About the ACT

  • The ACT is one of two globally-recognized major college admission tests (along with the SAT). The ACT is designed for students to demonstrate their general education knowledge overall and their capacity to complete college-level courses. Students typically take the ACT during their junior or senior year of high school. Almost every college and university in the country requires ACT (and SAT) scores when considering admission for students, as it demonstrates a student's readiness for higher education. The ACT is traditionally more popular in the Midwest, South and Rocky Mountain areas of the United States. The ACT is a self-owned and run nonprofit organization.


    The current ACT exam is composed of four multiple-choice tests concentrating on one of four general areas: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. Each question, with the exception of the mathematics section, has four answer choices. The total exam time is about three hours long. 
    The English section is perhaps the most rapid-fire of them all, with only 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. The test consists of five passages underlined on one side of the page, with options to correct those portions on the other side. The questions generally focus on proper usage and mechanics (grammar, sentence composition, punctuation), as well as rhetoric (style, clarity, organization).
    The mathematics test is 60 minutes long and contains as many questions. The specific areas covered are pre-algebra (14 questions), plane geometry (14), elementary algebra (10), intermediate algebra (9), coordinate geometry (9) and elementary trigonometry (4). Unlike for the SAT, Computer Algebra Systems (CAS) calculators are not allowed. However, calculators with paper tapes are allowed.
    The reading test contains four 10-question passages from various fictional or nonfictional sources. Students have 35 minutes to answer the passage-based questions.
    The science reasoning test is also 40 questions long with a similar 35-minute time limit. The section is composed of seven passages, with three focusing on data representation, three based on research summary and the final a conflicting viewpoints passage. Each passage is followed by five to seven questions. 
    There is an optional writing section (30 minutes long), which is administered at the end of the test. The writing section, composed of an essay with a prompt generally about social issues applicable to high school students, can only affect the score of the English section (for better or worse). The cost to take the ACT is about $40, with an extra $17 tacked on for the optional writing section. 


    All portions of the ACT are scored on a scale of 1-36 (with all scores being integers). The English, mathematics and reading tests are also have sub-scores ranging from 1-18. The optional writing test is scored on a scale of 2-12 and only impacts the English sub-score. The average of the four tests is calculated into a whole number composite score. For example, a student who scores 30 in English, 34 in mathematics, 29 in reading and 32 in science reasoning would have a composite score of 31.
    Each question on the ACT is worth one raw point. Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for wrong answers on the multiple-choice part of the test (though the SAT will adopt a similar change in 2016). This means a student can not answer any questions and not take a hit score-wise. 57% of students who retake the exam improve their composite scores.
    ACT scores alone don't ensure students get into the school of their dreams. However, they can help greatly. Scores between 17-30 are typically accepted into colleges and universities, depending in the academic profile and reputation of the institution. The higher the score (especially over 30), the higher the chance students have. Getting a perfect score will (obviously) give students the best chance. In the past 20 years, perfect scores of 36 are becoming more frequent. Though a student who achieved a 36 in 2014 was in the 0.07% of students nationwide, it's ten times the rate of perfect success in 1997, according to ACT's figures


    With a lot potentially riding on ACT composite scores, an ample amount of resources are available for students to properly prepare for the exam. Though the organization does not offer practice tests, the ACT has an online database of resources. These and additional study resources can be found on our Study Resources page. 
Last Modified on October 14, 2019