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Thomas Broderick

ACT FAQ: Most Frequently Asked Questions

Good morning/afternoon/evening Magoosh readers. If you have a test date with the ACT this summer, I bet you have some questions, especially if this is your first time testing. No fear, Mr. B is here with some concise answers to your ACT FAQ.


ACT FAQ: Most Frequently Asked Questions -Magoosh


If you should come to this end of this article and still have a question (or two), make sure to check out ACT’s official FAQ page.

When should I register for the ACT?

Technical answer: The registration deadline is generally five weeks before the test date. Students can elect to register up to three weeks before the test, but have to pay a late fee.

Real answer: As soon as you possibly can. Not only will you (or more likely your parents) not have to deal with pesky late fees, committing to a test date ups the pressure on you to create a study plan and see it through until test day. With hopefully at least two months of time between you and your chosen test date, any unexpected events in your personal or academic life should not have too much of an impact on your study schedule.

How long does the ACT last?

Technical answer: 2 hours and 55 minutes. 3 hours and 40 minutes if you are taking the optional Writing Test.

Real answer: Your entire Saturday morning. Unlike most Saturdays in a teenager’s life, on ACT day you need to get up at the crack of dawn, eat, shower (please shower), and drive to the testing site. And just like any trip to the airport, it’s always a good idea to arrive early.

How is the ACT scored?

Technical answer: Each of the four tests on the ACT (English, Math, Reading, Science) are scored between 1 and 36. Your composite score is the average of these four scores.

Real answer: The ACT is designed to answer two basic questions: ‘How well do you understand the English language?’ and ‘How well do you understand high school Math?’ Everything else is window dressing. The fact that these four tests are weighed equally in your composite score is a blessing in disguise. Each student’s strengths and weaknesses are different, making the composite score a more accurate prediction of college potential.

Which is better when applying to college: ACT or SAT?

Technical answer: The vast majority of colleges around the country view the SAT and ACT equally. Students are encouraged to submit their best standardized test scores.

Real answer: With recent changes to the SAT, the two standardized tests are more similar than ever. That’s not to say, though, that you will perform the same on both tests. The subtle differences between the tests will play to your strengths and weaknesses. Take both to see which is better for you? Definitely.

How much does my ACT score affect my college applications?

Technical answer: ACT (or SAT) scores are an important part of any college application. Admissions counselors use ACT scores as an objective measure of student potential.

Real answer: A lot. Though not as powerful as they once were, ACT scores are still one of the first things admissions counselors (especially those working at competitive colleges) look at when reviewing an application. A competitive score is like a solid foundation on which to build a house. If it’s there, the admissions counselor can start building a case as to why you’d be a good fit for the school. If your scores are ‘less than ideal,’ your application is going to be a much harder sell.

Why can’t I see my ACT scores?!

Technical answer: For a variety of reasons, ACT scores are sometimes delayed. In these situations, your patience is appreciated.


ACT FAQ: Most Frequently Asked Questions -Magoosh


Real answer: Either you or someone at the testing center screwed up. Now, it’s possible that Mr. or Ms. Test Proctor forgot to mail the tests until a week later, but generally these mistakes fall on you, the student. You can avoid delayed scores by making sure that your admissions ticket matches the information on the answer document you receive at the test site. If something doesn’t match up, or is missing, let your test proctor know right away.

Should I ever cancel my scores?

Technical answer: You can’t cancel your scores.

Real answer: It would be a waste of time and money to do so even if you could. Look at it this way: if you score poorly the first time taking the ACT, consider the results as another practice test. You know your strengths and weaknesses. These results are a great way to create a personalized study plan you need for retaking the ACT at a later date.

What about cancelling college score reports?

Technical answer: You have until noon on the Thursday following your test date to modify/cancel your college score reports.

Real answer: If this is your first time taking the ACT, don’t do it. Though some would argue that it is a bad idea to let college see your first (and most likely lowest) ACT score, I argue that it’s a blessing in disguise. Even if your scores are a little low, studying for a retake and improving your score will show admissions counselors that you have grit and determination. Admissions counselors love grit and determination. Also, some colleges use ACT superscores (only taking the highest sub-scores between two or more ACT tests), so use that to your advantage. Finally, if you still have questions and/or concerns, call the admissions department of the colleges where you are likely to apply. They’ll be more than happy to tell you how they view an application with multiple ACT scores.

Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen, there are a lot of questions about the ACT other than those on the test. Arm yourself with knowledge as you prepare for test day. Till next time, Magooshers.

About Thomas Broderick

Thomas spent four years teaching high school English, social studies, and ACT preparation in Middle Tennessee. Now living in Northern California, he is excited to share his knowledge and experience with Magoosh's readers. In his spare time Thomas enjoys writing short fiction and hiking in the Sonoma foothills.

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