Acing the ACT

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
David Westrich, a senior at Notre Dame High School, scored a 36 on the ACT. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

Tests, for a lot of students, are feared. Some students' hearts race, some sweat, some even cry or fake illness. What might happen when that test determines their future?

The test is the American College Test, or the ACT. It is a nationally accepted college admission exam that consists of four parts: English, math, reading and science, and takes about three hours to complete. There is also an optional writing portion that takes an additional 30 minutes.

Scores range from one to 36. Currently, the national average is 21.2.

David Westrich, a senior at Notre Dame High School, scored a 36 on the ACT. His score puts him in the top 99.98 percentile of all students in the nation.

"I really worked hard to be where I am now," Westrich said

The ACT is a curriculum-based test. The questions are directly related to what a student has learned in high school.

"My high school really supported me and taught me what I need to know," said Westrich. "Thank you to all of my teachers."

Westrich is currently enrolled in many weighted courses like advanced chemistry, advanced biology, anatomy, Spanish IV and critical thinking.

"I've pretty much exhausted all of my options for math at my school," Westrich said. He will enroll in a statistics class at Southeast Missouri State University in the spring.

Zach Dumey, a senior from Jackson High School, also received a perfect score on the ACT.

"Academics are my thing," said Dumey. As a sophomore, Dumey received a 33 and raised it to 36 as a senior.

You want to talk strategy? Dumey's got it down.

"On the math portion, use the answers to set up different equations. It won't take as much time," said Dumey. "Also, you can't quit on the science part. Put it in to the end."

Dumey plans on attending a liberal arts school. He is active in the Jackson High School National Honor Society, swimming, choir and the academic team.

Like Westrich and Dumey, students can simply remember what they have learned from their classes in high school, but many experts at the Princeton Review advise to study more from an ACT book, the Internet or classes.

One helpful guidebook is the "Princeton Review: Cracking the ACT," priced at around $30. The book has hints, test-taking techniques and practice tests in all four areas.

"Practice tests were really helpful to me," said Jake Cypret, a freshman at Southeast. "They get you used to taking the test and decreases anxiety."

Cypret took the ACT five times and drastically improved his score for his final result. He credited his improvement to the practice tests he took.

Another helpful guide is "The Real ACT Prep Guide: The Only Official Prep Guide." It is created by the makers of the ACT and priced around $20.

If these guidebooks seem a little expensive, many online courses are provided for a cheaper price or no cost at all. Students commonly refer to Act.org, number2.com, testpreppreview.com and princetonreview.com to study for the ACT.

If a student wishes to study in a classroom environment, most schools provide ACT classes. A student can earn credit and greatly improve their score on the ACT.

Jackie Twidwell, a senior at Cape Girardeau Central High School, is currently enrolled in two ACT prep classes provided on campus at Central High: advanced language skills to help with the English, reading and writing portions of the ACT, and ACT prep mainly for the math and science portions of the ACT.

"The first time I took the ACT, I was not as prepared as I wish I would have been," Twidwell said. "Now that I'm taking these courses, I plan for my score to go up at least five or six points."

Josh Reeves, a sophomore at Southeast, also took ACT prep classes at Central High.

"They helped a lot," said Reeves. "They provided us with a booklet full of practice tests. That was the best."

Along with studying, the little things matter, too.

"The ACT is very important and very stressful," said Russell Hoffman, a senior at Central High who got a 33 on his ACT. "Getting enough sleep and eating a good breakfast was really helpful to me."

Hoffman plans to attend Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt.

Nikki Cochran is also a senior at Central High. She scored a 26 on the ACT and plans to take it again.

"Study hard, but don't study the night before, it will increase your anxiety," Cochran said. "The more nervous you are, the worse you do. Realize that it is an important test but don't let it overwhelm you."

Christina Chastain is a senior at Cape Girar­deau Central High School and a contributing writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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