Pillar I: Use the Test Structure

Words of “Wiz-dom”—Like any test, you need to familiarize yourself with the structure of the ACT. Of course, this isn’t any different than learning the layout of the dashboard of a car before you drive it. You need to know where the gearshift is, where the headlight and windshield wiper switches are, and where the all important radio/tape player/CD player controls are placed! You simply need to know where all these things are in order to get the most enjoyment from your experience, not to mention improving your performance. The same is true of taking a standardized test.


Structure and Rules ACT SAT
Total Time (scored sections) 3 hrs. & 35 min. 3hr. & 55 minutes
English Usage Section Yes Yes
Reading Whole Section Part of Critical Readingl
Math Yes Yes
Science Reasoning Yes No
Scoring 1-36 600-2400
Calculators Allowed Yes (math only) Yes
Scratch Paper Allowed No No
Math figures are drawn to scale unless noted No YES
Questions from Easy to Hard No Usually
Guessing Penalty No Yes
Emphasis on Thinking versus Memorized Facts Yes Yes
“Reference Information” for Math Section No Yes
Self-selected Score Reporting by Test Date Yes Yes

Words of “Wiz-dom” on Structure and Rules


Words of “Wiz-dom”—Both the SAT and ACT folks all controlled score reporting, i.e., you can be selective BUT you have to do it the right way. First, understand choosing what scores you want sent will cost you a few extra dollars but it is worth the investment if you have a reason to only show your BEST side to the admissions or financial aid officers. Second, when you register to take the test do NOT designate colleges that you want to receive your score. Third, after you receive your scores, then decide if you want them sent. Fourth, when you decide which one you want sent, ask testing folks to forward your score from a specific test date. Fifth, if deadlines are of the essence, this strategy may not pay off. So, don’t get caught applying at the last minute.

Remember that a large majority of universities (especially with SAT scores) will take the highest sub-test scores you ever get, even from different test dates, and add them together to determine your total score (“superscoring”) . In this instance, submitting scores from different dates might work in your favor. However, some schools discriminate against students who take the test too many times (actual number varies by school). So, the burden is on you to know which colleges do what. In short, do some planning. Develop a strategy IN ADVANCE. Remember the ultimate responsibility rests with you. Talk these issues over with your parents, guidance counselor, and admissions advisers at schools you are considering.

Keep in mind you won’t need to get all the questions correct to receive a good score. While the numbers change a little from test date to test date, the following chart gives you a general idea of what percent of the test takers score at different levels. While these are approximations, they are very close.


ACT Score Percent Correct Percentile Rank
31 93 99
27 82 90
24 72 75
20 61 50
17 44 25

Words of “Wiz-dom”—Be sure you set a target score. Figure out about how many questions you need to get correct. Make some reasonable decisions about how that number translates into different parts of the test. Practice with those targets in mind. Adjust as you make progress.

Words of “Wiz-dom” on Setting a Target Score

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