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Alongside the SAT®, the ACT® is a major factor colleges use to determine whether or not you should be admitted. For colleges, these test scores are a way to compare you to all students who apply. While the scores aren’t everything, they are definitely important and it’s crucial that you do your best.
If you’ve never taken the ACT before, chances are you’re a bit nervous. You’ve probably heard of kids taking it on a Saturday morning. If this is your first time taking any standardized test needed for college, you’re probably even more nervous and unsure of what you’re in for.
But don’t worry, this post will give you the rundown on what to expect when you first take the ACT. While the test might be a bit intimidating, if you take it seriously, you can come out of it with flying colors.
What to expect at the ACT® test
When you arrive at the test location, you’ll see a nice-sized line of people already waiting there. Your admission ticket will say to be there by 8, but chances are you won’t be let in until after 8. Nevertheless, be there on time, just to be safe. As students are let in, you’ll be assigned a classroom and a seat in the classroom. You’ll end up waiting around in there a while as students check in and the room fills.
As with any standardized test, you’ll have the lovely pleasure of spending the first 45 minutes filling out bubbles on your test form: name, address, test location, ethnicity, you name it. And, of course, the instructions the proctor reads are extremely long and dull because they’re idiot-proof. You’ll be bored.
You then take the test section by section. After the math section, you’ll have a short break to stand up, use the bathroom, etc. then you’ll come back and finish the final two sections. If you choose to take the Writing test, then you’ll have another break after the Science section before diving into that.
The test typically will get out between noon and one o’clock, depending on whether or not you take the writing section.
What to bring to the ACT
- Your admission ticket
- Some sort of identification: school ID card, drivers license, etc.
- Calculator. You don’t need it for a lot of problems, but it’s nice to have it to fall back on to be safe. Make sure your calculator isn’t prohibited before you arrive.
- Something to snack on if you get hungry.
- A pencil, if you’d like.
How about some sample ACT questions?
We’ve got you covered. Here are a few sites with practice tests/questions:
- ACT’s own website
- Our own practice tests for ACT
Tips for ACT Success
- There are no penalties for incorrect answers on the ACT. If you can’t figure it out, do your best to eliminate at least one or two choices, then guess from there. It doesn’t hurt you at all to be wrong, so if you leave a question blank, you’re missing out on the lucky chance that you’ll get it right. Obviously, the more educated your guess can be, the better.
- Don’t get distracted. Easier said than done, we know, but it’s important to focus. Pray that you don’t end up in a test room with the kid who sniffles his nose every 5 seconds, but if you do, try your best to zone out of any other distractions. You want to give this test your all.
- Keep your eye on the time. Whoever proctors the test will give you the end time for each section, so watch the clock to make sure you’re not falling behind.
- The test is bright and early Saturday morning. Don’t be out late partying on Friday — you want to be as well-rested as you can be. It happens that students actually fall asleep mid-test. You don’t want that to be you, so try to get a quality night’s sleep beforehand.
- It’s not a short test. Combined, all sections add up to about 3 and a half hours. When you realize that you get to spend a lot of time filling out paperwork when you arrive, you know this is going to be a long day. Don’t think it will be over fast — be mentally prepared to be there until the early afternoon. I’m also confident that you can bring food there to snack on. Not much is worse than taking a test while your stomach is growling, so you might want to bring something in case.
- Most importantly, relax. Everybody is always so tense for these tests. Remember, this isn’t a one-time test: if you don’t like your score, you can always take the test again. Hopefully, you haven’t put the ACT off to the last minute, allowing you one or two more chances to retake it.
In the end, the ACT is definitely a long and stressful Saturday. If you’re really worried about how well you did, take comfort in that test scores are only one part of you that colleges look at. If you do worse than you would have liked, there are other aspects of you that will be taken into consideration. The SAT test will also hold a lot of weight too if you do better on that instead.
As with any test, the key to passing is simply to take it seriously. The ACT doesn’t have to be a big scary test if you come mentally prepared to pass it.