Originally created 10/11/05

More students sign up for 'the other' college exam

It's the other college entrance exam, but a lot of students for a lot of reasons never consider taking it.

"(The ACT) doesn't come out of their mouth as quickly as the SAT," said Matt Johann, a guidance counselor at Butler High School. "They know of it, but they don't know why they should take it. They don't know as much about it as the SAT."

The ACT tests students in reading, math, science and English. The nearly three-hour test is based on the high school curriculum and looks at subjects and skills college freshmen should have, said ACT spokesman Ed Colby in a phone interview from ACT offices in Iowa City, Iowa.

"We survey high school teachers in the areas we test and ask them what skills they are teaching and what skills they want to know," he said. "We also talk to instructors of first-year college courses and ask them what skills do they expect students to have."

Unlike the SAT, which is a reasoning test, Mr. Colby said, the ACT is more like the tests students encounter in high school. Still, in a lot of high schools, particularly in the Southeast and Northeast, the test hasn't caught on.

The reason, Mr. Colby and Mr. Johann agree, is tradition.

"Around here we talk about the SAT," Mr. Johann said. "The SAT has just become the (standard) by which all others are looked at. Even though the ACT is very big in other parts of the country, it doesn't seem to be as predominant here."

Although most area counties offer SAT preparation classes, there is no exclusive ACT prep class. The Triumph Learning semester in Richmond County schools, however, does provide some coverage of the test.

Mr. Colby sees the opposite where he is.

"Here in Iowa, when you think about college entrance exams, think about the ACT. The majority of students here take it, and that's the way it's been for 40 years," he said. "In states like South Carolina or Georgia, the tradition is to take the SAT. It's a matter of familiarity or history."

Founded in 1959, the ACT took off in the Midwestern states and has remained strong in that region. In the past decade, the number of students taking the test throughout the nation has increased. South Carolina is one of the fastest growing states, with more than 38 percent of the 2005 graduating students taking the test. In Georgia, 29 percent of 2005 graduates took the test.

Mr. Johann, who has spent six years at Butler, said he's seen more students sign up for the ACT.

"I don't know how, but word has gotten out," he said.

Word-of-mouth might be one reason, according to Mr. Johann.

After being told about the content and the cost - the basic ACT is more than $10 cheaper than the new SAT with its mandatory writing test - it's an easy sell to most of the curious students.

Ashley McKeon, 17, a senior at Evans High School, took the test last school year and found that it differed little from the SAT, which she'd already taken.

"The two tests, at least now, are really quite alike," she said. "However, most significantly, the ACT tests scientific skills, so you get to see an additional aspect of a person."

Though Ashley said she doesn't prefer one exam, she can debunk the common misconception that the ACT is easier.

"In the sense that there was more to know, the ACT was harder," she said. "But truthfully, they were about the same overall. The questions were of the exact same logic and on the same level on both tests."

Mr. Johann said Butler students are urged to take both tests.

"By far we have a whole lot more (students) take the SAT," he said, "but we recommend students take both because if they don't do well on the SAT, and they take the ACT and do well on that, they can get into college on it. We tell them to take it as a backup."

Mr. Johann said letting students know they have another viable option in college entrance exams provides hope that they can get into their dream schools.

"Really, there's no other reason to take these tests rather than to help yourself get into college," he said.

Elisabeth Ames, 17, a senior at Westminster Schools of Augusta, decided to take the ACT on Oct. 22. She saw posters for it and said her reasons for signing up were simple.

"I'm taking the ACT because colleges look at that, too," Elisabeth said.

Teen Board members Alex Thurmond and Mason Webb contributed to this report.

Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or kamille.bostick@augustachronicle.com.


The ACT and the SAT are both widely accepted college entrance exams. Check with your intended school to see if either or both is required. Here is how they compare.


ACT: $29 for the basic test (science, math, reading, English) which includes sending score reports to four college choices. The ACT Plus Writing is $43.

SAT: $41.50 for the basic test (writing, math, and critical reading)


ACT: Science, math, reading and English, with optional writing portion.SAT: Writing, math, critical reading with optional subject tests

Time Length

ACT: 2 hours and 55 minutes

- Science: 35

- Math: 60

- Reading: 35

- English: 45

- Writing (optional): 30

SAT: 3 hours and 45 minutes, including an unscored 25-minute variable section (which helps in the development of future test questions).

- Writing: 60 minutes

- Math: 70 minutes

- Critical Reading: 70


ACT: most major colleges and universities

SAT: most major colleges and universities

Source: The College Board, and the ACT


Of the 2005 freshman class at the University of South Carolina Aiken:

SAT: 87 percent

ACT: 45 percent

Both: 32 percent

At Augusta State University (preliminary figures):

ACT: 10 percent

SAT: 90 percent

Sources: University of South Carolina Aiken and Augusta State University

THE ACTA curriculum-based college entrance exam tests four components: science, math, reading and English. An optional writing section also is available. Scores range from 1 to 36, with the composite score being the average of the four test scores rounded to the nearest whole number. For more information, log on to www.actstudent.org.

Here is how it breaks down:


The basics: A 40-question, 35-minute test that measures skills required in the natural sciences, such as interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving.Types of questions: The test presents seven sets of scientific information, each followed by a number of multiple-choice questions. Information given includes: data representation (graphs, tables, and other schematic forms), research summaries (descriptions of several related experiments) and conflicting viewpoints (expressions of several related hypotheses or views that are inconsistent with one another).


The basics: A 60-question, 60-minute test designed to measure the mathematical skills students typically have acquired in courses taken by the end of 11th grade.Types of questions: Three subscores are based on six content areas: pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry and trigonometry. Knowledge of basic formulas and computational skills are needed to answer the problems, but complex formulas and extensive computation aren't required. Calculators are allowed.


The basics: A 40-question, 35-minute test that measures reading comprehension. Students are asked to read several texts and answer questions that show their understanding of what is directly stated and what is implied.

Types of questions: The test comprises four prose passages that are representative of the level and kinds of reading required in college freshman courses; passages on topics in social studies, natural sciences, fiction and the humanities are included.

English (grammar)

The basics: A 75-question, 45-minute test covering standard written English (punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure) and rhetorical skills (strategy, organization, style)

Types of questions: The test consists of five prose passages, each one followed by multiple-choice questions. Spelling, vocabulary and rote recall of rules of grammar aren't tested.(Optional)


The basics: A 30-minute essay test that measures writing skills - specifically those writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses.

Types of questions: The test consists of one writing prompt that will define an issue and describe two points of view on that issue. Students are asked to respond to a question about their position on the issue described in the writing prompt. Score will not be affected by the point of view taken.

Source: The ACT


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