The ACT: A History Lesson

All you Magooshers are becoming familiar with how to conquer the ACT: its format, its timing, its array of questions. But how much do you know about the origins of the ACT- or what it even stands for? Time for a pop quiz!

The Origin of the ACT

Prior to 1959, the SAT (the Scholastic Aptitude Test) served as the United States’s only national, standardized college entrance exam. As more students decided to pursue higher education, however, and universities responded to the demand by opening up more seats, the need for another measurement system emerged. Say hello to the American College Testing Program (or A-C-T for short.)

Fun fact: In 1996, the ACT acronym became an official name for both the test and the company behind it, meaning it no longer “stood” for anything. So if you didn’t know what ACT meant, you were actually technically right, because today, it means nothing!

Originally, the ACT was designed to assess college-bound students’ specific knowledge of English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Reasoning. This multiple choice-based test is known for testing a student’s ability to recall formulas and fundamentals from these subjects and also for interpreting graphs. It would consist of four 35-40 minutes long. Sound pretty familiar? That’s because it is. Unlike the SAT, which has undergone many formatting, grading and timing changes over the years, the ACT has remained largely the same, a trait that has made it more attractive to modern test-takers. The only big change occurred in 2005 with the addition of the Writing (essay) section that you have come to know so well.

In 2015, you Magooshers are in good company: More students than ever are choosing the ACT over the SAT. All the more reason to take advantage of the growing pool of resources at your studying disposal, and to make Magoosh a “go to” for valuable tips and information. Study on!


  • Susanna Langholm

    Susanna holds a BA in Education & Liberal Studies from Smith College and has spent the better part of her college and post-graduate years helping students achieve success both in and outside of the classroom. Most recently, Susanna served as the Assistant Director for a tutoring franchise catering to college-bound exam prep students, learning a thing or two about the ACT in the process. When she’s not navigating the test-taking waters for the sake of her students, Susanna can be found reading, writing on her education blog, skiing, or planning a future filled with international travel - her favorite (but most expensive) hobby.

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

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