The ACT® at a Glance

Like the ACT, the SAT is a nationally administered, standardized paper-and-pencil test that helps colleges evaluate candidates. All colleges now accept scores from the SAT and ACT interchangably. This means you'll have the opportunity to decide on which test you'll perform better. And in many cases, students prepare for and take both exams. Is the SAT vs. ACT – what's best for you?
Generally, you'll take the ACT for the first time in the spring of your junior year. This allows you to reserve the summer months for college applications or enough time to re-take the test during the fall of your senior year if you're not satisfied with your score.
The Anatomy of the ACT
How long is the ACT test? Without the optional Writing Test, the ACT exam lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes, or 3 hours and 25 minutes with the Writing Test. The order of test sections and the total number of questions covered in each test section never changes:
  • English - 45 Minutes
    • 40 Usage/Mechanics Questions
    • 35 Rhetorical Skills Questions
  • Mathematics - 60 Minutes
    • 14 Pre-Algebra Questions
    • 10 Elementary Algebra Questions
    • 9 Intermediate Algebra Questions
    • 9 Coordinate Geometry Questions
    • 14 Plane Geometry Questions
    • 4 Trigonometry Questions
  • Reading - 35 Minutes
    • 10 Social Studies Questions
    • 10 Natural Sciences Questions
    • 10 Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction Questions
    • 10 Humanities Questions
  • Science - 35 Minutes
    • 15 Data Representation Questions
    • 18 Research Summary Questions
    • 7 Conflicting Viewpoint Questions
  • Writing Test - 30 Minutes - You write in response to a question about your position on an issue
The ACT English Test
On the ACT English Test, you'll have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions—that's about 30 seconds per question! The test is divided into 5 passages, each with about 15 questions.
You're not being tested on spelling or vocabulary. Rather, the ACT English Test is designed to assess your understanding of the conventions of English—punctuation, grammar, sentence structure—and of rhetorical skills. Rhetorical skills are more strategic including things like organizing the text and making sure it's styled clearly.
The ACT Math Section
On the ACT Math Test, you'll have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions—that's 1 minute per question! Questions include Pre-Algebra, Elementary and Intermediate Algebra, Coordinate and Plane Geometry, and Trigonometry.
The ACT Reading Section
On the ACT Reading section, you’ll be tested on Social Studies, Natural Sciences, ​Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction and Humanities. You'll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions—that's about 50 seconds per question! The section contains four passages, each followed by 10 questions.

The ACT Science Section
On the ACT Science Test, you’ll be given passages containing various kinds of scientific information—drawn from the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, and meteorology—which you'll have to understand and use as a basis for inferences. You'll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions—that's about 50 seconds per question! The section contains seven passages, each followed by 5-7 questions.

The ACT Writing Section
The optional ACT Writing Test is 30 minutes long, includes one essay, and is always the last section of the test. You'll be given a topic or an issue and expected to take a position on it, supporting your point of view with examples and evidence.
Your ACT Score
Some of the most common questions we get from students and parents are: "What does this ACT score mean?" and "What is a good ACT score?"

Each of the four multiple-choice ACT test sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) is scored on a scale of 1-36. You will also receive a composite score, which is the average of your four test scores (1-36).

Your score report also includes national rankings where you can compare your performance against students across the country. For instance, if you ranked in the 90th percentile on the Mathematics Test, you did better than 89 percent of other students, while 10 percent fared better than you.
Updated 01/20/15
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