Seven days a year, students assemble to take the ACT® in sterilized classrooms bereft of their usual decorative encouragement. On test days, hallowed hallways become Big Brother-like chambers with their stern observers, rigid regulations, and rehearsed movements. This odd presentation of a familiar setting, coupled with its perhaps too-reliable structure is a poignant metaphor for the exams’ systematic veiling of familiar concepts behind the dense veneer of opaque but formulaic questions.
The students come armed with only sharpened pencils, fresh calculators, and an arsenal of knowledge clouded by a nervous haze. Four hours later, and all they want to do is put this test behind them. But instead of disappearing into the scholastic ether, the exam lingers in the periphery until 10-14 days later when scores are released. At that point, the damage is done, and the line between college readiness and college entrance becomes dizzyingly blurred.
Whether your student experiences a temporary triumph or crushing defeat upon seeing their scores, the first thing to know is that the ACT® is not a sufficient metric for gauging their current or future successes. The second thing to know is that assessing your score is relative to your very specific goals.
According to the ACT® organization, the exam is intended to help students and colleges predict colleges by testing their quantitative reasoning and reading comprehension skills. Average scores on the different ACT® sections allegedly predict that a student will achieve at least a C average in correlated college-level classes with approximately 75% certainty. However, this is by no means an exACT® science. Colleges use the ACT® to set entry standards and to dole out preliminary scholarship awards.
At its core, the ACT® is a very formulaic game that aims to reward students who took the time to figure out how to play. The spoils of imbibing the rules of the game are heightened chances of getting into college at a discount price. Luckily for you, the rules have already been figured out by previous test takers-turned tutors and teachers, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel.
Beyond the test’s accouterments like barren walls and strict rituals, the ACT® distinguishes itself from any other high school tests in its content areas and their required approach. A perspectival shift accompanied by warped questions and non-intuitive answers marks the gulf between what your student knows and what the ACT® shows.
In order to test students across a wide range of educational, cultural, and social backgrounds according to objective measures, the ACT® cannot test students’ breadth or depth of knowledge. Instead, the exam tests ACT® fluency. Each question has exACT®ly one correct and incontrovertible answer in accordance with ACT® standards. It is the student’s responsibility to learn those standards.
If the ACT® were rocket science, the test makers would be the rocket scientists warping generally held concepts into constructively engineered exams. The students would be the astronauts, tasked only with rigorous training and preparation for the execution of routine tasks. In this metaphor, ACT® Certified Educators like those at Studyville are the trainers working to keep your academic adventurers in tip-top shape as they reach for the stars.
There are a host of scholarships available to students across all ranges of ACT® scores which could save your family thousands of dollars in current collegiate expenses and save your student from the looming cloud of pesky student loans. Perhaps most significantly for Louisiana residents looking to go to an in-state university or technical college, the state’s TOPS program offers non-excludable scholarships to all high-achieving students who meet minimum ACT® requirements.
There are currently four tiers to the TOPS program, each coinciding with a staggered exam score range. Students who earn a score of 17 or above (out of the total 36 points offered on the ACT®) are eligible for the TOPS Tech award, which covers the cost of two full years at any accredited in-state technical school.
Students scoring either at or above the previous year’s state average or over 20 are eligible for the TOPS Opportunity award which confers an amount determined annually by the Louisiana legislature. The exACT® amount will differ depending on which college or university your student attends. During the 2020 school year, the TOPS opportunity award provided over $7,400 to eligible LSU students.
The same rules as above apply to the TOPS Performance Award which is granted to students who score a 23 or higher on the ACT®. However, these students additionally receive an annual stipend of $400. Finally, the TOPS Honors Award follows the same guidelines for students who achieve a 27 or higher on the ACT® and offers an annual stipend of $800.
The TOPS award is guaranteed to all eligible students. Thus, despite being a poor reflection of your student’s full capabilities, the ACT® can confer real, material support to families amidst the rising costs of a college education. Learning the rules of the ACT® could therefore be the most profitable investment your students will make in advancing their educational career.
When taking the ACT® the zen-like mastery of prACT®ice and patience will excel students further than hurried hands or strategic bubbling. Sitting with the material, reflecting on it, and considering the structured language of the ACT® is the only proven way to increase fluency on this exam.
Despite the many stylistic quirks of the ACT®, one fACT® of life always holds true: we work better together.
Whether you’ve got a senior cram for this upcoming July ACT® or a freshman looking to get ahead of the curve, there is no need for them to face this challenge alone. They don’t need to decipher the language of the ACT® for themselves – that would take far too much time.
Make the transition to college easier on your students and on your bank account by working with certified ACT® tutors like the ones at Studyville in Baton Rouge. Studyville has ACT® diagnostic testing coupled with classes and private sessions so that our ACT® Certified Educators can work to identify weaknesses and improve each student’s ACT® score. Together, your students and our tutors will build the confidence and the skill set necessary to unlock the hidden rules of the ACT®, pass the test, and guarantee a smoother launch into college life.
By Lama Hantash