Everything students need to know about the ACT

Isabella Bonilla

What would junior year be if it weren’t for the ACT? On top of the plethora of other standardized tests, Kentucky high schoolers are also required to take the American College Testing (ACT), an exam used to measure a student’s college readiness. Most students are familiar with the concept— the higher you score, the more options for attending and paying for colleges will be available. 

However, recent changes due to the pandemic have seen many colleges opting to either lessen the impact of or completely eliminate student’s ACT scores as part of the admission requirement. This is primarily because of the limited testing availability, cancellations and overall conclusion that other factors of a student’s portfolio may better reflect them as an admirable applicant. 

“The test-optional admissions was growing rapidly before the COVID-19 pandemic. 2019 was the best year ever with 51 more schools dropping ACT/SAT requirements, driving the total to 1,040,” Bob Schaeffer, interim Executive Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said.

That number is now up to 1,240 colleges as of June 2020. A full list can be found here

Even with that acknowledgment, students should still take this test seriously. While more and more schools are dropping the requirement for an ACT score, scholarship opportunities still exist, as does the personal challenge to do your best.  

What do I need to know before I take the test?

The ACT is composed of four sections (Reading, Math, English and Science) and lasts around three hours. An optional writing portion exists for the extra ambitious students of one of these schools. This exam is scored from 1 to 36 and costs $50 per time taken. Students eligible for a fee waiver at school may be eligible for an ACT fee waiver. 

Fortunately, every Manual junior has the opportunity to take the ACT at least one time without having to sign up themselves. The school registers every student to take the test at Manual their junior year. The current test date for 2021 is set for April 13, with further details to come as the date approaches. 

How can I prepare?

ACT Academy is very helpful. You can create an account as a student to get access to all types of free prep work. There are lessons, practice questions, and test-taking tips. This is always the first thing I suggest to students,” Mrs. Romans, Manual’s ACT Coordinator, wrote. 

Mrs. Romans also suggests students use Triumph College Prep. Manual actually pays for its students to be able to utilize this program; all students have to do is log into an account created for them and begin practicing. Students are able to take full-length practice tests, receive scores and get personalized mini-lessons in areas to improve.  The link and instructions on how to access this program will be available in the counseling newsletter Friday, January 22. 

Practice test questions can be found on the ACT website, and there are also tests from previous years students can look at. Some students have found that utilizing Khan Academy’s free SAT prep has helped them with the ACT as well, particularly the math portion. 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed when confronted with so much information and options. Just remember to take a second, step back and create an outline. Create a study plan pertaining to what you are trying to strive for. This test isn’t your life and ultimately the final score won’t define your worth as a student or human being. Remember to maintain study boundaries and have healthy communication with your counselors. 

What are some next steps?

Students looking for extra ACT opportunities can sign up for a national test date here. However, not every student needs to or may want to sign up for additional exams, let alone the ACT exam. Before signing up, ask yourself whether it will be more of a benefit or stressor; or if you’d prefer to take the SAT instead. Some students find they do better with the SAT format

Due to the pandemic, many testing sites have had to either cancel tests at the last minute or close entirely. Mrs. Romans suggests trying to take the exam at the University of Louisville, as they still have an operating facility, although very limited space. 

As always, Manual’s counselors are here to help you as a student and individual. If you have any concerns or questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to them, whether by attending a Crimson Hour session or via email. Mr. Fowler works with all YPAS students and Mrs. Johnston and Mrs. Meeron work with Manual juniors, while Mrs. Romans is the ACT Coordinator. Find their emails here.

Make sure to also check out the junior year checklist for a more in-depth, structured guide on how to tackle college prep.