News & Media

The Top 5 Myths about the ACT

Jumping that ACT score is the best paying job a high school student could ever have, but still many myths about the test persist.

Myth 1: Don’t take the ACT too many times.

Actually colleges don’t care how many times a student takes the ACT; colleges just care about a student’s highest composite and sub-scores. If the college of your dreams requires a 32 for a full-tuition scholarship—U of Nebraska-Lincoln (for NE residents– typically) or U of Alabama (for non-residents), for example—take the ACT at least 4 times to get that number and money.

Myth #2: Some colleges don’t accept the ACT.

Actually all colleges do. All colleges also accept the SAT.

Myth #3: The ACT doesn’t affect community college students.

Actually, a higher ACT score often can exempt a student from remedial classes, that unwelcome reality for about 50% of all CC students. “Less than 25% of these remedial students at community colleges earn a certificate or degree within eight years.” ( Families and Schools: please do everything possible so that your students avoid remedial classes, including preparing for multiple ACT tests.

Actually, many community colleges give scholarships based on ACT scores.

Myth #4: The Science section primarily tests science.

Actually the ACT Science section primarily tests a student’s ability to assess charts, tables, and graphs. Science background matters for a few questions, but the bulk of the Science section depends simply on chart reading skills.

Myth #5: The ACT primarily does a good job of demonstrating which students come from privilege and which don’t.

Actually, there are many examples to the contrary. For example, our JBP partner school Marengo High School in Illinois between 2009 and 2012 raised its average ACT score from a 20.1 to 22.4 as its free-and-reduced lunch population nearly doubled– from 15% to 27% of all students. Now, with 36% of its students in poverty, Marengo High has a higher average ACT score than it did with 3% in poverty (1999).

However, there are too many examples of a strong correlation between family wealth and a student’s ACT score. Motivated students can fix that. All students, especially low-income students, tend to become motivated when they actually learn the life-changing importance of a two- or four-year college degree with minimal debt and how to accomplish that goal. Teaching that lesson first is critical to raising scores for all, especially students from low income families.

Bonus Myth: The ACT costs $42.50, an amount that represents a barrier for low-income students.

Actually the ACT allows free-and-reduced lunch students to take the test twice for free. States like Nebraska that mandate the ACT for all juniors also provide the spring junior-year ACT for free. With proper motivation and preparation, any student with three tries should be able to score well.

Turning more of our children into two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt requires an understanding of how college admissions and college finance works. Killing the ACT myths would help.

John Baylor is a father, husband, author, Stanford grad, broadcaster, and owner of OnToCollege. The mission of OTC is to help families and schools create two- and four-year college graduates with minimal debt. You can listen to the John Baylor on the OnToCollege Show by subscribing on iTunes or by going to The show also runs on Nebraska stations  KNCY (1600 AM) in Nebraska City, KLIN (1400 AM)in Lincoln. Check listing for days and times.


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