How the ACT Works

The ACT is one of two major standardized college entrance exams given in the U.S. See more college pictures.
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The ACT is one of two major standardized tests given to high school students across the United States every year. While the ACT traditionally took a back seat to the better known Scholastic Aptitude test (SAT), every four-year college in the U.S. now accepts ACT scores for college entrance, and the percentage of students taking the ACT has gone up year over year -- especially in states where most students usually take the SAT [source: USAToday]. Several states even require that all high school students take the ACT, even if they don't plan to attend college [source: Des Moines Register].

Students facing college applications deal with the same questions every year: Should I take the ACT or the SAT? Or both? How should I study for the ACT? Should I take the optional writing portion? How can I make sure my scores get sent to the colleges I want to apply to? It can be a confusing and stressful time. Luckily, the ACT is a fairly straightforward test that doesn't require a lot of memorization, and it doesn't try to trip you up with trick questions or confusing word problems. Some scholastic experts even commend the ACT as a test of knowledge and reasoning skills, rather than a test of test-taking skills -- one of the most common criticisms of the SAT.

This article will explain how the ACT works, which students should take it, what ACT scores you should shoot for to get into college and the best way to study for what could be one of the most important tests you'll ever take. The good news is, whether you're a straight-A student or struggling with Cs, a little practice can go a long way toward improving your ACT score -- and your chances of getting into the college of your choice.