Debunking ACT Myths Part 1

Published on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018 by

Myths can be tough to bust.

They seem logical, and when repeated enough times by enough people, they begin to sound quite reasonable. But they’re inaccurate, and those that apply to the ACT can completely derail all your best efforts to put your students on the right track to doing well on the test. In this two-part series, we’ll address the most serious myths about the ACT that can hold your students back from trying their best.

Myth 1: Most universities prefer one standardized test over the other.

Yes, years ago universities in certain regions preferred the SAT (mainly the upper East Coast, the West Coast, and Texas), and everyone else preferred the ACT. Teachers, counselors, and parents who grew up in that environment passed on the same mentality to their students. State mandates likewise can scare students into thinking, “I have to take the ACT (or SAT) in order to go to college.”

But nowadays, this is not true for the large majority of universities and colleges. Nearly every single one openly expresses no preference for either test. This is a huge benefit to students, who can elect to take the standardized test that they feel the most comfortable with.

It is possible (but rare) that some obscure college prefers one test over the other, so it’s always worth checking out the admissions requirements. But if a school says nothing about which test, it’s safe for students to assume either are accepted.

 Myth 2: The ACT tests what you learn in school, so you don’t need to study.

It’s true that the ACT does contain information students learn in school, but most of what a student learns in school is not covered on the ACT. The test does not cover these subjects:

  • History
  • Economics
  • Government
  • Civics
  • Higher-level math
  • Most science content covered in class
  • And many more!

What this means is a student who routinely does well in school overall may not be prepared for the specific standards covered by the ACT.

On top of that, several questions on the ACT (especially in the Science section) don’t rely on content covered in school but rather rely on a student’s ability to take a standardized test.

The best way to remedy this myth is to give your students much exposure to ACT-style questions so they can practice good test-taking habits, such as knowing when to guess and move on from a tough question, as well as learn what gaps they may have in their content knowledge and skills.

 Myth 3: The ACT is an IQ test, so you can’t study for it.

This idea is similar to Myth 2 and is especially detrimental to students. Because they don’t believe it’s possible to improve their intelligence, students also believe it’s impossible to do better on the ACT. This myth can also cause them to internalize their struggle on the test and make it a reflection of who they are as a person. This results in critically unmotivated students, and their test scores perpetuate the myth.

Our experience at MasteryPrep has proven this myth to be highly inaccurate. Tell your students emphatically: the ACT does not measure intelligence in any meaningful way. What it does measure is two things:

  1. A small slice of the information students learn in high school (specifically grammar, writing, math, and general reading comprehension)
  2. A student’s ability to take the test

The second one can get mistaken for intelligence, but in reality, it’s a skill called test mastery. We’ve seen students who are given the proper instruction and motivation improve 6+ points in as little as two weeks prior to the ACT.

The key is to prove to students as soon as possible that they can improve their ACT scores. Once they believe it is possible, you can coach them along a game plan for their ACT.

For more information on motivating students and creating a game plan for the ACT, check out our previous post on gaining student buy in.

Myth 4: Certain ACT test dates are easier (or harder) than others.

Theories abound over whether a test on a certain date is easier or harder than a test on another date: all advanced students take the ACT early in the year, so the fall test dates are harder; re-testers take the ACT in the summer, so the June test is easy; students aren’t as focused on the December test (or they’re especially focused), so that test is easier (or harder).

As you can see, what justifies one theory can equally justify a theory stating the opposite. The reality of the ACT is that test difficulty is carefully engineered and monitored across all administrations. If a test could technically be considered “easy,” the ACT adjusts the curve so that the resulting scores are equivalent to what would have been achieved on a “harder” test.

Instead of trying to discover the algorithm for an easy or hard test date, students should be asking themselves, “What works best for me?” If your school has a state-mandated test date, then the decision is already made, so don’t be concerned with the difficulty. If your students are debating a national test date, encourage them to choose the date that best fits their schedule: athletes should not take the ACT during their active season; if your students are swamped with projects and a heavy course load during the spring semester, the summer or fall test dates are better choices. Instead of trying to analyze the timing of test difficulty, students can use their energy to make empowering choices about timing that will actually improve their chances of performing well.

Be on the lookout next week for Part 2. We’ll be debunking subject-specific ACT myths in our second post!