The ACT: A High School Senior’s Opinion

TL;DR (5-minute read)

  • There are many things in our lives that stress us, and for many high-achieving students, standardized tests stand at the top of those things. One of those standardized tests that stresses us is known as the ACT.
  • Not only is the ACT stressful, but it leads to large amounts of teens being discouraged, dejected, and sometimes depressed. Now, this isn’t a direct cause, but it definitely puts a lot of strain on a student. A student is a student because they are still learning; they shouldn’t be subject to so much pressure. 
  •  The resources for ACT prep aren’t very accessible, and lower income households will have a hard time providing the necessary tools for their children to succeed on these tests. 
  • If the ACT truly desired to help students, then they should make resources to prepare for the test accessible to every student. 

Topics covered:

  1. The stress the ACT causes
  2. How hard it is to prepare for the ACT

Have you ever felt that you haven’t done enough? Have you ever felt so much pressure that it was driving you insane? There are a lot of things in our everyday lives that bring us stress. It could be a report you have to make to your boss. It could be a championship game, or it could even be a simple choice that determines your future. Stress can take on many forms. It can appear in times you will never expect. And one form of stress can be seen through a nationwide standardized test known as the ACT. The ACT, for those who aren’t familiar with it, is one of the many standardized tests high school students take to have a chance at attending college. The exam is about 3 hours in length and tests a student on 4 subjects: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Many diligent students prepare for months and stress over their results just so that they can attend their dream college, or perhaps get a merit scholarship to avoid those revolting college fees. 

The average ACT score of admitted students at, MIT University, one of America’s most prestigious universities, is 35 (out of a perfect 36) (Prepscholar)

The ACT in Perspective:

I’ll illustrate a picture to put the ACT into perspective. Imagine that there is a path leading to college. On that path there are many obstacles that you must jump over, duck under, or even push through. At the very end of that path there is a wall. You’ve dedicated 3 years of studying, participating in after school clubs, trying to make the varsity team for your sport, and even doing some activities outside of school. You are well qualified to attend college. But there seems to be this large wall. Actually, it’s not even a wall. Because if it was a wall then there would be some way to overcome it. You can break walls, you can wait for it to crumble, you can even get a group of people together to help jump over it.

This is more like a gate. A gate that won’t let you in unless you have a special key. You can see your desired college on the other side of the gate, but it’s no use. The gate cannot be climbed, you can’t find a detour, and you most certainly can’t destroy it. You need the key. Without the key you can’t get into college. For those that have the key, the gate opens, but for those that don’t, it stays shut. It keeps the “qualified” in and those that aren’t “good enough” out. It serves as a barrier for the more fortunate and those who aren’t as blessed. The ACT is that gate, and that score is the key. The higher the score, the more likely the gate will open in your favor. Achieving a high score is highly beneficial for students applying to competitive schools. This is what the ACT was designed for, but what if you don’t reach your goal? What happens when things don’t turn out your way? What happens when all of your hard work crumbles into dust? This is what we will discuss in this article, we are going to explore the “not so happy” side when it comes to these “tests.” 

The closed gates of Harvard University (Pinterest)

The Stress the ACT and Other Standardized Tests Cause:

As I’ve stated before, the ACT, just like any other obstacle in our paths, causes a large amount of stress in a high school student’s life. After all, it can either make or break our chances of having a “decent life.” Now, there are many ways as to which a person can go about their life, but in this era, getting into college seems to be the greatest advantage any person could have under their belt for a chance at having a “decent life.” This is why many students choose to work very hard, but sometimes that hard work isn’t enough. This next part may be a disturbing truth, but most people who don’t have good facilities for education sadly can’t make it past that gate.

Unlike privileged people, who can maybe take a gap year after their senior year of high school to study for this exam again, the unlucky children don’t have any more chances. Why is that? Well, one reason is that if their family doesn’t have a stable income they just also start to work once they are of age. Exceptions are made when it comes to people without many opportunities, but only a select few are chosen. The rest must find work, and in this era, as I’ve stated previously, it is very difficult to find a job without a college education. Also, some students don’t know any other path in their life except for education. Some students that don’t achieve their goals sadly are dejected from life. And it makes sense. If you were to spend 3 years putting your nose to the grindstone, only to have one bad test determine your chance at getting into college, then wouldn’t you feel dejected? Wouldn’t you believe that there is no other way to go about life? This feeling of dejection can also lead to depression, and depression is one of the few reasons for teen suicide.

 I am not saying that bad standardized tests lead to teen suicide. But I am saying that, indirectly, it could be possible. According to the United Health Foundation, teen suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for the age group of 15-24. And it’s only going up. This picture shown below shows the suicide rate among teenagers increase each year.

Like I’ve said, it could be due to depression, but it could also be because factors that aren’t remotely related to academics and standardized testing. One reason could be because of the home stiauton of some teenagers. But even if standardized tests don’t have any correlation to teen suicide, they pose far too much stress. In fact, I’ve been told that this test determines the rest of my life. It’s been said directly to my face, and it’s scary. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing, and I just want to live a normal life, but with intense high-pressure exams like these, it’s hard to just relax and be a kid for once. 

The Lack of Information About the ACT:

Not only is the ACT a highly stressful test, but I believe that many don’t know how to go about it well. In fact,  I didn’t know how to properly prepare for the ACT until my Junior year of high school. My school, Olentangy High School, conducted a free 4-hour ACT seminar brought to us by a tutoring company called “Prep Accelerator.” But after that I really didn’t know much. Now, I belong to a very good school district. All I had to do was ask a few of my teachers and friends on how I could prepare for such a test, but for those that weren’t as fortunate as I was most likely couldn’t or even didn’t know what to do. There are some people who have written the ACT without a single second of studying, but the majority of people need to prepare and study for the test in excess. I fell under the second category. There are free resources, but those free resources only last for so long and offer so much. And on top of that, if you don’t know how to study or even approach this test, then those resources are pointless. Because there isn’t a set way to prepare for this test, many students tend to get help from tutors or sign-up for online programs. These programs do help and I have participated in these programs, but they are very costly. A good tutoring lesson can cost up to $200 and sometimes even more, and that’s not the worst part. Sometimes you may not even benefit from all of the practice. For those that cannot afford these privileges, it’s very hard to get a high score on these exams because they either don’t know how to study, they can’t afford the prep programs, or they sometimes just don’t have the capability. Those students are never going to be given the spotlight because one test score stopped them from achieving what they wanted. To be frank, it’s unfair. This education should be available to everyone, because everyone should have the chance to do well. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that type of utopia.

Final thoughts:

If you go to ACT’s official website, you will see something that looks like a mission statement. It reads, “Our Flexible Solutions Help Individuals, Schools, Districts, and States Meet Goals for Education and Career Success.” I have to argue that this statement doesn’t make sense. If the ACT truly desired for students to meet their goals, then all of the resources needed to prepare for the act should be more accessible. Every student must at least have a chance to prove themselves before they are cast aside. However life isn’t that fair. If it was truly fair, I wouldn’t have written this article. 


Featured image: bestcolleges.com

Explore Teen Suicide in the United States | 2020 Health of Women and Children | AHR (americashealthrankings.org)

College Scholastic Ability Test Exam 2021 Syllabus | Pattern (targetstudy.com)

Products and Services for K-12 Education, College and Career Success | ACT

College Enrollment and Work Activity of Recent High School and College Graduates Summary (bls.gov)

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