15 Jun 2017

How is ACT different

We’ve been focusing on the SAT, GMAT, and TOEFL for the past few months but we want to share the love, so this week we’re going to look at the ACT, the lesser known but still extremely popular test for college admissions.


To begin with, the ACT has 4 sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science.  Each section is scored on a scale of 0-36, and then all sections are averaged together to get a composite score of 0-36.  The composite score is the score universities care about, not each individual section score. However, many universities will take the highest score from each individual section if you’ve taken the ACT more than once  and use that “superscore” to give students the highest composite score. There is also an essay on the ACT, which is optional (that means you don’t have to write the essay unless the universities you are applying to require it) and is scaled on a score of 2-12, with 4 separate domains which are scored.  If you write the essay, you will get a separate essay score as well as an English Language Arts subscore.  These separate scores will not affect your composite score, but they do provide your universities with another measurement.

The English and Math sections of the ACT are extremely similar to the English and Math sections of the revamped SAT in terms of format and what is being tested.  The Reading section of the ACT is somewhat similar to the new SAT, but there is much less time to complete the section: 35 minutes for 40 questions (4 passages), compared to 65 minutes for 55 questions (5 passages) on the new SAT.  Additionally, the ACT reading section always follows the same order of passage types: Prose Fiction, Social Science, Humanities, and Natural Science.

So other than the timing of certain sections, some of the math concepts, there isn’t very much of a difference between 3 of the ACT sections and the new SAT.  Then comes the Science section of the ACT.  This is the section most students have the hardest time with, mainly because of some preconceptions.  To start with, the ACT Science section isn’t really science at all: it’s scientific reading.  You’ll need to know how to get information from charts and graphs and weird diagrams, you’ll need to have some basic understanding of scientific principles, but there’s no science “fact” or “formulas” that are tested.  Everything that is being tested is actually right in front of you.  The hardest part is actually the timing of the section:  35 minutes to answer 40 questions.  Add this to the fact that the Science is the last section, you are already tired and ready to go home, and now you are confronted by this.

In my next post, we’ll look a little deeper into this section and discuss some tips on how to attack it. Until then, enjoy a sloth in outer space.