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"Well"

The day has come, and various students wipe sweaty palms on worn jeans and fuzzy pajama pants. Trying desperately to remember formulas stuffed in their brains 12 hours ago, some spasmodically arrange their No. 2 pencils and check the clock, while others stare blankly at the desk in front of them. All wish it was over before it even begins. I know how they feel, and once shared their pain. Now I sit cool and confident, listening to the instructor drone about guidelines I have heard many times. When the order is given to begin, I smoothly break the seal and check my watch. I know I have exactly 36 seconds per question on this portion of the test. I confidently circle answers as the person next to me groans and rubs their forehead. Most teenagers spend their Saturdays sleeping in, hanging out with friends, and relaxing. I take the ACT.

In this essay I would like to define the fine art of ACT test taking. An adequate explanation of my “special interest” requires that I define the ACT and what it means to be a good tester. The ACT (American College Test) measures a student's achievement in four core academic areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. An optional Writing test is also provided. While it is often called the “four hour test”, in all reality the test itself takes exactly two hours and fifty-five minutes. Scores range from 1-36, 36 being the highest. It is known to completely terrify the average unprepared student, and spit them out brain-dead and ornery.

I will define what it is to correctly prepare for the ACT by explaining how it is done. There is no standardized way to prepare for this standardized test. Every person learns differently, and each should use whatever study method works best for them. But to do well on the ACT studying is essential. I don't mean “well” as in a pretty good score, because many have been know to get a decent score on this test without any preparation. It is possible, but what is saddening is the extraordinary score those people could have gotten if they had studied. We aren't shooting for a good score, we're shooting for the best score possible. That is to do “well”. It is a well-known fact among ACT junkies that last-minute cramming is completely worthless. In fact, experienced testers don't study at all the day before the test. It is usually a good idea to talk to school counselors and heads of departments at the high school and ask for any practice tests they may have. To really prepare, don't try and learn a lot of new information right before the test. It is better to review already learned material so the optimum amount of questions can be answered. If a tester is really serious about the test, they will invest in ACT prep books, which are full of great tips about the test and preparing for it, as well as practice questions and reviews.

The day of the test all depends on the preparation made for it, not only with study but with proper sleep and nourishment. It is best to go to bed at a regular time, and eat a normal breakfast. A good tester doesn't freak their body out before the test. I always bring food to eat during the break between sections, and make sure water is available. During the test one should keep careful track of time and fill in as many questions as possible. When it comes down to it, the ACT really is all about who can manipulate and conquer the test with test-taking strategies. For instance, it is best to do the Science section out of order, working on the passages with five questions first, the ones with six questions second, and save the one with seven questions for last. More tips like these can be found in prep books and from online sources.

Although my reader now understands the how and what of the ACT, they may not know the why, and most likely cannot fathom the appeal. I would like to start by reiterating what I stated above, that the ACT is an achievement test. It does not measure I.Q. Whoever is reading this has just as much potential as the person writing it. The ACT is not for everyone. There are other ways to get to college. There are many intelligent, wonderful people who may epically fail the ACT, but that makes them no less intelligent and wonderful. In many ways it's just a stupid test. In others, it is brilliant. When a college sees a high ACT score they know that that person is either very academically oriented or is dedicated to study hard and earn that score. For some people this is a fantastic opportunity. This is my fantastic opportunity. I may admit that it is a dumb test, but it is a dumb test that can pay for my college. The appeal comes with the person, and their sense for opportunity. That is why the definition of a good ACT tester is someone who studies and prepares. Someone whose definition of “well” is the best they can possibly do. They know the higher their score is, the more money they will have towards college, and they have the ability to get that score. This paragraph is what I want to scream at people every time they ask me why I am taking the ACT seven times, every time they tell me I'm crazy, and every time they ask me what my score is just to tell me it is “good enough”. Is it crazy to pay for college with a 3 hour test if you can do it? Hard-core testers, take solace in the fact that we will be the ones laughing in a few years, when the “good enoughs” are toiling in a McDonald's, saving every cent to pay for the next semester.

I close the book and slide it to the corner of my desk when the instructor calls time. I eye the rows of filled in bubbles. Each test is different, and I go over the difficult sections again in my numb mind. I feel confident in the majority of my answers. When I walk out the door I look forward to an action movie and a long nap, I am not so different from most teenagers as I may seem. I just want to reach my dreams and succeed. In three weeks I will anxiously wait for my score to appear on the computer screen. For now I am happy with the fact that I have done my best. I have done “well”.



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