Most colleges require applicants to submit test scores as part of their application, but students are often given a choice between the ACT and the SAT.
In some states, the ACT is even used as a statewide assessment, so you’ll have to take it regardless of your college application. Either way, the ACT is a standardized test that requires preparation to do well.
Summary: We cover everything you need to know in our ACT overview below. To begin your studies, consider investing in ACT prep courses.
What is the ACT?
ACT originally stood for “American College Testing,” but it now refers to ACT Inc, the organization that develops it.
The ACT is accepted by all US colleges and many international ones, and its score is used to help determine your academic skill and readiness for college by testing you on English, math, reading, and science.
Typically, the ACT (like most standardized tests) is taken by high school juniors before they begin their college applications. The test is administered several times per year, but it is best to complete it at least two months before your college application deadlines.
How Many Questions are on the ACT?
The ACT consists of a total of 215 questions across four sections. Students can choose to complete an essay portion of the exam as well, which consists of a single prompt.
How Long is the ACT?
You are given a total of 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete the ACT. If you have opted to take the essay portion, it will add another 40 minutes, for a total of 3 hours and 35 minutes.
The sections are broken up as follows:
|ACT Section||# of Questions||Time Limit|
|Writing (Optional)||1 Prompt||40 minutes|
What is on the ACT?
There are 4 sections on the exam as well as an optional essay section. You can find a breakdown of each section below.
ACT English Section Breakdown
The English portion of the exam covers:
- Usage and grammar mechanics (such as misused commas and apostrophes)
- Sentence structure
- Rhetorical skills (such as style and organization)
ACT Math Section Breakdown
The math portion covers the following topics:
- Reasoning and problem-solving
ACT Reading Reasoning Section Breakdown
The reading portion covers the following:
- One long prose passage
- Two short prose passages
- Comprehension (identifying key ideas and implicit meanings in text)
- Analysis of author’s method and voice
ACT Science Section Breakdown
The science section covers:
- Data representation
- Research and analysis
- Conflicting viewpoints and problem-solving
ACT Writing Section Breakdown
The writing section consists of a single prompt, which describes a complex issue and provides several perspectives on that issue. Your task is to respond by developing and defending your perspective on the given topic. You are scored on the following aspects of your writing:
- Ideas and analysis
- Development and support
- Language use and conventions
How is the ACT Scored?
Your final ACT score will be a number between 1 and 36. To arrive at your score, your raw score (the number of questions you answered correctly) of each section is converted into a scaled score, which is between 1 and 36.
The average ACT score is around 21, but schools can vary widely on the scores they accept. For example, the ACT provides a rough guideline for the expected scores needed for admission into college programs:
|Ivy Caliber (less than a 1 in 8 acceptance rate)||32-36|
|Highly selective (top 10% of graduating class)||27-31|
|Selective (top 25% of graduating class)||24-26|
|Traditional (top 50% of graduating class)||21-23|
|Liberal (lower half of graduating class)||18-20|
|Open (all graduates accepted, limit of capacity)||Any score|
Registering for the ACT
The ACT offers seven ACT test dates throughout the year. Registration will take about 30 minutes, and you’ll need internet access, a credit card or other accepted form of payment, your high school coursework details, and a headshot photo. Students can begin registration here.
The fees for the ACT are as follows:
- Full ACT (no writing): $63
- Full ACT (with writing): $88
- Option to change test (to add or remove the writing portion to your exam): $25
There are fee waivers available for eligible students.
Preparing for the ACT
Taking any standardized test can be intimidating, but proper preparation will ensure you arrive on test day confident and ready to succeed.
The best way to practice for the ACT is by taking as many ACT practice exams as you can. We offer practice tests for the English, math, reading and science sections, so you can focus on the topics you need to improve.
In-depth ACT prep courses are another great way to prepare for the ACT. These courses provide you with practice questions, full tests, and classroom instruction for a more detailed study plan and personalization options.
Is the ACT or SAT Better for Me?
For the most part, most schools have no preference as to whether you should take the ACT or the SAT. It’s up to your personal preference which exam (or both) you’d like to take.
That being said, there are some measurable differences between the two. Check out our ACT vs SAT article to learn more about which test may be best for you.