Since elementary school, I have taken standardized tests that were used to determine placement and test proficiency on various subjects. Just last year, I took the CRT -- or Criterion-Referenced Test -- in several classes.
However, taking the ACT was a completely new and eye-opening experience that I had not fully anticipated. As my junior year rolled around, I was advised to take the ACT as soon as I could. While I had a general idea of what the ACT test was from previous standardized tests, I still had a lot of questions, the first of which was what ACT even stood for -- which is simply American College Testing.
I was directed by my counselor to sign up online at www.actstudent.org. It seemed simple enough. However, when I clicked "Register to Test," I was confronted with perhaps the longest application I had even seen. It asked for my basic information, my classes and extracurricular activities, my college and career plans, and 72 questions about various kinds of activities to help gauge my interests.
Finally, after more than 10 pages and more than an hour of filling out information, I moved on to actually registering for the test.
As the date for the ACT drew closer, it began to weigh more and more on my mind. What should I expect? Despite my limited knowledge, I tried to prepare for the test the best I could, including going on www.actstudent.org and solving the sample problems.
The morning of the ACT finally arrived; the test began around 8 a.m. Though I felt fairly confident with my preparation, I became suddenly nervous as I opened the booklet.
As a long-distance runner, I felt I had a lot of physical and mental endurance, but I was not prepared for what lay ahead. I had taken practice tests, but they were certainly not comparable in length to the actual ACT.
The first section was the English section -- a grueling 75 questions in 45 minutes. I had to focus intensely to even begin to fathom completing this section.
It only got worse. The reading and science sections only allowed 35 minutes to answer 40 questions, which was even harder to complete. There was absolutely no time to let my mind wander, let alone to go back and check answers. After another hour for math and 30 more minutes for the writing portion, I was finally done. We were released from the room around 12:30 p.m., after about four hours of testing.
When I was finally finished, I was completely exhausted. I felt like I had taken five final exams in one day, with only a few minutes of break between each one.
Even though I knew my scores would not be posted for a few weeks, I began checking the website from the day the test was over, much like how a prospective church missionary checks the mailbox for a mission call. It took about 2 1/2 weeks for my scores (with the exception of the writing portion) to be posted.
My composite score was a 26, a good score, but one that I could definitely improve on for future ACTs. I plan to retake the test in March, and I see three main things I will do differently.
First, I will try to relax more. Taking the test is already exhausting as it is. Finding something to take my mind off the test beforehand, such as going for a run, could help improve my score.
Second, I will practice taking more timed tests, where I work under pressure. There are many practice tests online and books that are made specifically for ACT preparation, and, using a timer, I can simulate taking the real test.
Third, I would leave the rest of my day open to let my mind and body recover from the "marathon test." The first time I took the ACT, I had made myself a to-do list and planned an activity for just after the test, none of which I had very much energy for. Next time, I will leave at least a few hours to let my mind wind down, probably by eating a big lunch and taking a long nap.
The first time taking the ACT was stressful and draining, but has certainly helped me get ready for next time I will take it and for other tests that have a significant effect on my future college education and career.
Brigham Flint is a junior at Fremont High School. Contact him at email@example.com.