If you have a student in high school, you've likely heard of the ACT. But do you understand its importance to your teen's college prospects?
The ACT is a standardized test that measures a student's knowledge of grade-level concepts in English, math, and reading. There is also a science section that tests students' data and graphical analysis skills.
Colleges use the ACT to create a "level playing field" for prospective students. Not all high schools receive the same funding and use the same curricula, so tests like the ACT and SAT allow admissions officers to evaluate students using one standardized scale.
Of course, the ACT cannot truly be considered a level playing field, either. Students with more time to study and more access to instruction and materials will perform better and, therefore, have a leg up in college admissions.
That's why it's so important to help your student create a test preparation plan and earn the best scores possible.
Alongside grades and activities, colleges use ACT scores in admissions decisions. The more prestigious and selective the institution, the higher ACT score a student will need to get in. Most colleges list the average ACT and SAT scores of incoming freshmen on their admissions sites, like this page for Northwestern University.
In addition to evaluating academic potential, colleges use ACT scores to determine a student's readiness for college coursework.
When students are not academically prepared for the rigors of college classes, they are at greater risk of spending extra money and time on remedial classes to catch up. Currently, 39 percent of students who enroll at a 4-year university require at least one remedial class. Since remedial classes do not count toward a degree, they make it more challenging for students to finish in four years - a concern, given the high cost of college.
Students who do not meet college readiness standards are also at greater risk for dropping out due to low grades. In 2018, the U.S Department of Education reported that 40 percent of students at public universities fail to earn a degree within six years.
In an effort to maintain strong graduation rates, admissions officers look closely at college readiness benchmarks like the ACT. The following are the scores that qualify a student as "college-ready" in each subject, according to ACT research:
Many schools also use ACT scores for scholarship and merit-based aid consideration. Some even attach automatic aid amounts to certain ACT scores. For example, students with a 34 on the ACT can receive a $22,000-per-year scholarship at Baylor University. At Clemson University, students with a 29 can receive an annual scholarship of 7,500, and higher scores can earn a student even more.
How to Prepare
The best way to prepare for any standardized test is incrementally.
The ACT measures a student's knowledge of standard high school concepts, so, naturally, the best way to ace the test is to master class material and review frequently.
Of course, recalling 9th-grade math skills when you're in 12th grade is no easy task. Students should keep their notes from each class and each year, so they have material to review when it comes time for standardized tests. (This makes it especially important for students to use a pencil during math class and record their work!)
ACT.org has a small database of practice problems and instructional videos for students who need to brush up on certain concepts.
Another excellent way to prepare is to take an ACT prep course. That way, a knowledgeable instructor can identify which concepts a student needs to review and make sure he or she gets familiar with the test format and question types.
It's advantageous to take an ACT prep course, as opposed to studying on your own, because the structure of the course ensures that students use their study time productively and that no information slips through the cracks. It also allows students to take real ACT practice tests and get comfortable with the timing element, since a good tutoring center should have a collection of real test materials.
ACT scores are important. When it comes to your score, trust the experts at iLearn Academy. You can read about our test prep programs here.