So you are considering taking the ACT? Before deciding that the ACT test is the right one for you, take some time to learn more about the test. In this post, we will guide you through everything you need to know about the ACT, including what the ACT is, how long the test is, what sections are on the test, what content is featured on the test, and how the ACT is scored.
What is the ACT?
The ACT is a standardized test that help colleges and universities assess potential incoming students. Students applying to college must submit ACT or SAT scores as part of their application. Some students will take both the SAT and ACT, but we recommend that students pick just the SAT or the ACT and focus on that test.
Before deciding which test to take, it is important to learn about the ACT and learn about the SAT. You can also check out our post on SAT vs. ACT to help you decide which test is best for you.
What is on the ACT?
The ACT is a 2-hour and 55-minute test consisting of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional Writing Test that makes the ACT 3-hours and 35-minutes long. The sections of the ACT are always administered in the same order (English, Math, Reading, Science, and finally the Writing Test) and have the same number of questions.
The English Test
On the ACT English Test, students will have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. The English test features 5 short passages that each have 15 questions. The English Test feels like editing a paper. The majority of the questions will focus on a short underlined portion of the passage (from a few words to a sentence) and will test students on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and rhetorical skills (word choice, conciseness, transitions). Each question has 4 answer choices: the first is always NO CHANGE and then there are three other alternatives.
You will have to know your grammar for the ACT English Test.
Paragraph modification questions will occur on the English test as well. These questions will test students' knowledge of the style and content in the passage. The most common types will test student about adding or deleting information, correctly placing sentences within a paragraph, or evaluating the passage as a whole.
While 75 questions in 45 minute seems like a lot, this is one of the passages that most students can finish pretty comfortably, so timing is not usually a big issue here.
The Math Test
On the ACT Math Test, students will have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions. Geometry, algebra, and trigonometry are heavily featured on the ACT, but students will have to be familiar with many other topics, including trigonometry, ratios, coordinate geometry, and quadratics to name a few, to achieve high scores in this section. Many topics date back to 8th grade or freshman year of high school, so it is important for students to review many of the older math topics and formulas to get ready for test day.
If only the ACT Math Test was this easy...
The questions increase in difficulty as you go through the Math Test, so the easier questions are clustered at the front while the hardest are all at the back. In general, the first 30 problems are the easiest, while problems 30-45 begin to get more difficult. The last 15 problems, and especially the last 7-10 problems, are the most difficult and cover the most advanced topics. Based on your math skills, it is important to Pick the Right Strategy For You on the ACT Math Test.
The Reading Test
On the Reading Test, students will answer 40 questions in 35 minutes. The Reading Test included four passages of about 1000 words that are written at college level. The 4 passages are on the topics of (1) prose fiction, (2) social sciences, (3) humanities, and (4) natural sciences and always appear in that order.
Each passage will be followed by 10 questions. Common questions will ask students about details in the passage, the meaning of words-in-context, the author's goals, the main message, and the function of sentences or paragraphs. To successfully answer the questions, you will need to go back to the passage and find the evidence in the passage that matches the correct answer choice.
Time management is crucial on the Reading Test.
The time constraint for the Reading Test is difficult for many students - you will have a little under 9 minutes to complete each passage. Managing your time is essential here, as is Picking the Right Strategy for You on the ACT Reading Test.
The Science Test
On the Science Test, students will be given 6 passages about scientific experiments and asked to answer some questions based on the given information. The topics for the passages come from the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, astrology, and meteorology.
Do be aware that the Science Test does not actually test much science knowledge. In reality, it tests a student's ability to quickly read charts and graphs and make some basic conclusions. Just because you do not like science does not mean that you cannot succeed in this section.
The ACT Science tests you more on reading charts & graphs than on actual science knowledge.
Each passage will ask students 5-7 questions based on the information given in the charts, graphs, and text. 5 of the passages will present scientific data along with the corresponding charts, tables, and graphs. One passage will present conflicting viewpoints on a topic and ask you to compare and contrast the given opinions. Within each passage, the questions will increase in difficulty from easy (usually the first 2 questions) to medium (usually the 3rd-5th questions) to hard (the last 1-2 questions).
Timing is often difficult for students on the Science Test. The vast amount of information provided in each passage often makes it hard for students to quickly answer the questions. Make sure you know How To Properly Approach the Science Test before taking the ACT.
The Writing Test
The optional Writing Test gives students 40 minutes to write an essay in response to a given prompt. Each prompt will focus on a topic that will be somewhat familiar to students and will provide 3 differing perspectives on that given topic. Students will be asked to assess all 3 given perspectives while forming your own position on the topic. Your position should be supported with good critical thinking and well-developed evidence and examples.
We always recommend that students take the ACT with Writing.
Managing time well on the Writing test is very important. In the 40 minutes, students will need to read the issue, outline your response, write the essay, and proofread it. Taking time to outline your plan and sticking to it is key to writing a successful essay.
The ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36, with 36 being a perfect score. Students receive a score from 1-36 on each of the four sections of the test: English, Math, Reading, and Science. A student's composite ACT score is determined by the average of these four scores. For example, a student who receives a 31 on English, a 28 on Math, a 27 on Reading, and a 30 on Science would receive a composite score of 29. Student scores are based on how many questions they answer correctly in each section. There is no penalty for guessing on the ACT, so it is important that students never leave any question blank.
The Writing portion (Essay) is scored separately on a scale of 1-12 points. This score is an additional score and does not have any effect on a student's composite ACT score.
You can learn more about ACT scoring in our more details most about How the ACT is Scored.
If you are still not sure whether the SAT or ACT will be a better fit for you, you can learn more About the SAT and about The Difference Between the SAT and ACT.
If you think the ACT is the test for you, take a free practice ACT to see how you score.
You will also need to put together an ACT Prep Plan. Learn about the 4 Ways Students Prepare for the ACT and When You Should Take the ACT.
Did you find this article helpful? Share it with your friends!