
- built-in computer algebra systems
- tablet or laptop computers (i.e. PDAs)
- electronic pen-input devices or writing pads
- calculators with any kind of built-in communication device (i.e. calculators on cell phones or smartphones)
- calculators with a typewriter keypad in QWERTY format (letters keys not in this format are permitted)
The following types of calculators are permitted only with these modifications:
- Calculators with paper tape are permitted if the student removes the tape.
- Calculators that emit noise are permitted if the student mutes the noise so that the calculator makes no sound.
- Calculators with infrared data ports are permitted if the student completely covers the infrared data port with duct tape or electrician’s tape.
- Calculators that have power cords are permitted if the student removes all such cords.
Should I guess on the ACT if I don’t know an answer?
Absolutely! Unlike the SAT, which calculates students’ scores based on the number of questions that they answer incorrectly, the ACT calculates students’ scores based on the number of questions students answer correctly. In other words, there is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, and guessing can only ever increase your score.
After Test Day
How soon after taking the ACT can I see my test scores?
ACT scores for multiple-choice sections are usually made available online within two-and-a-half weeks after a test date. Scores for the optional Writing section are usually added about two weeks later, or four-and-a-half weeks after a test date. Scores are accessible only online; it is the ACT’s policy not to distribute scores by email, fax, or telephone, in order to protect confidentiality.
I don’t think my ACT was scored correctly. What can I do?
If you think that your ACT was incorrectly scored, you can request to have your test hand-scored—that is, graded by hand, not by machine—within three months of receiving your scores.
Can I stop my ACT score from being sent to colleges?
You may stop your ACT scores from being sent to colleges before they are released (before you see them). The deadline for adjusting or canceling college reports is the Thursday after the regularly-scheduled Saturday test date at noon (central time).
Can I retake the ACT?
Yes, you may retake the ACT. Many students take the test during their junior year and then take it again during their senior year to see if their scores improve. The company allows an individual to take the test up to twelve times.
Can I send certain ACT scores to colleges and not others?
Yes, the ACT allows you to select which scores you want sent to colleges, allowing you to send some scores from one test date while omitting scores from a different test date. You must send scores from all sections of a test to colleges; e.g. you cannot omit your math section score and send only English, Reading, Science, and Writing scores to a college. Scores on each section of a test taken on a given date are sent.
Should I retake the ACT?
Many students who retake the ACT improve their scores. Considering students who take the ACT more than once, 57% increase their composite score, 21% receive the same composite score, and 22% decrease their composite score. Also, the ACT allows you to selectively send scores from one test date and not others, so if you improve your score, you can choose to send only the better score to colleges.