How Important is the ACT?

Back in 2018 of 3.2 million 16-24 year old Americans  who completed high school, some 2.2 million of them (69%), were enrolled in college the next school season. In the U.S. to get into college the average composite ACT score must be at least  21, and the average ACT composite score in the U.S. is 20.6. That may not be a terribly big number difference but in the U.S. 25% of test takers scored a 16 or under that same year the average was taken. 

A survey was shared with 40 DeForest Area High School juniors to complete prior to the upcoming, state required ACT test. 40 students completed the survey prior to March 9, 2021.

The average composite ACT score of at least 21 is consistent with the survey results. Based on the survey results, those that entered a number in the survey, the largest number and percentage of students were aiming for a score between 21-25, and they felt that would be good enough for college acceptance. 

ACT score they are aiming for ACT Score they think is good enough
# student responses % of student responses # student responses % of student responses
<=20 9/35 26% 11/37 30%
21-25 13/35 37% 16/37 43%
26-30 11/35 31% 9/37 24%
31+ 2/35 6% 1/37 3%
Total 35* 37*

*Not all students that responded entered a number*


Students are given the opportunity to take the test multiple times to improve their score, perhaps focusing on areas that they didn’t do well on the first time. In 2020, the ACT tests were not offered in person due to the global pandemic. Some were allowed to take it online, but this challenge meant that most of the students that wanted to retake the ACT were not given the option. This was possibly why the majority of colleges and universities that year didn’t require an ACT score to get into their school. 

Based on the survey results, only 7.5% of the respondents indicated that they plan to retake the ACT at a later date, but an overwhelming 75% indicated that their decision to retake the test will depend on their score. 

According to MyACT, only 56% of students that take the ACT again improve their score, 20% no change and 24% have a score that is lower.

High school students know that the ACT score is important and has a lot of influence on your college acceptance rate, 70% (28/40) of the survey respondents indicated that their ACT score is “Important” or “Very Important” for them to get accepted to their preferred colleges. 

1 = Not at all important

5= very important

The ACT is a standardized test used as an objective measure to assess one’s capabilities and knowledge, not taking into account the students’ learning style, participation in extracurricular activities, cumulative GPA, or other social factors that could influence their college application. 

Even though the majority, 74% of the students that responded indicated that they are aiming for an ACT score of 21 or higher, and according to PreScholar, only 50% of students actually achieve that score.

Students that are in extracurricular activities, including sports, or those that some consider disadvantaged for a variety of reasons may not have the time or the tools to properly prepare for the ACT test. Only 50% of the surveyed students indicated that they were preparing for the ACT test outside of school with the other 50% stating it’s mostly because they don’t have time outside school.

Teachers are trying to guide students to the right resources to prepare for the ACT test, yet only 15% felt that it was definitely helping, with 60% indicating that it is helping, but more should be done and 25% indicating that it’s not helping at all. That means 85% of the students that completed the survey felt that more help would be preferred. 

The majority of students that completed the survey, 24/40 (60%) indicated they would take an ACT preparation class offered during or after school if the high school offered it, 6/40 (15%) indicated that they may take the class depending on when or how it is offered, with 10/40 (25%) indicating that they would not. 

The approach that many colleges are taking when reviewing applications has changed over time. According to IvyWise Knowledge Base and IvyWise Resources, colleges and universities take many factors into consideration. Admissions officers look at “hard factors” (GPA, grades, and test scores) and “soft factors” (essays, extracurricular activities, recommendations, and demonstrated interest) to gain a full picture of applicants. Many of the students that responded to the survey indicated that they still believe there is too much emphasis on the ACT score. They don’t believe that the ACT score is an accurate measurement of the student’s intelligence or their likelihood to succeed in college, rather a measure of their ability to do well on standardized tests. 

The message from DAHS juniors is clear, they believe the ACT continues to be  important and are asking for more help to do well. These juniors believe they would benefit from ACT preparation classes through their high school.