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What can you and ACT do to help students test for free?

The ACT fee waiver program was designed to serve students from low-income families, a population that often struggles to access education-related opportunities on an equal footing with more affluent peers. It’s our duty as a nonprofit, mission-driven organization to not only offer the ACT test for free to these students, but to make it easy for eligible students to access the test.

Previous blogs in this series explored fee waiver use and why students who register for the ACT using fee waivers do not test as scheduled. Students who sign up to test using a fee waiver are less likely to take the test as scheduled compared to students who pay the registration fee, and students shared a variety of reasons for being unable to test as scheduled.

An important caveat: the research and survey represent students’ experiences before the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen fewer students testing using fee waivers during the pandemic for a variety of reasons, which our research does not address, but our recommendations and the overall need to lower barriers and increase opportunities remain applicable today.

What is ACT doing to improve access for students from low-income families?

As of September 2020, eligible students now have access to four fee waivers (up from two) and can send unlimited score reports to colleges (up from 20). Though we encourage everyone to register promptly, students registering past the deadline using a fee waiver will no longer face any late fees.

Our new and improved test registration site, MyACT, makes it easier to register and offers a prominent reminder to students registering using a fee waiver that they have free, one-year access to The Official ACT® Self-Paced Course, Powered by Kaplan®, our paid test prep product, so that they can use this resource to review content or help themselves become more comfortable with the ACT test format.

In addition, while a printed admission ticket is an essential resource containing important match information that helps score answer documents, it is not required—this helps eliminate a barrier to entry for students who may be unable to access a printer.

Ty Cruce, Raeal Moore, and I conducted this research because (like so many others at ACT) we believe in the value of the ACT test and the importance of keeping it accessible to all students. And ACT’s work to expand access and increase attendance does not stop here. A team spanning the organization was recently established to further improve access to the ACT fee waiver program. We will keep you posted regarding future improvements to this very important program.

How can you as an education stakeholder help improve access?

ACT cannot fix systemic barriers alone. We’re inviting policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders to join us in working to help students from low-income families access all available resources, including the ACT test.

State and local policymakers can:

  • work with ACT to offer school-day testing so that transportation barriers and work schedules, among other issues facing students, do not serve as an impediment;
  • hire more school counselors so that staff have more time to explain the benefits of taking the ACT using a fee waiver and address each student’s specific needs;
  • equip students with tools to reduce stress and anxiety—which may include prioritizing teacher professional development, increasing counseling capacity, and/or introducing or expanding programs and curricula incorporating social-emotional learning; and
  • provide transportation for students taking the ACT test on Saturdays.

Principals can:

  • adopt school-day testing, if it is not offered at the state or district level;
  • work with ACT to register your school as a Saturday test center, so that students, including those using a fee waiver, can test at a familiar location;
  • emphasize the importance of taking the ACT test to staff and students, to avoid conflicting extracurricular events;
  • incorporate ACT-tested essential skills and knowledge into curricula;
  • equip students with tools to reduce stress and anxiety, including making sure staff have the resources they need to offer support; and
  • provide transportation to Saturday ACT test locations.

School counselors and teachers can:

Make a plan with students to:

  • address scheduling conflicts;
  • include time for test preparation;
  • set reminders for requesting a test accommodation;
  • successfully upload a photo before the deadline;
  • secure transportation;
  • confirm the test time, date, and location;
  • bring the materials needed to test; and
  • remember to set an alarm.

This is the final blog summarizing our four-report research series on fee waivers. Blogs examining ACT's fee waiver program from additional perspectives are forthcoming. Catch up on previous blogs in the series: