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It’s hard to believe that there was a time before high school students were asking the question, SAT or ACT (or both)? The ACT is actually a newcomer compared to its standardized rival. In this blog post, we’ll look briefly at the ACT’s origin story and share information on the test’s material and its scoring method. To get up close and personal with the ACT, consider attending an ACT prep class and join us in exploring the test’s inner workings after taking a full-length practice test.
Defining the ACT
The ACT is a standardized exam that tests knowledge and critical thinking skills acquired throughout a student’s years of school. It contains 4 sections* (or 5 including the optional Writing section) of differing lengths, in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. It runs about 3 hours (or 3 and a half hours with the Writing section).
The scoring method of the ACT has long been straightforward – students receive one point for a correct answer and lose no points for incorrect or skipped answers. If this sounds familiar, that’s because in 2016, the SAT also adopted this scoring model, doing away with its more complicated method that included losing points for incorrect answers. The ACT’s final score, called the “composite score,” is out of 36 points and is the average of the four sections. The optional Writing section retains a separate score.
For many years, the SAT was the only standardized testing option for students looking to apply for college. That all changed in 1959, when Everett Franklin Linquist, a professor at the University of Iowa College of Education, introduced a competitor: the ACT, originally an acronym for American College Testing. He intended the test contain more recall of practical knowledge than the SAT, which focused on reasoning skills.
Today, the ACT is more similar to the SAT than it has ever been, also testing reasoning and critical thinking skills. It’s administered by a company called ACT, Inc., which is headquartered in Linquist’s hometown of Iowa City, Iowa. Although the test was initially more popular with midwest and southern students, it has since spread across the country.
What Makes the ACT Unique?
The ACT may feel more intense, as it requires students to move a little bit faster than the SAT in all sections. For instance, the SAT gives 65 minutes to answer 52 questions in its Reading section, which averages to 1.25 minutes per question. The ACT gives 35 minutes to answer 40 questions in its Reading section, which averages to .88 minutes per question. A less stress-inducing (but still notable) difference: although most sections have questions with four answer choices (like on the SAT), the Mathematics section’s questions have five answer choices.
The major difference in ACT content is the presence of the Science section, which may intimidate students who are less STEM-minded, but shouldn’t! Although some background knowledge in biology, chemistry, earth sciences, and physics will definitely help, the Science section is more focused on using individual cases’s information and graphs to logically think through questions.
In 2012, for the first time ever, more students took the ACT than the SAT. The ACT remained more popular until 2018, when the SAT jumped back into the lead. But it wasn’t that students suddenly changed their minds about which test to take – the SAT enhanced its marketing efforts.
Feeling a little nervous about the Science section? Ready to learn some tips to keep you moving through the sections efficiently, but carefully? Learn all of this and more in an ACT prep class with The Answer Class. Register today for one of our many upcoming classes offered at a location near you.
*Although the ACT refers to its timed parts as “tests,” the word “sections” is used in this blog post for clarity purposes.