Getting ready for college isn’t just about saving for college and socking money away in a 529 plan.
For some, getting ready for college is all about the ACT. For students, the ACT can be a make-it-or-break-it exam. Because of that more and more students are turning to ACT preparation courses as a way to get ready for this stressful exam.
Many of these preparation courses are paid courses offered by websites or personal tutors.
Not all students can fork over the cash for these programs. So here is a full guide to what the ACT is, some free ways to prepare for it, and why this test is considered so important.
What is the ACT?
The ACT is an entrance exam used by colleges and universities to make admissions decisions. Not all high schools teach the same curriculum. The ACT is a way to fairly rank all the students that apply to a school since they all will have taken the same standardized test.
There are four required sections on the test. English, Math, Reading, and Science. Additionally, there is an optional writing section but not everyone opts to take it. Some colleges and universities require it and some don’t.
If you take the test more than once, which some students do, you have the opportunity to create a super score. Your superscore is the average of all your best scores from your previous attempts.
This is a great option for students who improve in a certain section or two over time. Or if you have an off day and underperform in a section.
The main goal of this test is to show a school just how knowledgeable students are in the different areas of study. Although the test is less about how well you have learned the material and more about how well you can complete a set of questions in a timely manner.
Not only do schools use the ACT score to determine admissions decisions, but they also use scores to determine scholarship amounts students are eligible to receive.
It’s in your best interest to get some practice tests in before the real test day to maximize your score and your potential scholarship earnings.
Is the ACT or SAT Harder?
There are two main standardized tests that colleges and universities might ask for, the ACT and the SAT. Prepping for two major tests is a challenge so colleges are generally okay with only one score being provided.
Neither test is harder than the other. For the most part, the two tests cover the same subjects. The main difference is the scale the tests are scored on. The SAT is scored from 400-1600 and the ACT is scored 1-36.
An average ACT score is around 21 and an average SAT score is around 1050. Generally, schools won’t ask you to provide both an ACT and an SAT score. It’s up to the student to determine what test they would have more success with.
Some schools do prefer one test over the other. So look at the potential colleges and universities you are planning on applying to for guidance on what exam to take.
Generally, colleges on the coasts prefer the SAT, and schools in the midwest prefer the ACT, but to be safe check with the individual schools.
How Do I Prepare for the ACT Test?
The best way to prepare for this exam is to practice. Familiarize yourself with the concepts that will be present on the exam and taking official ACT practice tests are great places to start.
A good strategy for taking the test is to figure out how much time you have for each section and then determine how much time you can spend on each question.
How Can I Get a Free ACT Practice Test?
Taking a practice test is likely the best way to prepare for the exam. Training yourself to focus and reason through each section promptly.
Some websites are charging outrageous prices just to take a roughly 3-hour exam. Here are three resources offering a free full-length practice test and other preparation tools.
MathChops is an online math program that provides students with timed mixed practice problems similar to ones you would find on the ACT. MathChops does not offer a full-length practice test because this resource is mainly focused on the math section.
MathChops offers a free version of their program with up to 50 free practice problems. They also offer three paid versions at reasonable prices and unlimited free practice questions.
Most students find that the math section tends to be the most tedious and difficult, because of the amount of material it covers.
The MathChops website is filled with great reviews from ACT-certified instructors and tutors. This is an awesome resource to get you ready for test day.
ACT.org is a test prep website run by the ACT itself. It is a nonprofit organization geared at helping students succeed. Their program is based on more than 60 years of research in education and career readiness.
ACT.org offers a full-length practice test with questions very similar to ones you would find on the real test. Tests taken here will give you a composite score and a score breakdown for each of the sections.
Their website offers generalized tips for the ACT as well as tips for each section. ACT.org offers free prep work as well as a paid option. Both are great resources to help you prepare for the ACT.
ACT.org offers information about testing dates and locations and various college planning resources. This source is a great starting place for those who still aren’t 100% committed to taking the ACT.
3. Prep Classes At Your High School
Many high schools offer some type of ACT prep course. Whether it’s one run after school by teachers or in the evenings and run by a tutor. This is almost guaranteed to be a free option for students who register to take the ACT through their high school.
This is a resource that practically any student should have access to. Even if your school is not offering an official ACT prep class, you can try asking your individual teachers questions.
Are ACT Practice Tests Harder than the Actual Test?
This is a common question – it depends on what practice test you are using. If you’re using a test from ACT.org, then probably not. They use similar questions.
One test isn’t meant to be harder than the other. They are both supposed to be equally as difficult. A good studying strategy would be to take ACT practice tests with harder questions to improve your skills for the real thing. But both versions of the test are supposed to be equally difficult.
Why Does Having a Good ACT Score Matter?
Having a good ACT score is beneficial to you in many ways. If you’re looking at attending a prestigious university you’ll have more of a shot at getting in with a higher ACT score.
It also opens up doors for more financial aid. Generally higher the ACT score, the more money a college will offer you.
Like I touched on before, having a high ACT score will open more doors for you. Most state schools will accept you as long as you achieve an average score, about 21 on the ACT.
But if you’re interested in a private university or an ivy league school a higher score might be required.
How Can Having a Good ACT Score Save Money?
Having a high ACT score saves you money. Schools will offer you more academic scholarships if you have a higher ACT score. In addition to school scholarships, there are also private ones you can qualify for. Having a higher ACT score makes you eligible for more of these merit-based scholarships.
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