With more and more students looking to expand their future possibilities and explore more school choices for undergraduate study in the United States, many universities have begun to accept the ACT either in addition to or in lieu of, the SAT.

What is the ACT?

Much like the SAT, the ACT is a test taken before gaining entry into a college or university in the United States. The ACT, which originally stood for American College Testing, is a national college admissions exam that typically lasts around three hours or three and a half hours with the optional writing test. Unlike the SAT, the test focuses on subject areas instead of general overall categories; the ACT consists of English, Math, Reading and Science, with the optional Writing test. Excluding the writing portion, the ACT is a multiple-choice test, split into four sections for each of the four subject areas. The scores may come across as confusing, as the highest possible score is a 36, compared to the SAT's 1600 (or 2400); each subject test (not including the optional writing portion) is given a score between 1-36, the scores are averaged, and the final score is out of a total possible 36 points.

Previously, colleges and universities would use the SAT as a judge of academic admission and to determine merit-based scholarships; few would accept the ACT in place of the SAT. However, most US colleges and universities now accept both to determine admission and merit-based scholarships. In determining which test to take, students should consider taking both as they each test different aspects of academic ability (subject areas versus general concepts).

Before the US college or university acceptance of the ACT in place of the SAT, students would be required to take the PSAT each year before taking the actual exam for college admission. The PSAT allowed students to gain familiarity with the college entrance test by practicing each year and showing overall knowledge accumulated throughout their education so far. Recently, however, schools have begun to offer a new testing option called the Pre-ACT.

What is the Pre-ACT?

The Pre-ACT is similar to the PSAT in the sense that it is a testing option provided before taking the official ACT to view the test and understand the format. The Pre-ACT option was officially announced by ACT Inc. in early 2016 and will be offered to start in the fall of 2016 as a new option for high school students. As it is relatively new, not all high schools offer this option yet, though overall incorporation is the goal. The Pre-ACT will be offered to tenth-grade students to practice the format of the upcoming college entrance test.

As previously described, the ACT is typically a three-hour test (three and a half hours with the optional writing section). However, the Pre-ACT only lasts for one hour and fifty-five minutes (just under two hours total). Must like the actual ACT, the Pre-ACT is a multiple-choice test, with each of the four subject areas. The Pre-ACT does not include the optional writing section. The practice test is substantially shorter than the official ACT because, like the PSAT, it is offered to give students a chance to see and understand the format of test questions.

Why offer the Pre-ACT?

The testing company has decided to give the Pre-ACT a chance, beginning in the fall of 2016, because administrators, teachers and families alike believed that students should have the ability to see and attempt the format of a different college admissions exam before deciding which test to take. The questions offered on the test will be compiled from previous ACTs; as they have already been used for the official test and will no longer be used on future tests, the questions are safe for students to attempt and review. Utilizing previous questions allows students to get results back quickly (two weeks is believed to be the time frame) and to understand more challenging areas requiring extra help; students would be able to know if they need a prep course before taking the official test.

ACT Resources

Online ACT Practice Tests

Average SAT score for Top Schools