The guarantee to a top ACT

September 16, 2006 at 10:38 pm 1 comment

Posted by Luke

The ACT was created by a midwestern organization as a counter-balance to the admission test monopoly run by the College Board-based SAT.

Although the tests are similar, the ACT, considered the more “knowledge-based” of the two exams, is unique in that it has a Science section to go along with the Reading, Mathematics, and English sections.

(There is an optional writing section that I highly suggest you take along with the standard test because most colleges now demand to have a writing score with the other four.)

The ACT has its own unique, mid-western flavor and the test preparation should be tailored to the test instead of assuming that cramming for the SAT will be sufficient to ace both exams.

Here I digress to state that even though the ACT is now a nationally recognized test, the SAT still holds sway as THE admissions test for the elite universities in the nation. Most state universities and other colleges are glad to accept either test score, however if you are applying to the Ivies, Public Ivies, Techies, Stanford, Duke, or Northwestern, I would suggest taking the SAT as a representation of your scholastic aptitude. At these fine institutions the ACT acts more like a back-up to a mediocre SAT score, but it is very rare that Harvard takes people with just an ACT. (Note: Most admissions officers will say this is not true and you should submit the best score, but we all know which test they prefer to see on applications. Welcome to the real world.) Another possibility is to submit both tests, as I did, but in this case the ACT acts more like a back-up to the SAT score rather than vice versa.

Now that that has been cleared up, here’s a run-down of the sections:

1. English

Can you speak English? If yes, then you’ll be fine. Rather than taking an analytical approach to English grammar (like those damn analogies they used to have on the SAT), the ACT tests the reader’s ability to change parts of a short excerpt to make it more cogent and readable. As long as you have a good ear for the flow of literary English you will ace this section no problem. If not, my advice is to just read as many books as you can before the test so the pattern of the English language is engrained in your head.

2. Mathematics

The mathematics section of the ACT covers the same material as its SAT counterpart (algebra, geometry, and common-sense math problems) with the addition of some questions dealing with trigonometry. On the whole, the math questions on the ACT are easier than SAT ones and require less abstract concepts to solve them. There are more geometry-based questions on the ACT, so if you took geometry in freshman year and have forgotten most of it, I would suggest brushing up on Euclid and Pythagoras before you go in on test day. Also, if you have not encountered trigonometry before, I would suggest learning the basic ratios of SOH-CAH-TOA. This section should cause you no trouble.

3. Reading

Like the mathematics section, the reading section is similar to the parts of the SAT reading section where it calls upon the student to closely analyze a text and answer questions relating to it. Once again the ACT questions are much easier than the SAT ones, and reading once through the passage should be enough to correctly answer all the questions relating to it. The best prep for this section is the same as the English section: READ BOOKS!!! The ACT is nowhere near as analytical, so a basic understanding of the passage will get you through this section. (Note: This section is difficult only in the fact that you have been taking this test for about an hour and a half and it’s really easy to space off and fall asleep during this section, like I did the first time I took it. Just try to stay alert and awake. The worst is yet to come…)

4. Science

This is by far the hardest section of the ACT. It is hard because “the Science section” is a misnomer; this section has nothing to do with science!!! What this section is really testing is your ability to critically read the questions and find patterns in the data provided. Half of the trouble is understanding exactly what the question is asking. The other half is finding the missing data that would complete the pattern supplied in the question. The most you can do for this section is to study esoteric patterns and improve on your analytical skills. DO NOT READ BIOLOGY OR CHEMISTRY BOOKS!!! YOU WILL ONLY BE WASTING YOUR TIME!!!

5. Writing

This section is the same as the SAT. You can’t really study for this part, as the grading is purely subjective. My advice is to attack the ideas and philosophy behind the prompt rather than, or at least in addition to, bringing up memories of you and your grandpa fishing. The graders are more inclined to reward creativity and depth of thought than how many big words you can saturate in one and a half pages. But, that said, good vocab never hurts. (Note: Stay tuned for more on writing SAT and ACT essays in subsequent posts!)

I hope this helps you as you study for the ACT. I’m sure that anyone who takes this test will do fine and will succeed if they have the determination to do so.


Entry filed under: ACT, Admissions, Algebra, Biology, Books, Chemistry, College Board, College trends, Duke, English, Essays, Euclid, Geometry, Harvard, Ivy league, Mathematics, Northwestern, Public schools, Pythagoras, Reading, SAT, Science, Stanford, Subject test, Testing, Trigonometry, Writing.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. J  |  September 3, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    Both tests are stupid. The reading and science sections for the ACT are impossible because you are given so little time.
    Don’t go to the Ivies. You don’t even get a good undergrad education except at Princeton and Penn. Go to a college fit for you.


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