Prep Talk Blog > June 2008

The ACT has four parts measuring understanding and ability in English, mathematics, reading comprehension, and science reasoning. Composite scores are reported on a scale of 1 to 36.

Unlike the SAT, the ACT includes a writing test that is optional, so check with the colleges on your application list to see if they require the writing portion. The ACT is not an IQ test, nor does it measure aptitude skills, like reasoning, as much as the SAT. Since the ACT is more of an achievement test, you will want to review your coursework using a study guide and may want to utilize study groups or tutoring.

Remember, there is no penalty for guessing and you are scored on the number of right answers. Pay attention to your PLAN scores and develop a process of elimination strategy for narrowing down answers to improve your odds.

Content of the ACT Test

English: 75 items; 45 minutes. Covers grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, style, and organization.

Mathematics: 60 items; 60 minutes. Covers pre-algebra, algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane trigonometry, and trigonometry. Calculators (including four-function, scientific or graphing calculators) are allowed, but not required.

Reading Comprehension: 40 items; 35 minutes. Selected reading passages include history, political science, fine arts, biology, and fiction.

Science: 40 items; 35 minutes. Covers analysis, evaluation, reasoning, interpretations, and problem solving. No calculators are allowed.

Optional ACT Writing Test

In the spring of 2005, the ACT added a writing component. This 30-minute optional test complements the English section and provides a prompt to which the test-taker must respond in writing.

According to the ACT, “The test measures skills that students use when writing a college-level paper. Essays are scored by a rubric that looks at the ability to focus on the subject, write coherently and logically, the development of ideas, and the use of proper sentence structure and reasoning.”

Colleges and universities make their own decisions about whether to require the results from the writing test for admission and/or course placement. Based on the requirements set by the institutions, students can decide if they need to take the writing test. Less than one fourth of all colleges and universities in the U.S. require the writing test, though some prefer it.

To find out which colleges and universities require or prefer the writing test, visit

You may take the ACT as many times as you wish; most students take the test more than once. To allow time for retesting, we encourage you to begin testing in the late winter or early spring of your junior year.

For more information, practice test questions, or to register for the ACT, go to

Why should I take the ACT?

Along with your high school transcript, extra- and co-curricular achievements, letters of recommendation, and admissions essays, the ACT is an important part of your college application. It can tip the scale for college admissions officers if they are looking at other candidates with similar academic and extra-curricular achievements as you, but you have a better ACT score.

2008 ACT Dates:

ACT Test Date
Registration Deadline Late Registration (fee applies)
September 13 August 12 August 13 - 22
October 25 September 19 September 20 - October 3
December 13 November 7 November 8 - 20

Remember, if you are not satisfied with your first ACT scores, you can take the ACT again in the first semester of your senior year, prior to your college application deadlines.

How Do I Register for the ACT and What Fees Apply?

ACT test registration materials are available in your high school guidance, college counseling office, or online at

Whether you register by mail or online, it is wise to read the registration material carefully, since other fees may apply under various conditions.

The basic ACT test fees for 2008 are $31.00 without the writing test and $46.00 including the writing test. These charges cover the administration of the test and your score report, and allow you to send your scores to as many as four colleges as long as you provide the school codes at registration.

When you register for the exams, you will find information about test sites and how to sign up for a particular location.

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Getting ready for the ACT and SAT test can be stressful and there are a lot of differing opinions floating around the internet about how to get ready and the best strategies for scoring high on the tests. My advice: start with the basic flaw that is the worst score killer of all: wasting time.

Think of time as "life credits" that you have to budget to make it all the way through the test while giving yourself enough time to work through the tough questions/exercises.

*Don't drive yourself crazy by rushing through the sections or torture yourself mulling over an answer that may never come to you.

*You need to put your watch to work for you way before the big test by timing yourself during practice tests (do practice tests all the time- they are like fire drills) .

*Start preparing as early as possible: a steady prep process will calm your nerves whereas last minute cramming is only going to intensify stress and make it harder to focus!

*Take advantage of practice tests and learn how to manage your minutes for the timed sections; clock yourself!

*Use tools specifically designed to get ready for the ACT  and SAT Tests: These tests are put together by independent organizations, not by your teacher or from your curriculum publisher, and may ask questions and phrase answers in a way that you are not used to seeing.

Kids from coast to coast take the ACT and/or the SAT so it tends to be sort of "one size fits all": Use SAT and ACT test tools, instead of just relying on your high school books/lesson notes, to help you learn more about the knowledge and skill sets that are going to pop-up. they are not as much measures of what you know as they are of your ability to choose the best answer.

"Must-do" list for getting ready for the SAT and/or ACT:

• Taking the PLAN (prep for ACT) and/or the PSAT (prep for SAT) during your sophomore year of high school is a great opportunity to work on your test-taking strategies and troubleshoot areas for improvement.
• Get a personal tutor who specializes in ACT or SAT preparation. They can help you master your weaker subject areas and learn time management.
• Take prep-courses, such as those offered at Kaplan; they will give you sample tests and help you ace the types of questions that trouble you.
• Buy ACT and SAT study books at the bookstore, which are full of practice tests and study tips.
• Keep up with the My College Options® Blog and resource center for the latest articles on the SAT and ACT.
• Play “Zero Hour Threat”, an ACT/SAT prep video game, to help you build your skills while having fun at the same time. Beat the game, beat the test!
• Use an ACT or SAT test preparation booklet (My College Options offers preparation for the exams in two books—The Essential Guide to the SAT and The Essential Guide to the ACT).

Relieving Anxiety on the Day of the Test

• Bring a watch. Time management is up to you! The proctors tell you how much time you have for each section, when to start, when to stop, and when you have five minutes left. You should pay attention to how long you are taking on the questions and pace yourself during the test.
• Manage your time.  Move through each section calmly. Answer the questions that come easiest to you first and return to the “stumpers” as you work toward the end.
• Use the process of elimination. You can usually narrow your choices down to two possible correct answers. That will give you a 50% chance of answering the questions correctly.

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The most important thng that you should know about the SAT test is that most US colleges take your SAT scores into consideration when they are deciding to accept or deny your application. The first thing you need to do is decide when you are going to take the SAT test. Your drop-dead date is the earliest "turn in your score" deadline among all of the colleges where you want to apply. Once you have looked at all the college admissions "submit your SAT score" deadlines, you can back up to the test date that will give you these scores in time. Talk to your high school guidance counselor ASAP about when you need to register for this test date. Remember, this is the "drop dead" date if you want a chance to apply to a college on your list who requires the SAT score on a specific (earliest) date. My advice: try not to wait until the dropdead date!

Ideal time to take the SAT:

* As soon as you feel ready (so get prepared early)!

*Consider leaving yourself enough time for a 'round two' (if necessary).

*Absolutely no later than the earliest score submission deadline among all of the colleges that you are trying to get in to.

Here is a short recap on the purpose and design of the test: Visit the My College Options Resource Center "College Entrance Testing" Section for more info..

*The SAT is a reasoning test:it measures your ability to solve problems by choosing the correct answer when presented with multiple choices.

*High school juniors and seniors take the SAT as a part of preparing for college admissions since most American colleges and universities accept the SAT, along with your high school transcript, extra- and co-curricular achievements, letters of recommendation, and essays.

How long does the test take and what does the SAT Reasoning Test cover?

The test takes approximately three hours and 45 minutes to complete. There are three sections on the test: critical reading, math and writing. Each of the three sections uses a 200-800 score range, with a maximum score of 2400.

Critical Reading

This section includes short reading passages (about 100 words) and long reading passages (500-800 words) from a variety of texts as well as sentence completion questions. There are a total of 78 multiple choice items in this section.


This section includes numbers and operations, algebra and functions, geometry and measurement, data analysis, statistics, and probability. The majority of the math questions are multiple choice; however, there are 10 questions at the end of the section that require students to produce their own responses. Calculators are allowed but are not required on this test. We suggest that students check the SAT website to see which calculators are approved for use.


This section requires that students write an essay that takes a position on an issue. Students must use critical reasoning and examples to support their positions. Multiple choice questions follow the essay. These questions test students’ knowledge of grammar and conventions, measuring ability to identify sentence errors and improve sentences and paragraphs.

What are the SAT Subject Tests?

Selective colleges often require two or three SAT Subject Tests. These tests are separate from the SAT Reasoning Test and come in a variety of subjects that you can chose from. If the colleges on your search list suggest or prefer the SAT Subject Tests, you have a much better shot getting in if you take them. Check with your prospective college and university choices (via their official websites or through the admissions departments) to see if they require, prefer or suggest certain SAT Subject Tests. Some colleges and universities let you take the SAT Subject Tests on campus after you have already been accepted to place out of courses.

The following disciplines are covered by the SAT Subject Tests: literature, biology, chemistry, physics, U.S. history, world history, math level 1 and 2 (scientific or graphing calculator required), and foreign languages (some are offered with a listening component).

When Should I Take the SAT?

Since the SAT Reasoning Test measures mathematics taught through the third year of high school, you should take your first SAT Reasoning Test in the spring of your junior year unless you are highly advanced in your academic work. The majority of colleges record their applicants’ SAT scores using the highest score achieved in each of the areas of the test.

If you achieve a high score in one or two areas of the test but want to improve your scores in other areas, feel free to take the exam again, prior to your college application deadlines.

How Do I Register for the SAT Reasoning Test and Subject Tests, and What Fees Apply?

You can register online at . You can also get a paper registration form from your high school counselor.

It is very important to register on time and specify which subject tests you would like to take. You can back out of a particular subject test on test day if you change your mind, but it is more difficult to get an additional subject test added at the last minute. You will take the SAT at a local test center (schools and community organizations are common locations). Look for the nearest location on the College Board website and add the test location code to your registration form.

For 2008 and 2009, the SAT Reasoning Test costs $45. An SAT Subject Test is $20, though the Language Subject Tests, with listening, cost an additional $20. For all other SAT Subject Tests, you must pay an additional $9 per test. For more information including SAT test fee waivers, additional registration and purchase options, test locations and much more, visit:

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Here is the good news: More than 60% of today’s college students are receiving financial aid, making their dream of going to college come true.

Financial Aid 101

The first step to getting financial aid is to submit a FAFSA form (Free Application For Student Aid ) to the Federal Government. Go to with your parents so they can fill in important income and other financial information or get a paper copy from your high school. You should submit your financial aid application by January 1st of your senior year. Most colleges and universities need to get the FAFSA form information from the federal government by March 15 so they can offer you additional need-based college cost assistance through loans, grants and college work study programs.

For a list of state and federal financial aid deadlines click here

Student loans, Merit scholarships, Pell grants or College/University Grant programs and Work Study programs:

Here is a brief description of types of college and university financing:

Loans require repayment; however, a loan provides families with access to money for college immediately. There are various loan programs and they vary in terms, length and repayment time.

Grants are gift aid and require no repayment. There are some federal and state grants based on need, but there may also be grant money available at the colleges/universities to which you apply.

College work study allows students to work on campus (or at an approved agency) and the federal government provides the college the money to be used as payment to the student. Hourly pay and positions vary at each school.

Merit Scholarships and Gift Aid

Scholarships and other gift aid (grants) do not require repayment. There are many sources of gift aid. Some are renewable each year you are in college and some are one-time awards.

Colleges, universities, organizations and corporations set their own criteria regarding which applicants will be considered for merit/gift aid. The best way to find out if a college or university offers merit money is to search their website and/or talk with someone in the admission or financial aid offices.

Be sure to ask for separate applications and deadlines for merit scholarships:

Merit-based funds or scholarships are awarded to the strongest applicants for admission and there may be a wide range of requirements for merit aid. Your grades, courses taken, SAT or ACT test scores, rank in class, essay, leadership, community service and teacher/counselor recommendations.

Ask your extended family and family friends if their company or organization offers college scholarships: Many organizations and corporations offer college scholarships to students who apply based upon many different areas of skill and experience. Have the person that you know who work there help you apply!

Start your financial aid and scholarship search with the following resources:

  • Federal government
  • State government and agencies
  • Colleges and universities that are your top favorites
  • Parents’ employers
  • Your place of worship (religious affiliations, youth groups, missions)
  • Local civic organizations
  • School bulletin boards
  • Websites, newsletters and other resources provided by your guidance counselor
  • Essay contests open to high students from Freshman to Seniors.

Sign up for the MyCollegeOptions Monthly Newsletters for tips on how to find money for college!

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As you begin your search, it is important to recognize that there is not just one college that is right for you.  You should look for post-secondary opportunities that match your individual needs, interests, and abilities.  In fact, that’s the whole purpose of the college search

Step 1  It's all about You—make a list of your needs, interests, skills, talents, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, and potential.  Since you are the most important party in the student-college match, who you are is crucial to finding colleges that are a good match for you.

Step 2  Oh the places I Could Go: Get to know the types of colleges that may be right for you—what they offer, what it takes to get into these institutions, what it will cost to attend them, and how you might pay for attending them.  

Build a My College Options search profile that is focused on your criteria for the “ideal” college and your dream colleges will search for you too! 

The FREE online college and career planning services at My College Options® are the perfect solution for getting you started in this phase of the search process. At, you can create and update your personal profile online and get a list of up to 15 colleges and universities that match your needs interests, and skills.

Don’t let cost discourage you during the search process.  You can think about this later when you are developing your final list of colleges to which you will apply.  Often, the more expensive institutions offer greater options for financial aid and it might turn out that the cost of attending the institution of your choice would not be as high for you as it first appeared.) 

Step 3  Selecting my dream college: Through your Favorites Manager, you will have solid search list of 15-30 colleges that meet your specifications.  With every update and edit of your profile as many times you will find more colleges that you like and that are interested in you!

  • Attend college fairs and other events in your area.
  • Meet with college representatives that visit your school.
  • Spend time at the college websites and take their virtual tours.
  • Visit the schools on your lists, if you can and use all of the visits as a basis for comparing and contrasting schools on your list.

By the time you reach the first semester of your senior year, your search list should have been whittled down to six to ten colleges that really appeal to you and to which you have a reasonable chance for acceptance.

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Do you think it's fair if college admissions professionals "google" you or look at your Facebook profile during the admissions process?
Yes. If it's out there, it's fair game.
No. If it's not part of my official application package, it shouldn't be considered.
I don't know.
The poll is closed.


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Don Munce