American Diary: ACT - The American Answer To The Leaving Cert

American Diary: ACT - The American Answer To The Leaving Cert

Much like exams here in Ireland, the United States offers a standardised test used for college admissions. It is called the ACT. An abbreviation for American College Testing. I don't want to make this too boring but there's not much excitement talking about testing. I promise I’ll do my best.

Just a heads up, the SAT is also an available test used for college admission in the U.S. Both tests are similar and both are accepted at all U.S colleges and universities. It all just depends on what is best for you. For me, it was the ACT so that's what I am going to focus on.

So Let's Start From The Beginning:

You're a junior or senior in high school and you're thinking about post-graduation. In order to be considered at any U.S institution completion of the ACT (or SAT) is required. How do you go about doing that? First, you have to register for the proctored exam. It is only offered on certain dates and you must sign up. The fee is $46.00 for the session without the writing portion and $62.50 including the writing. Testing locations are primarily at high schools around the area. I personally suggest taking it at your own high school. You’re more comfortable and can focus on the test rather than the new surroundings. During registration, you are able to choose up to four colleges/universities to have your scores sent to at no additional cost.

Test Preparation:

Most people are encouraged to complete an ACT prep course. There are so many offered all over for different prices. I took the easy route and took the course offered by my high school but if that doesn’t work with your schedule there are many other opportunities. Prep classes do a good job of giving an overview of the topics on the ACT as well as some sample questions and test-taking advice. Included at the end of this article are some links for sample test questions if you want to check them out!


Test Day:

The ACT is a timed test with an individual proctoring the entire thing. The test itself is composed of four required sections; mathematics, English, science and reading. There is an optional writing section that may be required based on the College or University you are applying to. As a whole, you have 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete the exam.  For the exam with the writing section, you have 3 hours and 35 minutes. Aside from the writing section, all question are in multiple-choice format. Don't forget your #2 pencil and to turn off all electronics. If anything is seen (besides an approved calculator) or heard, you are asked to leave the test.

Now What:

After the test is taken students play the waiting game. You will receive your score either by mail or online. The results can take between 2-8 weeks, even though it feels so much longer.  The subject is individually scored on a scale between 1 and 36, awarding points for the questions you answered correctly. Those scores are then averaged into your overall score again on a scale from 1-36. This is a composite score that is accepted by the college or university.

As I earlier mentioned the results of this exam are used for college admissions as well as a list of other things. Each university has a minimum required score for acceptance. For example, my University requires a score of 21 as well as an overall high school grade point average of 2.0.  Scores are also used to help with course placement as well as scholarship and loan eligibility. In order to receive financial assistance, I had to earn a higher score than the base 21 to be considered. Because you are shown your score in each subject, it may help in choosing your course of study but the ACT does not place you into a specific degree program.

Students are able to take the ACT more than once, but most universities and colleges have a cut off date for accepting scores. It's best that you plan ahead. My high school now sets aside one day a year for all juniors to complete the exam as a way to jumpstart students into planning for their future.

Sample test questions for math and science categories:

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Kaili Sager

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