The ACT is a nationally administered, standardized test used by many U.S. colleges and universities to assess applicants’ readiness for college.  The majority of competitive U.S. colleges and universities require students to submit a score from either the ACT or the SAT (the other nationally administered, standardized college admissions test) as part of their application; all colleges that require a standardized test score will accept either.  (About 60% of Kaplan students take both tests, to see which they’ll perform better on.)  Comprised of four scored sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science) and an ungraded, optional Writing section, the ACT includes multiple-choice questions plus an optional essay prompt. Scoring range is from 1 to 36; in 2010 only 588 of the ACT’s 1.6 million takers scored a perfect 36.  Generally, students will take the ACT in the spring of their junior year, which allows them enough time to re-take the test during the fall of senior year if they are not satisfied with their score.

Brief history of the ACT: Originally conceived as an alternative to the SAT, the ACT was created by two faculty members at the University of Iowa in 1959 in response to changing patterns in college attendance and what they saw as the need for a test that more accurately evaluated potential student performance.  Earlier versions of the test required specific information about American history and science.  The current ACT focuses on English, math, reading, science and writing.  The name ACT originally stood for American College Testing when the company was founded, but later changed its name to ACT and doesn’t technically stand for anything. For many years, the ACT was a regionally popular exam in Midwestern states, while the SAT remained stronger in more highly populated states like New York and California. As more and more colleges began accepting the ACT, however, more students in states throughout the country began taking the exam.  In 2010, for the first time, more students took the ACT than the SAT.  In 2015, the ACT will move from its current paper-and-pencil format to a computer based format, though the test maker has not said its content will change.

Test Facts:

  • Year created: 1959
  • Number of test takers for class of 2010: 1,568,835
  • Length of test: 2 hours and 55 minutes excluding the optional Writing Test or 3 hours and 25 minutes including the Writing Test.
  • Test format: paper-and-pencil
  • Sections on test: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science and Writing (optional and ungraded)
  • Score range: 1-36
  • Cost of test: $33 (without Writing section) or $48 (with Writing section)
  • How often the test it administered: 6 times per year (September, October, December, February, April, June)
  • Administrator of test: ACT
  • Interesting fact about the test: For many years, not all colleges accepted the ACT for admissions.  The last holdout was Harvey Mudd College, which began accepting the ACT in 2007.

* SAT is a registered trademark of the College Board, which was not involved in the production of, and does not endorse, this product. ACT is a registered trademark of ACT, Inc. PSAT/NMSQT is a trademark jointly owned by the College Board and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, which were not involved in the production of, and do not endorse, this product. None of the trademark holders are affiliated with Kaplan or this website.

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