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ACT (examination)

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The ACT is a standardized achievement examination for college admissions in the United States produced by ACT, Inc.[1] It was first administered in Fall 1959 by Everett Franklin Lindquist as a competitor to the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test, now the SAT Reasoning Test.[2] Some students who perform poorly on the SAT find that they perform better on the ACT and vice versa.[3] The test has historically consisted of 4 tests: English, Math, Reading, and Science reasoning. In February 2005, an optional writing test was added to the ACT, mirroring changes to the SAT that took place later in March of the same year. All four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept the ACT[4] but different institutions place different emphases on standardized tests such as the ACT, compared to other factors of evaluation such as class rank, G.P.A., and extracurricular activities.

ACT, Inc.Edit

ACT, Inc., was originally known as the American College Testing Program, Inc., but changed its name to ACT Inc., the letters not standing for anything, in 1996. In 2002 the company was restructured to include "Education" and "Workforce Development" divisions, each overseen by its own advisory board. Each state also has its own state organization, and the entire company is overseen by a board of directors made up of 14 members. When high school students become sophomores, they take the PLAN test to help decide if they will want to take the ACTs the following year.[1]

In 2005 the company established ACT International. This organization is composed of ACT Education Solutions, Limited, and ACT Business Solutions, B.V. ACT Education Solutions is directed toward helping non-native speakers learn English in preparation for studying at an English-speaking educational institution. ACT Business Solutions attempts to help employers assess their employees' level of English proficiency through use of the WorkKeys assessment.[1]


ACT, Inc. says that the ACT assessment measures high school students' general educational development and their capability to complete college-level work with the multiple-choice tests covering four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. The optional Writing Test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.[5] Specifically, ACT states that its scores provide an indicator of "college readiness", and that scores in each of the subtests correspond to skills in entry-level college courses in English, algebra, social science, humanities, and biology.[6]

To develop the test, ACT incorporates the objectives for instruction for middle and high schools throughout the United States, reviews approved textbooks for subjects taught in Grades 7-12, and surveys educators on which knowledge skills are relevant to success in postsecondary education. ACT publishes a technical manual that summarizes studies conducted of its validity in predicting freshman GPA, equating different high school GPAs, and measuring educational achievement. [7]

Colleges use The ACT and the SAT Reasoning Test because there are substantial differences in funding, curricula, grading, and difficulty among U.S. secondary schools due to American federalism, local control, and the prevalence of private, distance, and home schooled students. ACT/SAT scores are used to supplement the secondary school record and help admission officers put local data — such as course work, grades, and class rank — in a national perspective.

In addition, some states have used the ACT to assess the performance of schools, and require all high school students to take the ACT, regardless of whether they are college bound. Colorado and Illinois have incorporated the ACT as part of their mandatory testing program since 2001. Michigan has required the ACT since 2007, Kentucky will require all high school juniors to take the ACT beginning in 2008 and Wyoming will require all high school juniors to take either the ACT or the ACT WorkKeys exams.[8]


File:SAT-ACT Preference Map.svg

The ACT is more widely used in the Midwestern and Southern United States, while the SAT is more popular on the east and west coasts, although recently the ACT has been gaining more use on the East Coast.[9] Use of the ACT by colleges has risen as a result of various criticisms of the effectiveness and fairness of the SAT.


The required portion of the ACT is divided into four multiple choice subject tests: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. Subject test scores range from 1 to 36; all scores are natural numbers. The English, mathematics, and reading tests also have subscores ranging from 1 to 18. (The subject score is not the sum of the subscores.) The "composite score" is the average of all four tests. In addition, students taking the writing test receive a writing score ranging from 2 to 12, a "combined English/writing score" ranging from 1 to 36 (based on the writing score and English score), and one to four comments on the essay from the essay scorers. The writing score does not affect the composite score. Sometimes the test includes an experimental section that may be a short version of any of the four major sections. The experimental section is used to normalize questions for future administrations of the ACT and does not count toward the final score. The experimental section is most often found on the June offering.


The first section is the 45 minute English test covering usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills. The 75 question test consists of a few passages with various sections underlined on one side of the page and options to correct the underlined portions on the other side of the page. There are also a few questions asking about the order of sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a passage and the author's tone in a section of text.


The second section is the 60 minute, 60 question math test with 14 covering pre-algebra, 10 elementary algebra, 9 intermediate algebra, 14 plane geometry, 9 coordinate geometry, and 4 elementary trigonometry.[10] Calculators are permitted in this section only. The calculator requirements are stricter than the SAT's in that computer algebra systems are not allowed; however, the ACT permits calculators with paper tapes, that make noise, that have wireless capabilities, and that have power cords with certified "modifications" (disabling the above features), which the SAT does not allow.[11] This is the only section that has five instead of four answer choices.


The 35 minute, 40 question reading section measures reading comprehension in four passages (taken and edited from books and magazines) concerning one each prose fiction (short stories and novels), social science (history, economics, psychology, political science, and anthropology), humanities (art, music, architecture, dance), and natural science (biology, chemistry, physics, and the physical sciences), in that order.[12]

Science reasoningEdit

The science reasoning test is a 35 minute, 40 question test. There are seven passages each followed by five to seven questions. There are three Data Representation passages with 5 questions following each passage, 3 Research Summary passage with six questions each, and one Conflicting Viewpoints passage with 7 questions.[13]


The optional writing section, which is always administered at the end of the test, is 30 minutes long. All essays must be in response to a given prompt. The prompts are about a social issue applicable to high school students. No particular essay structure is required. Two trained readers assign each essay a score between 1 and 6, where a score of 0 is reserved for essays that are blank, off-topic, non-English, not written with no. 2 pencil, or considered illegible after several attempts at reading. The scores are summed to produce a final score from 2 to 12 (or 0). If the two readers' scores differ by more than one point, then a senior third reader decides.

Although the writing section is optional insofar as the ACT examination may be completed without it, several schools do require an essay score and will factor it in to the admissions decision[14].

The chart below summarizes each section and the average test score based on graduating high school seniors in 2006.[15] [16]

Section Number of questions Time (minutes) Average score Content
English 75 45 20.6 usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills
Mathematics 60 60 20.8 pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, geometry, and elementary trigonometry
Reading 40 35 21.4 reading comprehension
Science 40 35 20.9 interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving
Optional Writing Test 1 essay prompt 30 7.7 writing skills

Test availabilityEdit

The ACT is offered four to six times a year, depending on the state, in the United States, in September, October, December, February, April and June and is always on a Saturday.

Candidates may choose either the ACT assessment, ($30), or the ACT assessment plus writing, ($44.50).

Candidates whose religious beliefs prevent them from taking the test on a Saturday may request to take the test on the following Sunday. Such requests must be made at the time of registration and are subject to denial.

Students with verifiable disabilities, including physical and learning disabilities, are eligible to take the exam with accommodations. The standard time increase for students requiring additional time due to learning disabilities is 50%.[17] Scores are sent to the student, his or her high school, and up to six colleges. [18]

Score cumulative percentages and comparison with SATEdit

Of the graduating high school class of 2007, there were 1,300,599 students who took the ACT; this comprises 42% of the graduating class took the ACT.[19] The average composite score was a 21.1. Of 2006 test-takers, 517,563 (or 42.9%) were males, 646,688 (or 53.6%) were females, and 42,204 (or 3.5%) did not report a gender.[16] Nationwide, 314 students who reported that they would graduate in 2007 received the highest ACT composite score of 36.[20] Males on average scored one fifth (.2) of a point higher on the ACT than females.[9]


Although there is no official conversion chart, the College Board, who administers the SAT, released an unofficial chart based on results from 103,525 test takers who took both tests between October 1994 and December 1996 here; however, both tests have changed since then. Several colleges and test-prep companies have also issued their own charts. The following is based on the The Princeton Review conversion chart.[21] The cumulative percentage are based on the published 2007 ACT distribution.[22]. Note that ACT percentiles are calculated as the percent scoring the same or lower not as is sometimes the case just those who score lower. Note that these values are approximations; yet the distributions have retained a good degree of stability over the history of these exams. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

SAT (with writing test addition) ACT composite score Approximate cumulative percentage of the ACT (not the SAT)
2400 36 100%
2340 35 100%
2260 34 100%
2190 33 99%
2130 32 99%
2040 31 98%
1980 30 96%
1920 29 94%
1860 28 92%
1820 27 89%
1760 26 85%
1700 25 80%
1650 24 75%
1590 23 69%
1530 22 62%
1500 21 55%
1410 20 47%
1350 19 39%
1290 18 32%
1210 17 25%
1140 16 19%
1060 15 13%
1000 14 9%
900 13 5%
780 12 2%
750 11 1%


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 About ACT: History. URL accessed on October 25, 2006.Name changed in 1996.
  2. "ACT Assessment," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007 © 1997-2007 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
  3. "Chapter 1" Cracking The ACT, 2007 edition, Pages 11-12, The Princeton Review.
  4. includeonly>Marklein, Mary Beth. "All four-year U.S. colleges now accept ACT test" (html), USA TODAY. Retrieved on March 18. (in English)
  5. The Test. (URL accessed June 05, 2007).
  6. 9681 Using Your Results
  7. Microsoft Word - ACT Technical Manual.doc
  8. ACT Press Release : 2007 ACT College Readiness Report News Release
  9. 9.0 9.1 Honawar, Vaishali, Alyson Klein (August 30 2006). ACT Scores Improve; More on East Coast Taking the SAT's Rival. Education Week 26 (1): 16.
  10. "Chapter 10" Cracking The ACT, 2007 edition, Page 94, The Princeton Review.
  11. ACT FAQ: Can I use a calculator?. ACT Inc.. URL accessed on September 8, 2007.
  12. "Chapter 17" Cracking The ACT, 2007 edition, Pages 239, The Princeton Review.
  13. "Chapter 20" Cracking The ACT, 2007 edition, Pages 307, The Princeton Review.
  14. Cavner, Brian Comparison Between the SAT and ACT: Requirements differences between the two college admissions standardized tests. URL accessed on February 3, 2008.
  15. ACT Test Prep:Description of the ACT Assessment. ACT Inc.. URL accessed on June 29, 2007.
  16. 16.0 16.1 ACT High School Profile Report: The Graduating Class of 2006: National. (PDF) ACT Inc.. URL accessed on June 29, 2007.
  17. ACT Services for Students with Disabilities. accessdate=September 8. ACT Inc..
  18. ACT Score Information: ACT Score Report Descriptions. ACT Inc.. URL accessed on June 29, 2007.
  19. ACT National and State Scores for 2007: 2006 Average ACT Scores by State. ACT Inc.. URL accessed on June 29, 2007.
  20. [1]. (URL accessed November 26 2007).
  21. The Princeton Review: How SAT and ACT scores compare. (URL accessed April 10 2008).
  22. percentile rankings for 2007 ACT

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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