ACT Myth #1: The ACT is easier than the SAT.
While it’s true in general that the questions and passages on the ACT are less abstract and easier to comprehend than their SAT counterparts, remember that time is a critical factor. On average, you have 49 seconds to answer each question on the ACT; this, compared to an average of 70 seconds per question on the SAT, is fast. The rapid pace of the ACT serves as a check on its slightly more straightforward content.
It’s all about playing to your strengths. If you’re the type of student who works quickly and accurately, and who has great reading speed and retention, the ACT may be the right test for you. The best way to know which test to pursue is to take diagnostic tests before starting your test prep.
ACT Myth #2: Schools prefer the SAT to the ACT.
This is simply incorrect: all colleges and universities, regardless of rank or status, will accept either the ACT or SAT without preference during the admissions process. Admissions officers are trying to give you the best chance they can to recommend your admission, so take the exam that will highlight your strengths!
ACT Myth #3: It’s very difficult to improve your ACT score.
Each section of the ACT is scored on a scale from 1 to 36. At most points in the scale, correctly answering two or three more questions will increase your scaled score by 1 point. Take, for example, the scoring scale for the English section of the December 2018 ACT (see screenshot below).
Let’s say you answered 50 questions correctly on the English section; this translates to a scaled score of 23. By correctly answering just 6 more of the 75 English questions, you would have scored a 25. That may not seem like a significant change, but it is: a 2-point increase in this part of the scale raises your score from the 70th percentile to the 79th percentile!
This isn’t to say that raising your ACT score is easy—as is the case with achieving anything worthwhile, earning a higher ACT score requires hard work and lots of practice. But the good news is that those 6 questions could fall under just one or two topics that can be handled using the same strategy; once you master that approach, a score increase is in reach.
ACT Myth #4: You shouldn’t take the ACT until late in your junior year.
Many students believe that taking the ACT early in their junior year will mean getting a lower math score. This misconception stems from the fact that the ACT Math does test topics students usually learn in Algebra II (or even Precalculus), which are typically covered in junior year. However, the vast majority of ACT Math questions can be solved using skills students learn in Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, and Geometry. For any questions that require knowledge learned beyond those courses, students can learn content and techniques as needed when they start preparing. In summary, don’t let the ACT Math section scare you!
Taking the ACT earlier in your junior year—even if math isn’t your strong suit—can help minimize the stress that accompanies standardized college admissions testing. If you’re able to start prep with enough time to test in the mid- to late-fall of your junior year, you should do so: this way, you can learn from the experience, prepare for a second test in the spring, and, ideally, finish taking the ACT before the end of your junior year.
ACT Myth #5: If you have good grades, you don’t need to prep for the ACT.
While higher grades certainly correlate with higher ACT scores, the association isn’t a perfect one: we regularly help students whose academic performance is stellar but whose initial standardized test scores seem puzzlingly low. Why does this happen? The ACT is much different than any test you’ve seen in high school. With breaks and administrative time built in, the ACT is nearly four hours long; it tests most of the math you’ve learned all at once; it tests English grammar and structure rules you may never have considered; it is much faster-paced than the typical high school exam; its question style can be much different than that of the questions you’ve seen on your usual tests. The list goes on. All this means that while your good grades count for a lot, you need to know exactly what you’ll face on the ACT in order to perform your best. The best way to ensure your optimal performance is to prepare for the ACT diligently.