Over the past five years, the number of states that administer the ACT statewide has more than doubled: there are now 16 states that require every junior to take the test and four more that either require the test in some districts or offer it as a free option for students who wish to take it.
This post explains why these programs exist, which states have them, and how you can take advantage of them if you live in one of these states.
Why Do Some States Require the ACT?
In 2001, when states were first implementing statewide assessment programs, Illinois and Colorado decided that, rather than creating their own tests for high school juniors, they would contract with ACT, Inc. to use the ACT as a statewide assessment. (The ACT is generally considered more content based than the SAT, and therefore a better fir for assessments.)
This plan had the added advantages of providing every student with the chance to take a college admissions test and, ideally, encouraging students who might not have otherwise considered college to apply.
Colorado and Illinois were followed by Kentucky, Wyoming, and Michigan (which is switching to the SAT this year) in 2007 and then North Dakota and Tennessee in 2009. Since then, the number of states using the ACT as a statewide assessment has almost tripled, and the SAT has created an equivalent, though less successful, program called SAT School Day. The spread of the ACT as a state assessment has helped it surpass the SAT as the most popular college admissions test in the US.
For the 2015-2016 school year, 20 states have a contract with ACT, Inc. to provide free ACT testing to some or all high school juniors at public schools.
Which States Require the ACT?
Of the 16 states that administer the ACT statewide, more than half include the writing (the rest do not). There are also a few states that don't require the test of all students but allow districts to opt in to the program or give students the choice of which test to take.
States that require all students to take the ACT with Writing
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
States that require all students to take the ACT (no writing)
States with other arrangements
- Alaska — students pick ACT with writing, SAT, or ACT Work Keys
- Arkansas — determined by district, no writing
- Illinois — determined by district, with writing
- North Dakota — students choose between ACT (no writing) or Work Keys
What Does Statewide Testing Mean For Your ACT Prep?
The short answer is that it doesn’t make a huge difference: the ACT is the same whether you take it on a state-administered date or one of the regular test days.
However, if you do live in one of the states listed above, you may want to tweak your approach to take advantage of some of the state resources available to you. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
You'll Be Able to Take the Test for Free
If the cost of taking the ACT is a financial burden for your family, the opportunity to take the test for free is a valuable one, and you should take advantage by scheduling your studying accordingly. Remember that you'll also be able to send four free score reports.
You may also be eligible for a fee waiver, thus giving you the chance to take the test up to 3 times for free.
You Might Practice for the ACT in School
Because the statewide ACTs double as an assessment for schools and teachers, you may do some in-class preparation for the test.
This instruction can help make you more familiar with the test, which is a key step in preparing for the ACT. High school teachers aren't always the most knowledgeable about the ACT, however, so if a teacher tells you something about the test that seems off or contradicts what you've learned in your prep, make sure to double check it!
There Could Be Other Free Prep Materials or Classes Available to You
Even if your school doesn't offer in-class ACT prep there might be other resources you can take advantage of like free prep books or after school classes. (For example, students in Utah have access to free ACT study materials on Shmoop.) Check with a counselor or teacher at your school to find out if you're eligible for extra study help.
Again, though, you should be mindful of whether the materials are good quality.
The Curve Won't Be Affected
One key thing that won't be affected by whether your state offers free ACT testing is the score curve.
Many students believe that the curve is easier on state-mandated test dates because more low-scoring students take the test. Though it's true that scores on these dates are generally lower, the curve isn't actually affected. It's based on years worth of data, not a single test date.
Not sure what ACT score you should be shooting for? Calculate your target score with this helpful guide.
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Alex is an experienced tutor and writer. Over the past five years, she has worked with almost a hundred students and written about pop culture for a wide range of publications. She graduated with honors from University of Chicago, receiving a BA in English and Anthropology, and then went on to earn an MA at NYU in Cultural Reporting and Criticism. In high school, she was a National Merit Scholar, took 12 AP tests and scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and ACT.