About the ACT
The ACT is a standardized examination used for college admissions, and the test results are accepted by all four-year undergraduate institutions in the United States. The ACT is a four-subject, multiple-choice exam that can be taken with or without an optional writing section (the former is officially referred to as the ACT Plus Writing, while the latter is known as the ACT (No Writing) or simply the ACT.
The four subjects tested by the ACT are English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, in that order. Each of the sections of the ACT is referred to as a “test,” and therefore, a full ACT exam contains an English Test, a Mathematics Test, a Reading Test, and a Science Test (if you were taking the ACT Plus Writing, then you would also have a Writing Test).
The exam has 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately three-and-a-half hours (including breaks) to complete. Students taking the ACT Plus Writing will test for an additional half hour. The writing test is an essay, and does not have a multiple-choice element. The entire testing day, including administrative protocols, typically takes between four-and-a-half and five hours.
You will be given a score from 1 to 36 for each of the English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science Tests; these four scores are then averaged into a Composite (overall) score, also from 1 to 36. Students taking the ACT Plus Writing will also receive a Writing test subscore from 2 to 12, as well as a Combined English/Writing score reported on a 1 to 36 range. Although students taking the ACT Plus Writing will receive a Combined English/Writing score, taking the Writing Test does not affect your English Test score or your Composite score. You can see the Combined English/Writing score conversion scale here.
The ACT is administered six times a year in the U.S., U.S. territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada: September, October, December, February, April, and June. Outside of these areas, the test is given five times a year: October, December, February, April, and June.
You can view the fees associated with registering for the ACT and sending your ACT scores to colleges here. Note, students taking the ACT Plus Writing will pay a higher registration fee than students taking the ACT (No Writing). If you are interested in requesting a waiver of your ACT registration fees, click here to view the procedure required for the waiver request.
The English Test
The English test is 45 minutes long, and is comprised of 75 multiple-choice questions spread over 5 passages (each passage has 15 associated questions: 5 x 15 = 75). The questions cover English usage and mechanics (punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and word usage), as well as rhetorical skills (organization, style, and approach in writing). You will not be tested on spelling or asked to provide vocabulary definitions, nor will you need to enumerate grammatical rules. You are expected to demonstrate command of the English language, and be able to identify incorrect usage.
The five passages of English Test are written in prose, and each of these passages will be followed by multiple-choice questions. The questions may ask you to analyze a portion of the passage and determine if it grammatically correct, identify the way phrases and words are used in the passage, or determine the way sentences and phrases work within the passage to convey meaning and understanding.
The Mathematics Test
The Mathematics test is 60 minutes long, and involves 60 multiple-choice questions. As per the ACT, it measures “the mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken by the end of 11th grade.” Although all mathematics problems on the ACT can be solved without a calculator, you are allowed to use a calculator for the Mathematics Test; however, there are some calculators which are not permitted. You can view the ACT’s calculator policy here (Note: If you use a prohibited calculator, you run the risk of being dismissed from the test, and having your test cancelled).
The Mathematics Test is 40% pre-algebra/elementary algebra, 30% intermediate algebra/coordinate geometry, and 30% plane geometry/trigonometry. You will be given a Mathematics subscore in each of these three broad areas, in addition to your overall Mathematics Test score. You will be required to have knowledge of basic (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, etc.), intermediate (quadratic equations, inequalities, functions, matrices, and geometric shapes and formulas, etc.), and advanced (proofs, trigonometric functions, advanced geometry, etc.) concepts. For an explanation of what you can expect in the Mathematics Test, click here.
The Reading Test
The Reading Test is 35 minutes long, and involves 40 multiple-choice questions. The test measures your reading comprehension level.
The Reading Test consists of four passages which, as per the ACT, “are representative of the level and kind of reading required in first-year college courses.” Each of these passages will be followed by multiple choice questions. In these questions, you will be asked to explain both what is directly stated in the passage, as well as what is implied by the information in the passage. The questions will test your ability to find main ideas within a passage, interpret details, compare examples, understand sequences and cause-and-effect situations, use context to determine the meaning of words and statements, and find a narrator’s purpose and voice based on their writing and tone. You will not be required to answer questions that require the knowledge of concepts outside of what is stated or implied in the passage.
The passages cover a range of topics in the humanities, natural sciences, prose fiction, and social studies.
The Science Test
The Science test is 35 minutes long, and involves 40 multiple-choice questions. As per the ACT, it “measures the skills required in the natural sciences: interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving.” You are not allowed to use a calculator on any part of the Science Test; this means that all operations can be solved without the aid of one. In order to best grasp the content of the Science Test, you should have completed courses in earth science, physical science, and biology.
The Science Test presents you with seven sets of information, each followed by 5 to 7 multiple-choice questions that ask you to interpret and infer from the information given. The scientific information in the questions can be in the form of graphs or tables, experiment descriptions, or scientific writings/essays. You will be required to understand the concepts being presented, examine the information and conclusions provided, and develop you own viewpoints, predictions, hypotheses, and determinations based on this information.
The Science Test is 38% data representation (3 passages of 5 questions each involving tables and graphs), 45% research summaries (3 passages of 6 questions each involving descriptions of experiments), and 17% conflicting viewpoints (1 passage of 7 questions involving inconsistent hypotheses or views). For a more detailed description of what is included in each question type, click here.
The Writing Test
The Writing Test is 30 minutes long, and requires you to write one essay. It evaluates writing and composition skills at the college entry level. As per the ACT website, the Writing Test “consists of one writing prompt that will define an issue and describe two points of view on that issue. You are asked to respond to a question about your position on the issue described in the writing prompt. In doing so, you may adopt one or the other of the perspectives described in the prompt, or you may present a different point of view on the issue. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.”