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List of States that Require the ACT

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Get ready for your go-to guide about taking the ACT through your school! This article will talk about all states that require the ACT and how they administer the test. Basically, we’re here to answer when you ask, “Do I have to take the ACT for school?”


Here’s what we’ll cover:


  1. Q&A about the ACT, why states offer the test, and why you should use your school’s provided opportunity to take it. 
  1. List of states that require the ACT (including whether they offer the ACT for free!). 
  1. How the ACT impacts your college chances.


Because the list of states who require the ACT changes every year, we’ll be sure to keep it updated! 


You may also want to check out our compilation of official ACT practice tests, explanation of the ACT vs. SAT, and expansive overview of the ACT’s material. If you’re a junior stressed about the ACT, you might want to check out CollegeVine’s free, live advising sessions, Just for Juniors with Giebien Na.


What is the ACT?


When you think of the Space Race, you may not immediately think of the ACT. But as bland as it may seem, the ACT is a Space Age test: created in 1959, it was part of a national push towards greater college attendance in the US and a massive increase in standardized testing.


Full disclosure: I love the ACT. I could talk for hours about its development, its Cold War history, and (yes) its problems. Despite its flaws (namely, being a test) the ACT makes a point of offering interesting problems and compelling reading material. 


Specifically, the ACT was meant to empower you for college. Its creator, E.F. Lindquist, viewed it as a meritocratic alternative to the SAT: while the SAT in the 1950s aimed to assess an “innate” intelligence through puzzles and logic tests, the ACT was meant to reward “hard work” and the accumulation of knowledge through sustained study. It has three main sections — English, Math, and Science — scored from 1-36. Its optional Writing component (in which you write an essay) is scored from 1-12. 


Why Do Some States Require the ACT?


1. It helps students apply for college.


The ACT can be hard for some students to access on their own. There are lots of deterrents: application fees, finding a testing center, traveling to a testing location, and finding the time to take it on your own. By using existing school resources to provide the test, schools can eliminate lots of these barriers and make the ACT easier to access. This way, students can have an ACT score ready to put on college applications.


2. States don’t have to create their own standardized tests. 


Developing a standardized test absorbs a huge amount of personnel, time, research, and money. Outsourcing this effort by replacing state tests with the ACT is less of a headache for boards of education.


3. That state’s colleges prefer the ACT.


State high schools often work in tandem with state colleges to make sure residents have a reliable path to college. If a state like Wisconsin has colleges that mainly accept the ACT on applications, it’s sensible to lower that hurdle for in-state applicants who are most likely to attend.


4. It’s a more universal standard.


If a state tests students based on its own standards and materials, it’s a lot harder to gauge how well those students are performing in a national context. (For example, what does a score of 417 on the Florida Standards Assessment even mean to someone outside the state? And how can it be compared to student performance in, say, Alaska? You’d need to do some complicated statistical conversions.) Using the same test as other states (e.g. the ACT) allows results to be compared directly across different states, the country, and the world. 


Why Should I Take the ACT through School?


1. You want to save money


Paying for the ACT yourself would set you back either $55 (no writing section) or $70 (with writing section). If your school offers the ACT for free, it’s well worth it and saves you or your family the headache.


2. You want to save time


When you take the ACT solo, you have to pick from the ACT’s list of testing locations and dates, which can be inconvenient and hard to coordinate with studies, work, and extracurriculars. Taking it through your school, you won’t have to do any of this – instead, you’re simply taking it during class time.


3. You want the practice to increase your score


It’s been proven that the more you take a test, the better you perform. This is true for most standardized tests (even IQ tests!), because you’ll gain a better handle on time management, the material, and the format of the questions. 


So if you take the ACT through your school for free, you’re freeing up money to take the test again and increase your score. The U.S. government has found that 57% percent of students improved their ACT scores on their second testing. Almost all students who score a 36 are veterans who have taken the test multiple times. And even if your overall score doesn’t go up, you can score higher on individual sections, improving your Superscore.


4. It’s a comfortable setting


You’re statistically more likely to test better in a setting that’s familiar to you. As much as you may be SICK of high school, the familiar halls can give you a psychological boost and improve your score in a number of ways: knowing your test proctors personally (+.28 standard deviations, baby!), repeated exposure to an environment (makes you feel less anxious), and taking a test with your friends (reassurance and confidence-building). There’s also evidence to suggest that the regions of the brain that process situations of familiarity also contribute to memory recall, association, and perception – in short, good vibes to have on a test! Not to mention more mundane factors, like knowing where the snacks and bathrooms are.


5. You can put yourself out there to colleges


You’ll find when filling out the ACT that you can opt to send your contact info to colleges (known as the “Educational opportunity Service”). While this doesn’t constitute part of an application and has no bearing on your acceptance, this can “put you on the radar” for mailings, promotions, and recruitment. Colleges can also purchase lists of certain scorers from ACT to send their materials to, so the ACT is a good way to invite colleges to introduce themselves to you.


6. You can qualify for financial aid and academic scholarships.


Several colleges and organizations use ACT scores to select students for different scholarships and honors programs. At some schools, your ACT score can even qualify you for a full ride. By taking the ACT for free through your school, you’re effectively winning free money if you score well. 


Does Taking the ACT In-School Affect the Curve? 


You might be wondering: “If all the juniors in my state take the ACT at once, wouldn’t that make the curve more unfavorable? I’d be taking the test in the same group as all those powerhouse schools from downstate. If they get high scores in the 30s, does that skew the grading curve?”


The answer is, thankfully, no. Your ACT score is NOT affected by other test-takers. Your number is calculated in relation to the test itself, not the distribution of scores across the testing group. If you get a 90%, you get a 90% — end of story. Even if everyone else in your sample group scored a 100% (36), your 90% would remain the same (i.e., about a 29). 


The only “curve” used by the ACT are slight statistical corrections that differ from test to test. ACT prepares these curves beforehand based on how challenging the questions are going to be. For example, I once took an ACT exam that bumped everyone’s score up a bit, because a certain math question was deemed to be exceedingly hard. So all you need to do is focus on the material in front of you, not anyone else.

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States that Offer or Require the ACT


This list provides an overview of states that require the ACT or offer it for free. For a comprehensive look at each state’s administration requirements, scroll down to our full writeups. 




  • Hawaii
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Nebraska 
  • North Carolina 
  • North Dakota 
  • Ohio (SAT or ACT)
  • Oklahoma (SAT or ACT)
  • Tennessee (SAT or ACT)
  • Wyoming


Offered for Free


  • Alabama 
  • Arkansas  
  • Mississippi 
  • Montana 
  • South Carolina 
  • Utah 
  • Wisconsin




Schools in Alabama are required to offer one ACT test to juniors, for free. Alabama’s statewide ACT exam includes the writing section. Additionally, schools will mandate attendance: technically, you as an individual don’t have to take the test, though you may face disciplinary action from your local school. We at CollegeVine obviously recommend that you do take it! 




All juniors in Arkansas are provided the opportunity to take one ACT exam, for free, at their local high schools. Your high school will select the date (out of a few statewide options) on which they’ll administer this free test. The Arkansas ACT does not include the writing section. Attendance is not required, but if you wish to exempt yourself, you must fill out a special form. At CollegeVine, we strongly recommend you take advantage of this opportunity to take the ACT. 




Schools in Hawaii administer one ACT free to juniors. This state-provided ACT includes the writing section. Attendance at the test is mandatory.




Kentucky state law requires that all juniors take a college entrance exam selected by the state, currently the ACT. The state ACT provided by Kentucky does not include the writing section. The Kentucky ACT is mandatory and required for graduation: “Kentucky does not provide students with the choice to opt-out of state-required testing” except in rare circumstances, like a student not skilled in English not wishing to go on to college.




Schools in Louisiana are required to offer one ACT test to juniors, for free. The state exam does not include the writing section, but local schools may add on the writing section and require it at their own cost. Information was a bit hard to find, but we’re pretty sure attendance is required. 




Mississippi high schools administer one ACT exam to juniors, for free. To the best of our knowledge, this exam does not include the writing section. We could not determine if attendance and participation are required.




Montana high schools (starting last year, actually) now offer juniors the opportunity to take one ACT exam for free – that’s one good thing, at least, to come out of 2020. Better yet, Montana’s ACT includes the writing section. From what we could find, attendance is not explicitly required (at least by the state – check your local school). However, at CollegeVine, we strongly recommend you take advantage of this opportunity to take the ACT.




By law, Nebraska requires juniors to take one ACT exam through their local high schools, provided for free. This exam includes the writing section (hooray!). Attendance is mandatory for students.


North Carolina


According to state policy, all public high schools have to administer one ACT test, free of cost, to its junior students.  The North Carolina ACT includes the writing section. Furthermore, all juniors in NC state schools are required to take the ACT. You can exempt yourself from your school’s test day only in extenuating circumstances, or if you can provide evidence that you’ve 1) taken the ACT that year and) met North Carolina’s “benchmark” scores for your grade. 


North Dakota


The state of North Dakota pays for one ACT test, for free, for all high school juniors. This exam includes the ACT writing section. While your individual participation is not technically mandatory on a state level, your school (which is required by state law to aim for a participation rate of 95%) may enforce your attendance




Ohio state law requires school districts to administer EITHER the ACT or SAT as a standardized test for juniors free-of-cost. Check which test is offered by your district. State funding does not include the writing section, though some districts may opt to offer the writing section out of their own pockets. Schools are not obligated to pay for students to take both the ACT and SAT: for example, if your district administers the SAT as its standardized test, it is not obligated to provide you a free ACT as well (although some districts might. You should always ask). Failing to take the ACT/SAT will not automatically bar you from graduation or affect your class grades; however, you will be penalized on thePrepared for Success” section of your report card, which may affect graduation. 




Oklahoma state law requires school districts to administer EITHER the ACT or SAT as a standardized test for juniors free-of-cost. You should check whether your school district administers the ACT or SAT. Schools are not obligated to pay for students to take both the ACT and SAT: for example, if your district administers the SAT as its standardized test, it is not obligated to provide you a free ACT as well (although some districts might. You should always ask). Oklahoma includes the writing section for both ACT and SAT.  The ACT/SAT is administered as part of Oklahoma’s College- and Career-Readiness Assessment (CCRA), which adds on two of its own tests in History and Science. Student participation is required. 


South Carolina


South Carolina’s testing policy states that all students must have the opportunity to take EITHER the ACT or SAT for free. That means you get to choose which test to take, if any: “The choice must be determined at the student level, not the school or district level.” Schools are given state funding for only one test per student: for example, if you take the SAT for free through your school, your school is not obligated to provide you a free ACT as well (although some districts might. You should always ask). South Carolina includes the writing section for both ACT and SAT. Students are not required or obligated to take the test, though we at CollegeVine obviously recommend that you do. 




The Tennessee state board of education requires that all juniors must take either the ACT or the SAT as an exit exam. Your district may 1) offer the ACT, 2) offer the SAT, or 3) offer both and allow students the opportunity to choose which one to take. Schools are not obligated to pay for you to take more than one test: for example, if your district administers the SAT only, it is not obligated to provide you a free ACT as well (although some districts might. You should always ask). Tennessee tests include the writing section for both ACT and SAT. Participation is required for graduation (except in the case of adults pursuing a high school GED). For more details and minutiae, see Tennessee’s testing FAQs.




Utah offers and administers the ACT for high school juniors, although taking the test is not required. Through your school, you can take one ACT test for free – although your school may administer more tests later, you will have to pay for every test after your first (we recommend contacting your school for details). The free ACT offered in Utah public schools does not include the writing section




By state law, all Wisconsin high schools provide the full ACT to juniors as a standardized test. (Wisconsin also tests 9th and 10th graders with a lighter version of the test, the “ACT Aspire.”) All costs of this exam are covered by the school, meaning this one, school-provided ACT is free for students. If you want to take the ACT again, you or your school must cover the cost (and we recommend checking with your school for options). Wisconsin’s ACT includes the writing section.




Wyoming provides the ACT to all high school juniors free of cost. This test does not include the writing section. You must take the ACT or SAT at some point in order to meet graduation requirements per state policy


How Does Your ACT Score Impact Your College Chances?


Selective colleges use a metric called the Academic Index (AI) to represent the strength of applicants’ grades and test scores. If your AI is too low, a school may not even review the rest of your application. This may not sound fair, but some of these schools receive tens of thousands of applications, so this is their way of filtering out applicants. 


You can understand the impact of your ACT score by using our free Admissions Chances Calculator. This calculator will let you know how your score stacks up against other applicants’, and give you tips on improving the rest of your profile, including grades and extracurriculars.


You can also search for schools based on preferences like location, major, cost, and more. Give it a try to find your best-fit college!


Short Bio
Maya St. Clair is a freelance writer and Renaissance historian from Illinois. She loves "writing about writing" and helping others achieve the best results with their own prose. She graduated from Washington University in St. Louis.