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Elise Gout

Five Things I Wish I’d Realized About the ACT

It’s simply the circle of (high school) life…


…that as summer slips away testing dates roll back around. Seniors are about to take their final stands with bubble-in answer sheets while juniors hunker down for the often-arduous journey ahead. There are a whole lot of things I wish I would have known prior to my own standardized testing endeavors, particularly about the ACT. But for the sake of keeping this blog post reasonable, I’ll stick with my top five.


1. It exists

This may seem silly, but it can be extremely common for high schoolers to automatically think of the SAT first. It could be because the SAT started before the ACT, or because (until 2012) the SAT had more test takers each year than its counterpart. For me, having an older brother who focused solely on the SAT (and then got into his top school) made it seem like the more logical option.

I wound up enrolling in an online SAT prep class, going through SAT practice tests, and reading SAT prep books. I proceeded to take it two times, semi-satisfied with my scores but certainly not thrilled. (The fencing coach at Columbia had given me an explicit target score, and despite my efforts I was falling short.)

It was only then that I considered the ACT, with more of a “why not” mentality than anything else. (After one go at it, my ACT score wound up being my best testing result and was within the threshold that I needed). If, from the beginning, I had been more aware of the ACT as a separate viable option, there’s a good chance that I could have saved myself from a lot of unnecessary stress and maybe even scored higher.


2. Its dates don’t coincide with the SAT

There can be a perception that you can’t take the SAT and ACT at the same time (you have to pick one and run with it). While it may definitely seem overwhelming to study for both “simultaneously,” the test dates for the ACT and SAT are usually spaced apart by at least two weeks (if not, more), giving you an ample number of days to switch gears. It’s definitely a personal call, but by not approaching the ACT as an afterthought (like was done by yours truly), you can grant yourself more opportunities to prep, perform, and try again.


4. Colleges value it equally…

For whatever reason, it was once engrained in my head that the ACT is somehow less legitimate – that it’s “easier” and therefore not as well respected by top tier universities.


The SAT and the ACT serve the same purpose. At this point, almost every school will accept both, and when they say, “accept,” they’re also saying, “will not discriminate according to the kind of test result you choose to submit.” Whether you’re an ACT kind of person or an SAT kind of person, you shouldn’t feel at a disadvantage.


4. …so who cares if your peers don’t?

I received a surprisingly fair share of negativity from my peers when they’d ask about my ACT score. Upon talking with other satisfied ACT test takers, I discovered that what I was experiencing was hardly uncommon.

Other students can tend towards dismissing the ACT as a way to relieve their insecurity. Maybe they’re struggling to get results or (as it was in my case) maybe they worked really hard for their impressive SAT score, and don’t want to be undermined by another.

Allow me to get real for a second: someone else’s success does not diminish the value of your own. What you hear from others shouldn’t discourage you from trying something different or being proud of your accomplishments thereafter.


5. It can favor your way of thinking

The big secret about the ACT is that, well, there is no secret. Certain students do better on it because they do better with what it’s made up of (a science section, less emphasis on vocabulary, etc.); it’s as simple as that. The SAT and the ACT each have distinct structures, sections, and styles. Only your personal preference will determine which one is less challenging, and the best way to find that out is to attempt both.


About Elise Gout

Elise writes articles for the Magoosh SAT blog to help teenagers during an exciting time in their lives. Despite residing in Southern California, where she attends San Dieguito Academy high school, she has no surfing abilities whatsoever; it’s actually rather sad. She is your typical senior high school girl who sword fights daily, and is pretty much convinced that bananas are a food sent from heaven. Elise will attend Columbia University next fall to study environmental science.

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