As your child embarks upon the college application process, two major components are preparing for and taking a college entrance exam. Standardized assessments like the ACT® and SAT® measure your child’s achievement in core academic areas and provide college admissions a deeper look into your child’s capabilities and how prepared she is for the rigors of college coursework. If your child decides to take the ACT, it’s a great choice because the ACT is the leading US college admissions test and is accepted at every college and university, with more students taking the test every year.1 In fact, more than 2 million US high school graduates—60 percent of the 2017 graduating class—took the ACT last year.
In addition to testing students on what they’ve learned in their courses, the ACT also helps create opportunities beyond the high school years. Some of these “life-prep” features include an Interest Inventory, which features custom college and career planning information for each student, as well as a Student Profile that assesses college and career readiness based on the student’s aspirations, abilities, and accomplishments. When students opt into the ACT Educational Opportunity Service (EOS), their data is sent to institutions so that they will then receive recruitment, scholarship, and career opportunity information.
ACT research shows that 49% of students have an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) college majors and careers.
The ACT is offered nationally and internationally several times a year at either national testing centers or through your child’s school, school district, or your state. Your first step is to ask the school’s guidance counselor if the school/district offers the ACT or if your child will need to take it at a national testing center.
Your child can take the ACT on a school day if his school, the school district, or your state administers the test. However, if the ACT is not offered at your child’s school, you’ll need to find out where and when your child should register for a convenient test date and test location that will give him plenty of time to send his scores to the college and scholarship agencies of his choice by their deadlines, as well as retake the test if he is not satisfied with his initial scores.
Many colleges and scholarship agencies require ACT test scores to be submitted during the junior year of high school, so it is important to determine those deadlines to ensure your child has enough time to study, take the exam, and submit scores. Although you can view scores online as soon as two weeks after taking the test, you’ll receive the official ACT Score Reports three to eight weeks after the test date. If your child takes the optional writing portion of the test, his score report will be available only after all of his scores are ready, typically within five to eight weeks of taking the test.1 To be on the safe side, your child should plan to take the ACT at least 10 weeks prior to the earliest deadline he needs to make.3
There are several advantages to your child taking the ACT in her junior year. For instance, if she’s enrolled in a rigorous college-prep program, she most likely has completed much of the coursework that corresponds to the material covered on the ACT.3
Additional advantages are:
Your child can register for the ACT at www.actstudent.org. Here, you can search for test dates and registration deadlines as well as testing centers in your area.3
What you’ll need to register:
Once you set up an account on the ACT site, you can register for the test, access test-prep solutions, view scores online, send additional Score Reports to colleges, and register for future tests.2 Only at the time of registration are you able to select up to four colleges or universities to send your child’s scores to free of charge. If you want to send scores to additional schools, you can do so on the ACT site once scores are available.
To request special accommodations for your child to take the ACT, you must first create an ACT account on www.actstudent.org or log into your existing account. Once you register for a test date, you can review which accommodations are available to meet your child’s needs.2
Special accommodations may include:
Details on the procedures for applying to take the ACT with accommodations can be found on the ACT site
Test day will likely be filled with a healthy dose of anticipation and stress. Help your child prepare in advance—and ease those test-day jitters—by going over the four subject areas of Math, English, Reading, and Science she’ll be tested on so that she can mentally prepare to ace them.
Here’s a breakdown of what is covered on those four subject area tests:
Math: Preparing for Higher Math, Number & Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Statistics & Probability, Integrating Essential Skills, and Modeling
English: Grammar, Punctuation, Sentence Structure, and Rhetoric
Science: Questions about Scientific Charts, Graphs, and Research1
Each of the above sections is graded on a scale of 1 to 36, based on the number of correct answers, and these four scores are averaged to get the Composite Score.1 The optional writing test doesn’t contribute to the Composite Score. If your child decides to take the writing test, the essay will be scored on a scale of 2 to 12.
The essay is evaluated based on the evidence that your child can:
Although the best way to prepare for the ACT is to take rigorous high school classes and do well in those classes, it also helps to know the test format and types of questions your child will be asked so that there are no surprises on test day. Your child’s level of comfort in taking the ACT also plays an important role in how well he will do, and the best way to build that confidence is by taking practice tests.3
One of the best ways to mentally prepare for the ACT is to identify strengths and areas of needed improvement that should be addressed in order to improve test performance. For example, if time runs out while he’s taking a practice test, then your child needs to work on pacing. The practice test is a good indicator of where your child excels and which subject areas may need further reinforcement.3
After taking several practice tests, your child will become more familiar with the question types and format of the test, which will help boost his test-taking confidence. In addition to understanding the test itself, certain mental strategies will help your child think clearly and have a positive outlook on test day:
It’s common for nerves to set in as the test approaches. To help your child maintain a sense of control, you can help guide her in what she’ll need in order to feel prepared for the day of the test.
To make sure your child is prepared for test day, she should bring certain items with her, while leaving others at home.
Make sure to bring the following:
These items are either not allowed in the test room or cannot be used during the test:
If the testing center is an unfamiliar location, it’s best to allot an extra 15-20 minutes in case your child gets lost or has to park farther away than expected.3
Upon arrival, your child will need to produce both his printed ticket and photo identification before being admitted to the testing room.2
He will then be directed to a seat and provided the testing materials. Once everyone is seated, the testing will begin.
There will be a short break after the first two tests. No electronics can be used during the designated break.2
Your child can’t skip ahead in the test, so he should concentrate on the part that he’s working on. Even if he feels like he might not have done well on the previous section, he should do his best to move forward.
The ACT must be completed in a certain amount of time, so he should be mindful of how much time is spent on each question. However, to avoid making unintentional errors, he shouldn’t race through the test.2
If your child finishes with several minutes to spare, he can use that time to double-check work or calculations. He should make sure he’s answered all the questions and that there are no stray marks that could be misread on the answer sheet.3
There’s no penalty for guessing, so your child should go ahead and make an educated guess.2 Remind him that only correct answers count toward the final scores.
If for some reason your child leaves an answer blank and doesn’t guess, advise him to make sure he didn’t mistakenly fill in the answer for the next question in that empty slot
Taking the ACT is an accomplishment in itself, but once the test is over the anticipation of waiting for the scores to arrive begins. See our infographic – A Breakdown of the ACT Scores – for a better understanding of how the test is scored.
Test scores are typically available online within two weeks of taking the test, and Score Reports usually are released three to eight weeks after the test date.2 Remember, if your child opted to take the writing portion of the test, the Student Report will be available only after all of your child’s scores are ready—including the writing score—which is typically within five to eight weeks after taking the ACT.1
The Student Score Report provides insightful data that will help you make the most of the test results. See a sample score report here. The numbers across the top signify your child’s score for that particular test. The report contains first the overall composite score, which averages Math, Science, English, and Reading.2 Then, it breaks down each individual test score, with a STEM composite score (for Math and Science) and an ELA composite score for English, Reading, and Writing (if taken).2
Each section is graded on a scale of 1 to 36. This means the number of correct answers converts to a score that ranges from 1 to 36 for each of the four tests (English, Math, Reading, and Science). The Composite Score is the average of the scores on these sections. Remember, the writing section does not contribute to the composite score.
The number scores correspond to lines on the columns below them. There is also a benchmark line on the report, which indicates the level where students typically perform well in their freshman courses for that corresponding subject.2
There is also a section that includes comparison graphs of how well your child did compared to other students who took the test both nationally and statewide.2
The outcome of the ACT test is more than just a score report. Since your child provided information on her interests and career goals before taking the test, the enhanced Student Profile Report provides valuable information that can help her succeed after high school—and even choose the right career.
In the Detailed Results section, you’ll see a breakdown of how many points were earned out of the total number possible for each subsection, along with a Readiness Range that indicates how your child’s scores compare to those who are considered college ready for that particular subject.2 The College and Career Planning Section outlines the areas and professions where your child might excel based on her interests, and the Interest-Major Fit section indicates whether or not your child’s interests match her intended major.2 Be sure to take advantage of these additional ACT reporting features that can help your child assess her strengths and plan for future success.
Although the ACT can be taken up to 12 times, most students typically take the ACT once as a junior and once as a senior.2 Keep in mind that when students retake the test:
increase their Composite Score
have no change in their Composite Score
decrease their Composite Score2
At the time of registration, your child can order a Test Information Release (TIR) if she will be testing at a national test center on a national test date that offers this service. After the test, the TIR provides your child with a copy of the multiple-choice test questions used to determine her score, a list of her actual answers, and the answer key. If she took the writing test, she also will receive a copy of the writing prompt, the scoring rubric, and the scores assigned to her essay. This can help her understand areas she still may need to work on.
If your child does decide to retake the test, she can determine which scores she wants sent to colleges, but she cannot combine scores from different test dates.2
You can send the Score Report to four colleges free of charge if you selected these schools at the time of registration. Once you receive your child’s scores, you can then send scores to additional colleges through www.actstudent.org. Additional requests are processed after all the scores for your child’s test option (the ACT or the ACT with the writing section) are available.2</sup
1 “Comparative Features of the ACT and SAT 2016-2017.” (nod): n. pag. 2016. Web. 6 Sept. 2016.
3 ACT. The Official ACT Prep Guide, 2016-2017. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2016. Print.
4 Smith, Amy M., Victoria A. Floerke, and Ayanna K. Thomas. “Retrieval Practice Protects Memory Against Acute Stress.” Science 354.6315 (2016): 1046-048. Web. 14 Dec. 2016. <science.sciencemag.org>.