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Challenging Courses and Test Prep Can Help Improve ACT Scores

One of the most commonly asked questions of ACT is “how do my students improve their scores?” The simple answer is have them take challenging courses and test prep.

Because the ACT tests what students learn in high school, the best way for them to prepare is to take core classes, study, and participate in class. In last month’s newsletter, we shared the importance of rigorous coursework in preparing students to take the ACT test. Research shows that students in the graduating class of 2017 who completed a core curriculum achieved an average ACT Composite score of 22.1, while students who took less than the core curriculum had an average ACT Composite score of 18.9.

When students need additional support, test prep programs can help. Test prep can be used to familiarize students with the format and questions of the test, develop test taking strategies, and identify areas where additional learning is necessary. ACT test prep programs and resources include full-length practice tests, expert advice, and learning tools that achieve these ends.

“While test preparation may not lead to large score increases, it can be helpful. Students who are familiar with the assessment, have taken practice tests, understand the instructions and have engaged in thoughtful review and preparation tend to be less anxious and more successful than those who haven’t,” said Wayne Camara, Ph.D., Horace Mann Research Chair, ACT.

ACT offers several free and affordable test prep solutions:

  • ACT® Official Prep Pack—Combines the Official ACT Prep Guide 2018 with ACT Online Prep
  • ACT® Online Prep—A mobile and online resource to help students be ready and confident to take the ACT® test, featuring real questions from previous tests, personalized learning paths, daily goals, and a game center
  • ACT® Kaplan® Online Prep Live—Engaging instruction and interactive help delivered in real time by expert instructors, who are available for support outside classroom hours
  • The Official ACT Prep Guide—The only test prep book from the makers of the ACT test, features three practice tests, explanations of answers, and test taking strategies
  • ACT Academy—A free online learning tool and test practice program designed to help students—coming March 2018
  • Free Test Prep—Study guides, practice for each subject test, daily test questions, and general tips

Low-Income Families Can Reach 20 Colleges for Free

Starting in September 2018, students from low-income families who take the ACT with fee waivers will be allowed to send ACT score reports for free to colleges and/or scholarship agencies at any time during their college search process.

“The aggregate cost of applying to several postsecondary institutions can be overwhelming to low-income and first-generation college students,” said Eric Waldo, the Executive Director of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. “This is just another example of how ACT is making the dream of graduating from college more accessible to all students.”

When your students register to take the ACT test, they can select up to four colleges and/or scholarship agencies to receive scores. There’s a common myth that it’s better to wait and see scores before sending them. Not only is choosing four colleges or agencies free for all students during registration, but colleges will only look at the highest ACT score. If your students decide to take the test again, the higher score will be the score used in the admissions process.

“By sending your ACT test reports to the colleges you are considering as soon as they are available, you are telling schools that you have an interest in them. They will often respond by putting you on their mailing lists so you are kept informed about their admissions processes, scholarships, and important events and deadlines,” said Courtney McAnuff, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

For many colleges and universities, sending admission exams scores is required for enrollment.

“One of the main reasons we are not able to admit a student does not have to do with their academic qualifications but rather with their ability to complete the admissions application. Students will routinely file an application but not follow up with supporting documents such as transcripts and test scores. In some cases, students, are not able to send additional test scores due to a financial restraint and this becomes a barrier to entry. By removing that barrier for a student, the number of college options for them will increase and make it that much easier for them to attend the institution that is the right fit for them,” said George M. Zimmerman, Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment at West Virginia University.

Many students decide they want to send their scores to more than four schools. Students can request scores be sent to more colleges or scholarship agencies at:

Best Practices

College and Career Readiness Day: Setting a Higher Standard to Increase Student Success

Three years ago, Affton High School in St. Louis, Missouri sought to improve student learning and readiness for college and career. To achieve their goal, administrators wanted to create a culture around college and career readiness and set a standard that all students who want a higher education have the academic skills to earn one. By dedicating a day to college and career readiness, they have had success.

The results connected with Affton’s college and career readiness day have been impressive and demonstrate the value of building a culture of college and career readiness and creating a testing environment that inspires confidence in students and educators. 

Upcoming Dates

National Conference on Education

February 15–17, 2018
Education in the Digital Age

ACT State Organization Conferences

February 13 - Wisconsin
March 5 - Arkansas
March 7 - Iowa

Webinars: How ACT Data Impacts Student and School Achievement

Select a webinar date and time based on your professional role.

Research Spotlight

Longitudinal Growth Data Useful for Early Intervention

Schools and districts that incorporate ACT college and career readiness solutions as part of their assessment program provide greater access to higher education and increase the likelihood of student success in postsecondary education. Educators also have the ability to establish a longitudinal plan using ACT assessments, which provide unique student-level data that can be used for effective student intervention plans.

Research shows that providing intervention at earlier grade levels is more successful in getting students on-track than at later grade levels. 

Figure 1 and Figure 7 from the Catching Up to College and Career Readiness: The Challenge is Greater for At-Risk Students Research and Policy Brief. 

A comparison of grades 8–high school with grades 4–8 provides evidence that students caught up at higher rates in the middle grades than in high school, especially in mathematics and science. The early emergence of preparation gaps and their tendency to widen over time underscore the importance of monitoring student progress in the early years.

Knowing how much students have learned from one grade to the next and how much they can be expected to learn in the future is valuable information. The growth models used as part of ACT Aspire reporting—including gain scores, student growth percentiles, ACT Readiness Benchmarks, and predicted score paths—are powerful tools you can use to understand your students’ academic progress over time. 

In The Works

Partnership with Local Districts Provides ACT with Valuable Insights

In the fall, we announced the start of a new partnership with local school districts to gather real-world feedback, allowing for further development, research, and evaluation of ACT experiences. This partnership also allows us to evaluate new training, education, and collateral through the Mississippi Bend Area Education Association (MBAEA) leadership team.

To date, the MBAEA and ACT cooperatively administered:

  • ACT Tessera
  • ACT Aspire
  • The ACT test

The PreACT will be administered in the spring, as well as further administration of the ACT and ACT Aspire Summative and Interim assessments. From onboarding and administration to reporting for each assessment, we have gathered valuable insights to guide ACT products and services in a stronger customer-centric direction. 

ACT to Launch ACT Academy in March 2018

January 23, 2018—ACT today announced plans to launch ACT® Academy™, a free online learning tool and test practice program designed to help students master the skills they need to improve their ACT scores and succeed in college and career. The program will be launched in the spring.

ACT Academy will help students improve their college and career readiness by providing them with video lessons, interactive practice questions, full-length practice tests, educational games and other materials targeted to their academic needs. Each student will receive their own personalized study plan based on their scores from the ACT® test, PreACT®, official ACT practice tests, or diagnostics within ACT Academy.

Product Spotlight

Ready to use Communications for Your College and Career Readiness Day

Creating a culture of college and career readiness requires open and consistent communication with students and parents about the value of measuring academic readiness, assessing non-cognitive skills, and preparing for the future. As seen at Affton High School in Missouri, this open dialogue can help improve student learning and outcomes as part of a larger college and career readiness day action plan. ACT has prepared a variety of communication tools for you to use to make this task easier:

These toolkits include:

  • Email communications to be used throughout the school year
  • Engaging social media images for sharing from your school’s accounts
  • PowerPoint slides related to each of the ACT assessments
  • Student-focused digital resources such as eBooks, infographics, and videos

Share these materials with your school counselor and educators as you plan your own College and Career Readiness Day. Counselors have reported that the information has been great to share with parents and students.