What if there was a standardized test that also helped you figure out “what do I want to be when I grow up”?

What if there was a standardized test that was based on the content of the courses you actually had taken in school?

What if there was a standardized test designed specifically to meet the needs of all students who are looking at post-secondary schools?

If there was such a test, there are many who would raise their #2 pencil in the air and ask, “Is this Heaven?”

No, it’s Iowa.

Iowa City, to be exact – home  of the standardized exam taken by more high school students in this country.

But, Mr. Szarek, I thought the SAT was based out of  New York.

It is.  The College Board’s main offices are in New York, Washington, D.C. and Reston, VA.

But…  As of this year, the SAT is the Pepsi of standardized tests.

Uh, Mr. Szarek, I don’t even know what you’re talking about…

Pepsi.  Coke.  Oh, never mind.

In the past year, more test takers in the United States have taken the ACT than the SAT.

Yes, really.

That little test, designed by Everrett Franklin Lindquist, and first administered in 1959, with a goal of offering a way to measure all future college students, provide career guidance and to be based upon knowledge of curriculum rather than aptitude is now the #1 selling standardized exam in America.

Uh, but everyone here at Union HS takes the SAT and I only have a few friends who are even thinking about the ACT.

Here in New Jersey, the numbers are a little different.  Last year, 17% of graduating seniors took the ACT, while 76% took the SAT.  But the growth has been dramatic.  In 2006, 7823 graduates in New Jersey took the ACT.  In 2010, that number had grown to 19,177.  That’s a 169% increase over the past three years.

So, what should you know about this ACT?

Pronunciation.  It’s A – cee – tee, not act like in a performance.

It’s curriculum based.  So – for good or for bad – it’s an attempt to measure what you have learned in class.

Structure – Instead of the Reading/Math/Writing breakout of the SAT, the ACT has the following sub-tests: English, Math, Reading and Science.  And an optional writing component.

Scoring.  Instead of the SAT’s 800/800/800 scoring, the ACT has the equally mysterious 36/36/36/36 breakout.  Another difference is that the ACT Composite Score is an average, not a sum of those sub-groups.  So, the “perfect’ score on an ACT is 36, not 144. 

That Really Cool Wheel Thingy.  Your ACT report will contain a “World of Work” map.  This circle will suggest logical options for future career paths based on your Interest Inventory results.  It’s hard to explain, easier to show, so here’s a link: ACT World-at-Work Map.

How many colleges accept it?  Every.  Single.  One 

Really?  Yes, really.

How do Colleges Compare Results from Both Tests?  Colleges realize that these tests asses different criteria.  Some look at both scores individually.  Those more familiar with the SAT generally use a chart that “converts” an ACT score into an SAT equivalent.  And visa versa.  Your admissions counselor wants to report your top score to best represent you in the admission decision and the College wants to report their ‘best’ scores back to all of those wonderful rankings and listings.

Testing Sites.  There are currently 117 listed for the state of New Jersey.  Here’s the link.  New schools are added regularly.

Preparation.  Should I ship Brad and Caitlin off to ACT Test Prep classes?   You could.  But, since the test is based on curriculum – what you’ve already taken in the classroom – I would focus on getting comfortable with the format and learning how to pace yourself for one of the longer exams you’ll ever take.  Until you take your graduate admission tests, that is……  To access a free ACT sample test booklet, just click on this link.

Accommodations.  One comment that I have heard is that it is not a simple process to obtain accommodations for learning support, medical and other concerns.  But I have also heard that 92% of all requests are honored.  So, if you are in need of such accommodations, make sure you submit all necessary paperwork and maintain due diligence.

Price.  Currently, the cost to take the exam, without the Writing Test, is $33.  That’s 42% less than another standardized test you may know of.  

Although everybody is different, my general recommendation would be to take each of the two major standardized tests at least once.  Do understand that there are differences between the two, but both will provide your child’s prospective colleges with the testing information they need.  I wish your student success and minimal angst as they move through the world of standardized testing.

People will come, Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom.  – Terrence Mann,  Field of Dreams (1989).  Click here to hear the full speech.

As always, I welcome your comments and questions.  Please feel free to email me at info@cc4therestofus.com, call or text me at 908-403-3819, join me on Facebook on “College Counseling for the Rest of Usand join me on Twitter at @MichaelCCR.