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A Beginner's (Thorough) Guide to the ACT

A Beginner's (Thorough) Guide to the ACT

Ah, standardized testing. We hardly look forward to it, but, in the American education system, there’s a heavy emphasis on taking them. The ACT and SAT are the two exams that really stand out as the culmination of your education — a portion of admission is typically dependent on them.

Don’t despair if standardized testing isn’t really your thing. Colleges and universities are beginning to see beyond the numbers and test-optional schools are becoming more common. What I’m driving to is this: take the ACT or SAT, whichever your state favors, work hard and do your best, but try to take it easy on yourself. Not acing the ACT isn’t the end of all future education, I can guarantee you that.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test comprised of four multiple choice subject tests and one optional writing portion. The four core subjects on the ACT will be familiar to you — they’ve been the core of your education since you entered kindergarten (or preschool): English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science.

The Backstory

Everett Franklin Lindquist was a professor of education at the University of Iowa College of Education, and a greater man who loved standardized testing you will not find. He created any number of standardized tests for middle, elementary, and high school students in Iowa, which were used nationwide thanks to their acclaim.

He was even a member of the team that created the GED, a standardized test specifically designed to help servicemen whose education had been interrupted by WWII. Think what you want of the ACT and standardized testing, but Lindquist’s heart was in the right place.

Back in 1959, the only other standardized test used to judge students’ undergraduate readiness was the SAT. Lindquist had different views on what knowledge indicated a student being primed for postsecondary education, and it led to the creation of the ACT, or the American College Test.

The first iteration of this test was administered to over 75,000 students in its first year, and that number quickly soared to over a million within 13 years.

The big difference between the SAT and ACT is this; the ACT not only tests cognitive reasoning, but it also throws in standard test information that every high schooler should know. The test has always been judged on a scale of 0-36 with four sections, but it debuted with slightly different sections.

Originally, it focused on English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Natural Science. While English and Mathematics have stayed as they are, Social Studies was swapped out for Reading (which boasts a section on Social Studies), while Natural Science was traded out for the similar-but-not-the-same Science Reasoning section. These changes were made in 1989, and they’ve remained since.

The biggest change that’s hit the ACT is the addition of the writing portion in 2005 — which actually was created to pull this Iowa-raised test closer to its competition, the SAT.

Now that you know the history, it's time to talk about what's actually on the ACT. 

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