Important ACT News

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ACT

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Greater Possibilities.

ACT preparation tailored to your learning style, personal strengths, weaknesses, and passions.

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ACT® Basics

Overview

The ACT was originally conceived in 1959 as an alternative to the SAT.

Like the SAT, the ACT is a multiple-choice test that measures a high school student's readiness for college. It is a pen-and-paper test in the U.S., but since 2019 international administrations have been on a computer. Most students first take the test in their Junior year of high school, but we recommend preparation begin Sophomore year.

SAT/ACT scores are the second most important factor in admissions. They can help Admissions Boards sieve through thousands of applications and identify the most qualified applicants.

However, a great SAT/ACT score does not guarantee admission, just like a very low score does not mean an automatic rejection. Colleges also look at your high school GPA, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, admissions interviews, and personal essays. Still, it is fair to say that the higher you score on one of these tests, the better you will stand out from the rest of the application pile.

Length

2 hrs
55 mins

plus 40 minutes if taking ACT with writing. Alternative arrangements are available for students qualifying for extra time.

Cost

US

$50

$67 if taking ACT with writing

International

$150

$166 if taking ACT with writing

Scores

36

Highest Score

21

Average Score

Sections

English
Math
Reading
Science
Essay (optional)

2019 - 2020 Dates

Upcoming ACT® dates are listed below.

Registration

Test Day

Scores Release

August

3

September

12

September

22

August

3

September

13

TBD

-

August

3

September

19

TBD

-

August

3

October

10

TBD

-

August

3

October

17

TBD

-

August

3

October

24

November

3

August

3

October

25

TBD

-

August

3

December

12

December 22

3

January

8

February

6

February

16

March

12

April

10

April

20

May

7

June

12

June

22

Common Questions

The Computer-Based ACT Might Not Be as Bad as You Think

The Computer-Based ACT Might Not Be as Bad as You Think

Let’s be honest, no one really wants to take the ACT on the computer.

It’s different from most tests to which you’re accustomed, and that can always be daunting. But shifting to a Computer-Based Test (CBT) doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task. If you thoughtfully consider the pros, cons, and alternatives, you might end up surprising yourself with the realisation that the ACT CBT is the right-fit test for you.

So, let’s break it down: what does this computer-based change mean for you, the student? 

English:

Typically, students will not notice much change in the English section (for example, working through a question on comma rules does not require hard-copy considerations with a pencil in your hand). You might even find the CBT advantageous; for each question, the relevant words in the text are highlighted in turn. This can save time, compared to a paper-based test, where students need to skim the text to match question numbers with underlined areas of the passage.

Maths:

You’ll be completing your paper calculations out on scrap paper or a whiteboard and then selecting the answer choice via computer. Although different from most tests you are used to, this hasn’t typically been a concern for students. In some cases, it’s been better: when coming back to a flagged question you’ve skipped, for example, you’ll be tackling the question with a fresh approach (not distracted by your previous attempts at solving it). The CBT also offers great tools for eliminating incorrect answer choices off the screen, so that you can narrow your choices and not get distracted as you think through a question.

There are two more important considerations in Maths. Geometric figures often need to be redrawn on your scrap paper, so you can work directly on them. Equations and simple calculations (e.g. when simplifying a given fraction) sometimes need to be written by hand, whereas in the past they could be solved directly on the test paper. However, the time invested in this is certainly made up for in other ways (for example, by not needing to hand-fill your answers into a bubble sheet at the end).

Reading:

Since we cannot annotate as we read the text, our approach to the reading section has evolved. No matter how you slice it, this is a disadvantage. However, it’s important to remember that this is a challenge for everyone taking the ACT computer-based test, not only for you!

An approach to note taking on a whiteboard—which entails using empty boxes for each paragraph, highlighting proper nouns and key takeaways (similar to the paper-based approach) —works well. It requires a little more practice, but it’s a viable strategy.

Science:

Here’s some good news: the science section is arguably easier on the computer-based test as you can scroll up or down to the required figure/table/scientist in the Data representation or Research Summary passages. This makes quick work of assessing the data while having the question right in front of you. The test also has a magnifying glass tool, which allows you to zoom into figures. This is useful when you need to analyse trends in graphs and extract specific values from the data.

Essay:

Editing your essay on the computer is arguably easier than on paper.

Composite Score:

On the positive side, the ACT is now able to produce your composite score for the ACT CBT exam within 3 working days, rather than the normal ~3 weeks for paper tests. This means that the ‘dead’ time between taking an exam and receiving your score is minimized, allowing students a better opportunity to shore up relative weaknesses before the next test.

FAQ: Fall 2020 SAT/ACT Testing

FAQ: Fall 2020 SAT/ACT Testing

The COVID-19 pandemic has made the normally straightforward process of signing up for and taking an SAT or ACT a torturous labyrinth of confusion that raises important (and depressing) questions. Spots for tests in September, October, and November are nearly impossible to come by in some areas of the country, and even if a student does succeed in registering, tests have been canceled as late as the day of the exam. 

Should I even bother signing up and preparing for them in the first place? Where and when should I sign up for them? How do I know if my test has been cancelled? What should I do if my test has been cancelled? Never fear: Brian Smith, one of ESM’s test preparation experts, is here to demystify the process! 

For current seniors, is all of this hassle, stress, and uncertainty surrounding testing really worth it?

It depends. For seniors who have yet to test or have scores lower than their target, the answer is most likely yes. While almost all schools have adopted test-optional policies for the current admissions cycle, a high test score can still be an asset to your application at many schools (though not at UCs, as of one week ago). This is especially true for students with lower GPAs. If you are a student with an otherwise competitive applicant profile who might not test at a level that is competitive at your target or reach schools, the decision becomes a bit more difficult. As always, we strongly recommend that you consult with a college counselor before making this important decision.

How should current sophomores and juniors approach testing during the pandemic?

If you were able to register for a fall test and have been progressing well enough in your preparation to realistically reach your target score in the fall, then it may be best to stay ready while also acknowledging that your test may very well be cancelled. Otherwise, testing simply isn’t worth it for you at the moment, as spots in many major metropolitan areas are already booked until December, and things will (hopefully) be more normal in the spring or even next fall. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start studying soon, however! Given that many fall sports and activities are cancelled, this is the ideal time to start gradually preparing for early 2021 tests. 

If I do choose to try and test in the fall, when and at which location should I attempt to test?

If you are not already registered, you should try to do so immediately for as many dates that have availability remotely close to you (this may be impossible in some places). You can also explore the possibility of standby testing for the ACT, though the chances are likely to be slim. Keep in mind that scores from the November and December tests may be too late for some school deadlines, especially if you’re applying for early decision or early action. 

Where to register is a much trickier question, as it depends on the COVID situation in your area. Generally, what we have seen in the recent past is that the more rural the location of the test center, the more likely it is to have been open for testing. It also depends on how hard-hit your area is by the virus. Test centers are able to cancel testing at a moment’s notice if the COVID situation worsens. Another trend we have seen lately is that if schools in your area are meeting online, the tests have been more likely to be cancelled. If they are able to have students in the classroom, then the tests have been more likely to happen. However, nothing is guaranteed, of course.

How do I know if my test is cancelled? 

Usually, you should receive an email from the College Board or ACT notifying you of a cancellation, unless your test center cancels at the very last minute. You can also check if your test center is on the “cancelled” lists on the College Board and ACT websites, though those are typically slow to update and not necessarily thorough. If your test center does not show up on the list, that does NOT mean your test is guaranteed to happen or that it has not already been cancelled. Both SAT and ACT have made it very clear that tests are subject to cancellation up to and including the day of the test. The best way to confirm is to directly call the test center at which you are registered.

What should I do if my test has been cancelled? 

There’s not a lot you can do, unfortunately. For both tests, once the late registration deadline has passed, you are unable to switch test centers, and you generally don’t find out whether your test is cancelled until after that. If it’s before the deadline, you can try switching your center to a different location free of charge. If your test does get cancelled, it is important to stay patient, keep studying, and prepare for the next date. 

Finally, keep in mind that just because a center is open does not mean it will feel safe to you. If you do not feel comfortable testing, do not test! It is never worth it in that case. 











Oh no! A science section?

Fear not! The ACT's science section might be nominally about science, but it hardly requires prior scientific knowledge. When it does—and that happens a maximum of two times out of forty questions, and sometimes even less—it's basic stuff you've learned at some point in high school  (planetary order, the basic process of photosynthesis, acids and bases, etc.) What it requires instead is chart and graph literacy; in this way the section is somewhat analogous to the SAT's no-calculator math section, which also frequently tests students' ability to parse charts and graphs.

When should I start preparing for the ACT?

Ideally, you should start preparation in the spring semester of 10th grade. You should at least take a first pass at the test at that point, to understand where your knowledge gaps are and explore how you can improve over the coming year. Many students wait to start prep until halfway through 11th grade, but that can be a bit stressful to balance with school work and leaves them in trouble if unanticipated scenarios arise (we're look at you, 2020). Take it from us: the earlier you look at this, the better.

We sometimes work with students who come to the process very late. For example, students who decide to apply to US colleges at the start of their senior year. While this is very far from ideal, it is not impossible to tackle. We are always open to discussing with you about your circumstances, to advise on what would be best for you.

How do I register for the ACT?

Registration deadlines fall approximately five weeks before each ACT test date. You can get registration materials from your school counselor, or you can register online on the ACT website.

How is the ACT scored?

Each section of the ACT is scored on a 1 to 36 point scale. Your composite ACT score is the average of your four section scores, also on a scale from 1 to 36. If you take the ACT with Writing Test, you will receive a separate score on the Writing Test.

How long is the ACT?

The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long. If you choose to take the ACT with Essay, the test will be 3 hours and 35 minutes long.

What is on the ACT?

There are four ACT sections:  

  • English
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Science

The ACT also includes an optional 40-minute Writing Test. Some colleges may require that you complete the ACT Writing Test. You can confirm each college's admissions policies on the school website or on our school profiles.

When should I take the ACT?

Most high school students take the ACT or SAT—or both—during the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. It's important to leave time to re-take the test if you need to further increaseyour score before you apply to college.

The ACT exam is offered nationally every year in September, October, December, February*, April, June, and July*. View all upcoming ACT test dates.


*No test centers are scheduled in New York for the February or July test dates. No test centers are scheduled in California for the July test date.

SAT or ACT?

Find out which test is right for you.

Most universities will accept scores from either the SAT or ACT. Choosing the right test for you is an important first step in the preparation process. While we recommend taking a full-length diagnostic exam to compare the two, this breakdown will help you decide between the SAT and ACT.

SAT vs ACT

SAT

ACT

Format

Pen-and-paper in the US and internationally

Paper-and paper in the US. Computer-based internationally

Reading

65 minutes for 52 questions

35 minutes for 40 questions

Writing & Language/English

(No Calculator)

35 minutes for 44 questions

45 minutes for 75 questions

Math

(No Calculator)

25 minutes for 20 questions

Math

(Calculator)

55 minutes for 38 questions

60 minutes for 60 questions

Essay

(Optional) Essays are scored separately and don’t heavily factor into admissions decisions, so they should not factor into your testing decision.

50 minutes

40 minutes

Writing & Language/English

  • Tests knowledge of grammar rules and sentence structure, as well as the ability to edit passage and logically sequence information.
  • Includes ~2 questions related to information in a chart or graph.
  • Writing & Language Scale is VERY harsh for high-scoring students.
  • Rules and concepts tested are functionally identical to SAT.
  • Has 31 more questions than SAT Writing & Language, which allows for a less harsh scale.
  • No questions relating to charts or graphs.

Math

  • Less time restrictive, but less straightforward.
  • Requires a deeper conceptual knowledge of the foundations of Algebra.
  • Fewer questions on geometry & trigonometry (~6).
  • Has 13 “Grid-In” (no multiple choice) questions.
  • Calculator allowed on 38 of 58 questions.
  • Math Score Scale can be harsh for high-scoring students.
  • Faster paced, but more straightforward.
  • Contains more “difficult” Algebra II concepts (matrices, conic sections, logarithms).
  • More heavily tests geometry & trigonometry.
  • Calculator allowed on entire test.

Reading

  • Tests ability to determine main idea, draw inferences and find supporting evidence.
  • More time per passage, but passages use more sophisticated language and are more difficult to comprehend.
  • Has 14-18 “evidence pair” questions.
  • Contains either a U.S. Founding Document or passage in the Great Global Conversation, which are very hard to get through.
  • Tests ability to determine main ideas, draw inferences and locate details in the passage.
  • Extremely fast-paced, but requires a more cursory knowledge of the passage.

Science

Does not have a science section, but “Analysis in Science” skills are tested throughout all sections of the test.

  • Tests a student’s ability to read and analyze tables, graphs, diagrams and evaluate different scientific viewpoints.
  • 5-6 questions per test require outside scientific knowledge.

Scoring

  • The entire test (without essay) is scored out of 1600.
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) Score: Raw scores from the Reading and Writing & Language tests are combined and given a scaled score out of 800.
  • Math Score: Raw scores from both Math tests are combined and given a scaled score out of 800.
  • Scoring scales from test to test are very unpredictable, which is maddening for students.
  • Each test (English, Math, Reading, Science) is given a score on a 36-point scale.
  • The composite score is the average of all four test scores and rounds up (ex. a composite of 31.5 will be displayed as a 32).
  • ACT scoring scales are much more predictable from test to test than SAT scoring scales.

Superscoring

More colleges and universities superscore the SAT than they do the ACT.

  • Many colleges and universities superscore the ACT, though less schools do so than they superscore the SAT.
  • In September 2020, students can purchase a Superscore report from the ACT.

Score Release

  • Scores (excluding the essay) are typically released 13 days after each test date.
  • The QAS (Question-and-Answer Service)—which allows students to review the entire test and identify the questions they answered correctly/incorrectly—is typically available for the October, March, and May tests.
  • The SAS (Student Answer Service)—which allows students to see their answers, but not the actual test—is available on all other test dates.
  • Both the QAS and SAS are available online at the same time scores are available.
  • Scores (excluding the essay) are typically released 10 days after each test date in the US.
  • Scores (excluding the essay) are typically released 2 days after each test date outside the US.
  • TIR (Test Information Release) is available for the December, April, and June test dates.
  • If students purchase the TIR, they will receive a physical copy of the test and a copy of their answers and the answer key in the mail a few weeks after the test date.
  • In the past, it has taken nearly two months to receive the TIR (making it rather ineffective). More recently, however, it has taken less than 3 weeks for students to receive it.

Accomodations

  • Accommodations are available for students who require them.
  • Students with accommodations receive their scores at the same time as students who do not have accommodations.
  • Accommodations are available for students who require them.
  • Students who receive accommodations typically have the ability to take the test on paper.
  • The ACT is a bit stricter when it comes to obtaining extra-time accommodations. For example, it requires a longer recorded history for students with diagnosed ADHD or other attention-deficit disorders.
  • Students with accommodations usually receive their scores later than students who do not have accommodations.

Scheduling

Offered the same day as SAT Subject Tests, which limits testing opportunities for students that want or need to take those tests in order to apply to top-tier U.S. colleges and universities.

ACT dates do not overlap with SAT Subject Test dates.

Study Resources

  • The SAT has officially released 12 full-length practice tests, 8 of which have been officially given to students.
  • 17 official tests can be found online.
  • The SAT Official Study Guide has 10 official exams.
  • The College Board has officially partnered with Khan Academy to provide free lessons and study resources for students.
  • The ACT has released 6-8 full-length practice tests.
  • Over 30 previously administered tests can be found online.
  • The ACT Official Guide has 5 official exams.

*Superscoring is when a college or university takes the highest section scores across all test dates to form a higher score than a student might have obtained on any single test date. Each school’s superscoring policy can be found on its admissions website.

"With your help Katie was able to improve her ACT scores.  That improvement was enough to get her in the #1 ranked film and production school in the world, USC."

That's ESM.

2019 - 2020
SAT Dates

Upcoming SAT® dates are listed below. To register, visit College Board or call 866-756-7346. Students with learning differences should call 609-771-7137 for testing accommodations and requirements.

Registration

Test Day

Scores Release

Jul

31

2020

Aug

29

2020

AAA

00

2020

Sep

4

2020

Oct

3

2020

AAA

00

2020

Oct

9

2020

Nov

7

2020*

AAA

00

2020

Nov

6

2020

Dec

5

2020

AAA

00

2020

*Date not available for International testing, only for US-based tests