Begin Early: Prepping Yourself for the ACT

Relax, it’s only a test.

Relax. It’s only a test? How can you relax when taking a test?

Jon Erickson, ACT vice president of educational services, says knowing some facts about the ACT® should help students relax about taking the college admissions test.

No Tricks up Our Sleeve

The ACT isn’t designed to trick you. “The test is based on what students learn in high school,” Erickson explains, “so every day that you go to school, attend classes, and do your homework, you’re preparing for the ACT. The harder you work and the more challenging classes you take, the better prepared you’ll be for the test.”

The ACT is Just Part of the Package

“Another important fact is that admissions officers look at other things besides test scores to admit students,” Erickson says. “Your test scores are just part of the package.” According to a National Association of College Admissions Counselors survey, the top five factors college officials identified as important in the college admission decision are:

  1. Grades in college-prep courses
  2. Standardized admission test scores
  3. Grades in all courses
  4. Class rank
  5. Essay or writing sample

Try, Try Again

If you don’t like your scores, remember that you can retake the test. “Your scores are a measure of your knowledge at the time you took the test. So if you take more classes and keep building your knowledge, you’re likely to do better,” Erickson says. There are no limitations on how many times you can take the ACT.

Choice is Good

When you take the ACT, your fee includes score reports for up to four colleges of your choice. But if seeing your scores first is important, you can wait and pay the extra $8 to send your scores to a school you’re interested in. If you take the test more than once, you can choose the best scores from one of your test dates.

Your Scores Mean Something

“College professors and high school teachers work with ACT to determine what entering college students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college,” Erickson says. “The ACT questions are developed based on that information. Your ACT scores show what you know and what you’re ready to learn next. So colleges can use your score information to put you in the right courses.”

Test-Taking Tips

  1. Read instructions carefully.
  2. Pace yourself.
  3. Use a No. 2 pencil with a good eraser.
  4. Answer the easy questions first.
  5. Make educated guesses on difficult questions.
  6. Answer every question. There is no penalty for guessing.
  7. Review your work.
  8. Mark your answers neatly and erase errors completely.
  9. When you’re told to put your pencil down, be sure to stop marking on the test immediately.
  10. Take a deep breath and remember it’s only a test.

For more testing and college planning information, visit


This article was written by Hannah Purnell

Hannah Purnell is a staff writer for Hannah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.

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