So you say you’re taking the ACT…


Photo by Sarah Nanos

Junior Rachel Nanos uses a prep binder to study for the upcoming ACT.

Picture this: it’s finally the day of your ACT exam. Your mom drops you off in front of your testing center. Students from all over the county are arriving for one of the most important exams of their high school career, and you recognize one or two. You are directed to your room, where you give your designated test proctor your test ticket and identification. After a long period of getting situated and directions, the test begins. You prepared for this test, doing practice sections, getting a good night’s sleep and eating a nutritious breakfast. But as test seals are broken and stop watches are set, the pressure truly begins to take its toll.

At least this was my experience when taking the ACT exam for my first and second times. Yes, I took it twice. While taking it once was optimal, I found that although I had set aside large chunks of my daily schedule to study, nothing could truly prepare me for the real thing. The ACT, which has four different sections – English, math, reading and science in that order – is known for its rigorous time restraint, with the reading and science sections being only 35 minutes to complete 40 questions. 35 minutes! The English section gives students 45 minutes to complete 75 questions, and the math section gives students 60 minutes to complete 60 questions. That’s a question a minute for the math section. 

The time constraint is the reason students may opt to take the SAT as opposed to the ACT. I myself decided to take the ACT based on a diagnostic test that I had taken through an SAT/ACT tutoring company. I had done well on the science section of the test, and it was recommended that I take the ACT instead. Additionally, I prefer the all multiple choice format, especially since I had struggled with the written portion of the SAT math sections. It should be noted that I am a student who is mathematically challenged, so having multiple choice questions made it easier for me to complete the test. However, one of my friends who is not only better at math, but also struggled to finish within the time constraint, opted to take the SAT instead. Whether or not a student takes the ACT or the SAT is completely up to them and their academic strengths, and there is always the option to take both.

Leading up to the exam I was nervous. I had been preparing for at least two months prior, completing practice test after practice test and meeting with my English and math tutors. I came to the test with the recommended materials: number two pencils, a calculator (with fresh batteries), a water bottle, and a snack. It’s important to be prepared for anything, especially the unexpected death of your calculator (yes, I’ve witnessed this happen during both ACT and the PSAT). 

Being prepared also helps everyone else in your testing room get started. However, being prepared is not limited to test materials. Being physically prepared is important as well, and one of my main priorities is using the bathroom. If you plan on taking any exam where you are with other students in a testing room, please refrain from using the bathroom right before the test starts. No one likes it when there is one person holding up the whole test, and with everyone already anxious to begin, it makes you look like a jerk.

I left the test site feeling accomplished, yet anxious. The test results come within two to eight weeks, but it feels like you wait months. However, the feeling of getting scores that you were aiming for is beyond rewarding, and having taken that the next step toward getting into college will take weight off of your shoulders, especially if you are a junior like me.