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Testing Waters: Navigating the ACT Journey

As the ACT, which will be held at St. Louis Park High School March 6, looms on the horizon, the high school is buzzing with anticipation and apprehension alike. Students are grappling with the weight of expectations and the promise of potential opportunities. The pressure to obtain a high score looms large, fueling both determination and anxiety in equal measure. 

Many students decide not to take the ACT due to learning disabilities or feeling like they aren’t good test takers. What many students don’t realize is that the ACT offers accommodations for students with conditions that may hinder their test taking abilities. Senior Abby Keller took the ACT with accommodations, and recommends that students advocate for their right to accommodations.

“The first ACT I took was two months before we were taking it as a school. I did prep classes and workbooks, so I was feeling pretty confident, but then I wasn't given the accommodations that I should have received. I had confirmation emails and everything, but the ACT system didn't have my accommodations. I decided to still take the test because why not, but I didn't do very well,” Keller said. “For almost everyone, getting accommodations is simple. When registering for an exam, you check a box saying you have accommodations. It then prompts you to put in a confirmation number which the testing coordinator or your counselor typically takes care of. It's as simple as that. My advice is to be persistent in advocating for yourself. There are over 300 people taking the test the same day as you, so if your accommodations fall through the cracks, speak up and let someone know.”

Junior and senior high school counselor Heidi Cosgrove said her main advice to students taking the ACT is to prepare ahead of time, but also understand that your score doesn’t define you.

“Don’t go into the test ‘blind,’ meaning be aware of what types of questions will be on the test. has some free test prep so you know what to expect when the proctor says, ‘You may now start your test,’ Cosgrove said. “If students do not get the score they are hoping for, it's okay. I know firsthand what it's like to feel terrible about yourself because of your test score, to feel like you are not good enough as everyone else did better. I've been there. If you do well on the test, great. If you are an amazing test taker, wonderful. With that said, if you do not do well, this does not define who you are and what your future holds.”

Junior Thomas Halverson has taken the ACT twice, and while it has been stressful he said he has had a good experience preparing for the ACT with a tutor. 

“My experience with the ACT has generally been stressful and time consuming. I have put a lot of time and thought into the ACT, and it has caused a lot of stress in my life,” Halverson said. “My experience with ACT tutoring has been pretty good. I have had good tutors who have taught me a lot about the ACT but also things that I missed from previous classes that are going to help me going forward in school.”

While there is a certain amount of stress that can come with preparing for the ACT, whether that be through tutoring or securing accommodations, the ACT is becoming more necessary. Following the pandemic, many elite schools became test option. In the past few weeks, Dartmouth announced that it will return to requiring a standardized test score to apply. Following this announcement, people are waiting for other high-level institutions to follow through, and so far Yale has. With this being said, the ACT is once again becoming important for college admission. Cosgrove said that the ACT can act as a benchmark for college readiness and provide an opportunity to gain merit-based financial-aid. 

“The ACT organization can provide the student with college and career readiness benchmarks based on their score. For example, if they earn a subscore of 22 on the Math portion, post-secondary institutions will likely advise this student to take College Algebra. So one benefit is that it can help give post-secondary institutions another way to help advise you for classes,” Cosgrove said. “Several MN State Colleges and Universities can use your ACT score to help determine automatic admissions. For instance, at Mankato, if a student has a GPA of 2.7 and an ACT of 21 or higher, they will automatically be admitted. Post-secondary institutions may very likely want to see a test score for any potential merit scholarships as well.”

Keller said that she thought her ACT score helped her get scholarships to different schools, and that she sees no harm in taking the test.

“I did pretty well on the ACT I took with accommodations, so I decided to submit it to the colleges I applied to, but most of them gave me the option not to. I think my ACT score as well as my grades in high school helped get me pretty big scholarships to a few different schools, and I don't know if I would have gotten that without the ACT score,” Keller said. “Since the pandemic, more and more schools have become test optional. Because Park gives us the opportunity to take the ACT without having to pay for it, I see no harm in taking it. If you don't do as well as you think you can, you can always retake it, or simply apply to schools without ACT requirements.”

Halverson said he would recommend everyone take the ACT once, even if you don’t submit your score, so that you can see where you stand.

“I would really recommend everyone take the ACT at least once,” Halverson said. “It’s good to have an idea of what you can do, even if you don’t end up using it to apply for colleges.”