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What Does ACT Stand For? The Complete Story

feature_ACT The ACT is the second-most popular college admissions standardized test in the US, with the number of test-takers close to that of the SAT.

But what does ACT actually stand for, and why does this actually matter? We answer all your questions in this guide.


What Does ACT Mean?

The ACT began in 1959, when Everett Franklin Lindquist, a professor at University of Iowa,  was unhappy with the SAT for two reasons:

  • The SAT was designed as an aptitude test – essentially, it tested your intelligence and innate capacity to learn. Lindquist thought that a college assessment test should really be testing what you’ve actually learned in school.
  • The SAT was popular in private schools in the northeastern US (New York, Massachusetts) but not in the rest of the country and not in public schools. Lindquist believed the test should be accepted by public institutions and other schools across the country.

Even though the SAT had begun over 30 years earlier and was growing in popularity, Lindquist believed he could do things better.

As a result, he founded the American College Testing Program. See the ACT in there?

Exclusive Bonus: What's a good ACT score, and how high do you need to score?  Read our guide to find out.

Lindquist designed the ACT to cover skills that you’ve learned in school. It began with four sections: English, Math, Social Studies, and Natural Sciences. It gave a composite score, just like it does now (read How is the ACT Composite Score Calculated? ).

Since then, the test hasn’t changed all that much, in contrast to the SAT, which has had something of an identity crisis.

Here are the major milestones in the history of the ACT:

  • 1959 : The first ACT is administered to 75,460 students.
  • 1972 : Million Mark: The ACT hits 1,000,000 students taking the ACT.
  • 1989 : Redesign: The ACT undergoes a major change. The Social Studies section is changed into Reading, and Natural Sciences is changed into Science Reasoning. Both changes are an attempt to test fundamental reading and reasoning skills, rather than facts about history and science.
  • 2005 : The ACT adds an optional Writing Test.
  • 2007 : Every single college in the United States now accepts the ACT for admission.

  • 2012 : The number of students taking the ACT surpasses the SAT for the first time. At 1.85 million students, this means over half of the country’s graduates are taking the ACT.

  • 2018: The SAT again surpasses the ACT in popularity.

So what does ACT stand for? It started off as the American College Test, but at this point the ACT organization doesn’t formally call it that. The test is just known as the ACT.


What's Next?

Now that you’ve learned the history, you probably want to know how you can get the highest ACT score possible.

Find out what a good ACT score is, and how to calculate your own ACT target score.

Interested in free ACT practice tests? Click here for a guide on how to get every official ACT practice test available.

Read our detailed guide to the best ACT prep books.


Want to improve your ACT score by 4 points or more? We've written a free guide to the very best strategies you need to use:

Raise Your ACT Score by 4 Points (Free Download)


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Allen Cheng
About the Author

As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He's committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform, or the Shortform blog.

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