Days before the test, ThunderRidge High School junior Sophie Pepin already was nervous.
“A lot of scholarships and other things rely on it,” said Pepin.
Along with high school juniors statewide, Pepin took the ACT April 23, a national college admissions test.
Many colleges and universities weigh a student’s ACT score along with grade-point average, class rank and other factors in determining admission.
Pepin hopes to go to the Colorado School of Mines, where the average ACT score for entering freshman is 29. A perfect score on the four-part test is 36.
She’s been preparing for the ACT for the last two months, scoring a 32 and 31 in her two practice tests.
“If I don’t get a perfect score, I’d be fine with that,” she said.
Preparation for the ACT goes beyond students. A room is designated for the test in each Douglas County School District high school. Desks must be spaced far enough apart to prevent cheating. Books, posters and other materials that may distract students must be covered or removed from the room. A test supervisor is assigned to monitor students during the four-hour exam.
On the day of the test, students have to show the supervisor photo identification to be allowed into the testing room. Sweaty palms and anxiety are more common than not.
“The pressure is there,” said Dan McMinimee, assistant superintendent of secondary education for the Douglas County School District. “A lot of this is also self-directed pressure from the student. I think a lot of kids in Douglas County have that competitive drive in them. They know what this test means.”
But it is not necessarily the most important factor for college admissions officers.
“The ACT and SAT score are one piece of the puzzle for a student in determining what college to go to,” McMinimee said. “It would help if you got a 36. But it’s probably not going to exclude you from the college of your choice if you don’t do as well on it as you thought you were going to do. In general, the scores that Douglas County students get will qualify them for multiple different colleges.”
While the in-school test is offered only once, students can take the test repeatedly at independent test centers. The fee is $35 per test.
“The more times a student takes it, the better score they usually get,” McMinimee said.
In 2012, DCSD’s composite ACT score was 21.7, third among the metro area’s top 10 largest school districts.