What to Expect on the ACTThe ACT has a reputation for being fast and user-friendly — great qualities when ascribed to your new smartphone, a bit more nuanced when they refer to a standardized test. Many students find the ACT language familiar and the problems similar to those they solve in school. This enables them to hit the ground running when they open the ACT, and that is exactly what students must do. This test is a race against the clock.
It opens with a 45-minute English section that tasks you with editing 5 passages for grammar and rhetoric errors. Next up? A multiple-choice Math section — 60 minutes, 60 problems. You’ll have to really keep pace for sections three and four: a 35-minute Reading section followed by a 35-minute Science section. Last but not least? An optional 40-minute Essay.
Format of the ACTWhen you learn to keep time, the ACT gives you space to show-off your strengths. There’s no doubt that this exam rewards the speedy, but pacing is something everyone can practice. Once you get into your timing groove, the ACT boasts a wide variety of content: a science section, loads of geometry, a mix of arts-driven and analysis-based reading passages. Chances are, your academic forte is in there somewhere. As you move through the test, don’t forget to guess when you’re not sure — there’s no penalty!
English Test | 45 Minutes | 75 Multiple Choice Questions | 5 PassagesNearly 75% of these questions test you on grammar. The other 25% of the questions will require you to showcase your rhetorical skills.
Math Test | 60 Minutes | 60 Multiple Choice QuestionsThe ACT Math questions break down into roughly 35% Geometry, 35% Algebra, 25% Arithmetic, and 5% Trigonometry. In contrast to the SAT, you can use a calculator for all 60 problems. 10-Minute Break
Reading Test | 35 Minutes | 40 Multiple Choice Questions | 4 Passages
- Literary Narrative (Fiction)
- Social Studies
- Humanities (The Arts)
- Natural Science
Science Test | 35 Minutes | 40 Multiple Choice Questions | 6 PassagesScience passages cover high school science topics like basic Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, and Biology; however, only a few questions require you to bring in outside scientific knowledge. Instead, most questions test your ability to quickly pull information from passages and figures without getting lost in scientific jargon. Passages come in three forms:
- Data Representation (focuses on tables and graphs)
- Research Summary (details a series of studies or experiments)
- Conflicting Viewpoints (asks you to compare and contrast different theories)
Optional Essay| 40 Minutes | 1 QuestionThe ACT presents you with a persuasive writing prompt, along with three different perspectives on the issue at hand. Tip from our experts! Don’t let the other perspectives dominate your essay — the test-makers what to hear what you have to say. Flex your thesis-driven argument muscles, and nod to other point-of-views along the way.
Total Time: 2 Hours, 55 Minutes / 3 Hours, 35 Minutes with the Essay
How is the ACT Scored?After taking the ACT, you’ll receive a score — ranging from 1 to 36 — on each of the four required sections. Colleges will see these individual Section Scores along with your Composite Score. The Composite Score is the average of your four section scores. If your section scores average to a 28.5, for example, they will get rounded up to an overall score of 29. On the optional ACT Essay, graders will assign you a score ranging from 2-12 in four different areas: Ideas & Analysis, Development & Support, Organization, and Language Use & Conventions. These scores will all be averaged to obtain an overall Writing Score. Curious about what your score means in terms of college admissions? Learn more! Or scope out the ins and outs of the SAT scoring system.
When can I take the ACT?The ACT is offered 6 times a year — in September, October, December, February, April, and June. Starting in the summer of 2018, the ACT will add a July test date as well. It’s smart to sit for the ACT a few times to account for first-time jitters and take advantage of super scoring, so plan ahead! At the outset of junior year, consider sports seasons, end-of-semester exams, whatever factors will affect you most, and register for 2 or 3 ACT dates accordingly. You’ll thank yourself senior year when you’re free to focus on college applications. Curious about when and how to register for the ACT? Check out our ACT Test Dates page for more info.
ACT vs. SATAt face value, the ACT and SAT don’t seem all that different. Both tests have 4 sections, followed by an optional essay, and both last 3 hours without the essay. The SAT allots 50 minutes for the essay in contrast to the ACT’s 40 minutes, and therein lies a key difference. The ACT requires you to move faster on every section. On the Reading test, for example, the ACT only gives you 53 seconds per question, whereas the SAT gives you 75 seconds. Why do students take take the ACT? It has some key content differences that for many outweigh the time crunch. Only the ACT has a Science section; the SAT has a No-Calculator Math portion instead. Also, the ACT Math section encompasses a wide variety of topics, including geometry, in contrast to the algebra-focused SAT — a con for some students, a pro for others.
There isn’t a right test and a wrong test, just a test that’s best for you.Interested in learning more about the ins and outs of each? Hop over to our comprehensive SAT vs. ACT breakdown.