The road to becoming a better test taker begins with understanding how the ACT measures performance. Students who know how the ACT is scored have a huge advantage: they are able to set concrete goals about the number of questions they need to answer correctly and, as a result, they suffer less test anxiety, improve their time management, and even apply test-taking strategies with more efficiency.
There are a total of 215 questions on the ACT, spread over four subject areas. Every single question is worth the same: one raw point. If students answer a question correctly, they get the point. If they don’t answer a question correctly, they don’t get the point. Next, the ACT uses a conversion table to convert raw scores into scale scores for each subject area. These scale scores range from 1 to 36. Finally, to arrive at the all-important composite score, the ACT averages the four scale scores.
Every ACT test has a different conversion table used to translate raw scores into scale scores. That means that a raw score of 30 in Math may result in a scale score of 20 on one test, but 19 on another. Essentially, the conversion table curves the test. Harder tests are given more forgiving conversion tables.
If students only have a scale score goal, they don’t really have a goal. That is because a scale score is a very nebulous concept, but a raw score (the number of correct answers) is concrete and easy to calculate. For example, students can know they need a 25, but they don’t know what that means. A 25 is meaningless in terms of informing your students’ strategy. Instead, students need to convert that 25 scale score into a raw score. They must go into the test knowing exactly how many questions they need to answer correctly and how many questions they can afford to miss. If they want to score a 25, that means getting at least 42 math questions correct. This knowledge breeds confidence and naturally makes students better test takers.
What Can You Do?
By analyzing over 30 actual ACT conversion tables from the past two decades, we at MasteryPrep have created a predictive conversion table that is highly suited to help students set raw score goals. Using this table, if students achieve the raw score given for a particular scale score, they are more than 97% likely to achieve that scale score (and will probably end up with a higher scale score than that).
Here’s how to guide your students in goal setting:
- Share the ACT Student Conversion Table with them.
- Have them locate their goal scale score. These are the numbers that run from 1 to 36 along the far left or far right of the table).
- For each subject, instruct students to look across the page and find the raw score that corresponds with their chosen scale score. These raw scores are the number of questions they must answer correctly in each subject in order to earn their goal scale score.
Using the student conversion table, students determine their “number” for each subject test. This is how many questions they need to answer correctly. They should write this number at the top of their test booklet any time they take a practice test. Some students might find it helpful to think of this in reverse: they can afford to miss 15 questions, for instance, and still achieve their target scale score.
When students know their goal in terms of questions answered correctly, they are less likely to waste time on difficult questions and won’t panic if they miss a few. This can be a big step toward reducing test anxiety and helping students become smarter test takers.