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“Should I Skip Questions On The ACT?” (and 5 Other FAQs About the Test)

 

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Students know that the ACT is a big, important exam, but they want to know more than “it helps you get into college.” Here are a few of the questions students ask us.

Question 1: Should I Skip Questions on the ACT?

Most students know that the right strategy can improve your ACT scores. The problem is that not all these “strategies” are reliable!

One strategy we should discuss is whether or not to skip questions on the ACT. The short answer is no. There’s no penalty for answering questions wrong, so guessing can only improve your score. If you don’t know an answer, you should guess.

If you’re wondering why students think they should skip questions, there’s a good reason.

The reason is the SAT.

Until March, 2016, the College Board utilized a version of the SAT with a ¼ point penalty for wrong answers, and it had strategic implications. Sometimes guessing was good, other times not. Even though the ACT never penalized guessing, this advice has leeched into the minds of ACT test-takers.

Since the new SAT eliminated the guessing penalty, guessing is now a good decision on either exam.

 

Question 2: How Is the ACT Scored?

The ACT has four sections (math, science, English, and reading), all scored individually on a scale of 1-36. The average of those scores is the all-important “composite score.”

The ACT also has an optional writing section, but it is not included in your composite score. (If you want to learn about the optional writing section, you can do so here.)

Scoring Examples

Suppose you took the ACT and received these scores:

  • Mathematics – 26
  • Science – 28
  • English – 31
  • Reading – 34

The average of those scores is 29.75, which rounds up to 30. But what if you took the test again? You could probably do a little better the second time, right?

Imagine you took it again and received these scores:

  • Mathematics – 33
  • Science – 32
  • English – 29
  • Reading – 31

The average of your new scores is 31.25, rounded down to 31. That’s a whole point higher!

Superscoring

Although you received an overall higher score on the retest, you didn’t do better in every subject. You improved in math and science, but your English and reading scores dropped! Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take each section’s highest score?

Well, you can! It’s called “superscoring.”

Superscoring, which is accepted by some schools, uses the highest scores from each section, no matter which test they come from. The result is a boost to composite. The super score from the tests above is 33. That’s two points higher than your best individual test! Pretty sweet, huh?

Here’s some more information about superscoring. There’s even a list of over 350 schools that tells you which ones accept it and which don’t.

 

Question 3: How Many Times Should I Take the ACT?

A student can take the ACT exam up to 12 times, but we don’t recommend it. Unless your circumstances are unique, we’ll probably suggest taking the ACT no more than twice.

Here’s why. The ACT is a high wire act. It’s stressful and exhausting. Plus, those students who take the test a bunch of times are more likely to get down on themselves when their scores aren’t quite satisfactory. That makes things more difficult the next time. It’s much easier to prepare yourself first.

So, instead of repeatedly putting yourself in high-stakes, high-stress situations, we suggest investing your energy in quality test prep and committing to just two exams.

 

Question 4: Which Section Is Most Important to My Score?

Some students just want to cut to the chase: studying which subject will provide the biggest composite gain?

Each of the four main sections are weighted equally, so none is more important than the others. Scoring 33 in math and 30 in English is the same as 33 in English and 30 in math.

That doesn’t mean all sections are created equal. Each has a different number of questions. The English section has 75, math has 60, and the reading and science sections have only 40.

As a result, some questions influence score more than the rest. Check this out. Answers in:

  • English = 1.33% of section’s score
  • Math = 1.66% of section’s score
  • Reading = 2.5% of section’s score
  • Science = 2.5% of section’s score

In English, you need to answer two questions correctly to earn one point. In reading and science, each answer is worth nearly a full point on its own. The conclusion: if all else is equal, you should focus on reading and science.

Unfortunately, everything probably isn’t equal. Don’t worry, though. Our tutors will help you self-assess your strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles so you’re equipped with an individualized plan of attack.

Question 5: Do I Have to Test on Saturday?

Nearly all students are required to test on Saturdays.

The most common exemption is for students with religious exceptions. Arranged testing is also available to students who qualify under very specific circumstances. Those circumstances are met when a student:

  • Resides in a corrections facility
  • Lives in a nation without testing centers, or
  • Doesn’t have a testing center within 75 miles of home

If you think you qualify for non-Saturday testing, you can read more about it here.

Question 6: When Should I Take the Exam?

There are six exams available each year and picking the right one is important. You need to have enough time before and after the exam to prep and submit college applications.

The best thing to do is to start planning in your sophomore year. Check out the test dates and plan to take the exam as a junior. This is wise because you’ll want to take the test twice. If you wait too long, you’ll only have time for one exam.

Junior year is busy, so you don’t want to pick a date when you’ll be swamped with sports or extracurriculars.

Once you have an exam date in mind, schedule test prep. Test prep that ends relatively near your planned exam date will make it easier to remember what you’ve learned.

It normally only takes two weeks to receive your scores, but it can take up to eight. Make sure that your college applications deadline falls after that eight-week period is over. Otherwise, you may not have your scores in time. The absolute latest you should take the test is September of your senior year, but consult your target schools’ deadlines to be sure.