The ACT (American College Testing) is a college entrance examination accepted by all college admissions offices throughout the country as an alternative to the SAT. Because the ACT tests students in a different manner than the SAT, some students find it better suited to their aptitude. Some parents and even a few educators still mistakenly believe there is an advantage to submitting the SAT over the ACT. However, every school in the United States accepts the ACT on an equal par with the SAT, so the focus should be solely based on which test is a better fit for the student, and Next Level Learning provides professional ACT instructors who can help make that determination.
While Next Level’s highly trained ACT instructors are well versed in the structure, content, strategy, and timing of the ACT, our experience has shown that properly assessing a student’s unique learning style and aptitude while simultaneously building effective rapport allows our instructors to design a tutoring approach that will achieve the quickest and most desirable results. Next Level instructors know the ACT well and have years of experience successfully supporting students.
Students typically take the ACT two to three times, generally in the 11th grade and again in the 12th grade, allowing sufficient time between each test for additional practice and focused ACT preparation. The test is offered on a variety of dates throughout the school year. Please see our ACT Test Dates page for this year’s schedule.
The recent changes to the SAT have brought it more in line with the ACT. However, there are still several meaningful differences. Because SAT questions require more processing and reasoning, the SAT grants more time per question. Conversely, ACT questions are more straightforward, and as a result the test can feel more like an achievement test that prioritizes ”what you know,” timing, and endurance. There are also significant differences in content and structure. Please see our ACT vs. SAT page for a chart of differences.
As both tests are viewed equally in the eyes of college admissions staff, the deciding which test to take is an important one. At Next Level, our ACT and SAT instructors identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses, aptitude, and learning style to assess which test is the better fit. Typically, a student will work through sections of each test to gauge comfort and aptitude before a decision is made. After review and working through material from each test, students almost always express a strong preference or comfort level, which serves as a primary indicator of which direction to go.
The amount of preparation required for the ACT varies with each student. Just as no two students are the same, preparation for every student is also different. The following factors should be considered:
Most students begin preparation early in their junior year, but that too varies depending upon the student’s starting point and comfort level. However, it is never advisable for students to wait until a few weeks before their first attempt. Just as cramming for a test in school is rarely productive, waiting until right before the ACT exam can generate significant and sometimes even debilitating anxiety. The ideal approach is to spread out preparation over a longer period so the student doesn’t feel an intensifying pressure to put it all together quickly.
For many students, the ACT is the first standardized test that will have a substantial impact on their future, and that realization alone can generate substantial anxiety. Getting an early start can often help ameliorate anxiety and put students in a significantly better position to achieve their greatest potential.
As part of the preparation process we recommend students take a proctored ACT exam at Next Level Learning. Taking a practice exam provides a valuable opportunity for students to work on test-taking skills and to see how they perform under pressure. A practice exam also helps students develop better time management skills.
The test consists of four separate sections, plus an optional writing test. The total time is 2 hours 55 minutes, plus optional writing test (40min.) There is no guessing penalty. Each question is multiple choice with four or five possible answer choices (depending on the section).
English Test | 45 minutes | 75 questions
Math | 60 minutes | 60 questions
Reading Comprehension | 35 minutes | 40 questions
Tested on ability to derive meaning from the text and determine implied meaning.
The passages are:
Science Test | 35 minutes | 40 questions
The content of the science test includes biology, chemistry, physics, and the Earth/space sciences (for example, geology, astronomy, and meteorology). Advanced knowledge in these subjects is not required, but knowledge acquired in general, introductory science courses is needed to answer some of the questions. The test emphasizes scientific reasoning skills over recall of scientific content, skill in mathematics, or reading ability. (Verbatim from ACT website)
The passages are presented as:
Essay (optional) | 40 minutes
Analyze and evaluate 3 perspectives on an issue + your own perspective and how they relate.
The writing test is optional for students. Some colleges require it, others do not, and some merely recommend students take it. It is important to check the admissions portal of each of your prospective colleges to ensure you understand the school’s policy. At Next Level, we generally recommend students take the writing test, at least once. This way, students retain the option of applying to a school that requires the writing test. In addition, the world of college admissions is highly competitive and anything a student can do to get “an edge” is advisable. Further, students should read anything either recommended or required by a college. Of course there are situations where it might not be advisable to take the writing test, and we work with each student to determine the most beneficial course of action.
ACT results are typically available 1-3 weeks after the test date.
Scores are reported separately in each of the four sections on a scale of 1-36. These four scores are averaged to form a “composite score” on the same scale. However, when submitting scores to schools, students can sometimes submit their best scores in each section, from different test dates. This is known as “superscoring.” For example, a student may score a 26 in English and a 28 in math in their first test and a 27 in English and a 27 in math in their second test. Superscoring allows that student to submit a 27 in English and a 28 in math as their individual section scores even though they were from different tests. Thus, a student can use superscoring to produce a higher composite score than the one they achieved in any single test.
Note: Not all schools accept superscoring. As always, applicants should check with the school’s admissions department to ascertain the school’s policy. Students applying to colleges that allow superscoring should consider taking the ACT multiple times to take advantage of the opportunity to present the highest scores from each test.
Contact Next Level Learning to find out how our ACT instructors can help your child achieve his or her greatest potential.