Colleges use the ACT in two ways: (1) to get a broad idea of your academic abilities, and (2) as a way to compare you to the other students in their applicant pool. Don’t forget: The ACT is a standardized test. This means that your ACT score can be used to compare you to students in the rest of the country. As has been mentioned elsewhere, GPAs are not standard, but ACT scores are. Admissions officers could have a hard time comparing one GPA to another, but they can easily compare one student’s performance on the ACT to another. The ACT, along with the SAT, is the only uniform tool admissions officers have to compare students from different schools and educational backgrounds across the country.
In addition to using ACT scores as a quick, easy way to compare students in their applicant pool, colleges also use ACT test scores as a way of determining a student’s aptitude in different academic subjects. A score of 32 on the ACT Math Test, for example, may tell colleges that a student is ready to tackle the higher-level mathematics of their college program, while a score of 21 might tell them that a particular student may not be quite have the proficiency they need. ACT test scores let schools see where a student stands on a broad academic spectrum, and decide if that student would be able to succeed at their institution.
Although your GPA is an important part of your application, your ACT score will be closely scrutinized and used in more ways that your GPA; for this reason, you need to make sure that, when taking the ACT, you do so only after undertaking thorough preparation, and only once you know that you are ready to perform at your peak on the exam.