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About the ACT

The ACT is a standardized test designed to measure high school students’ general educational development and their ability to complete college-level work. Unlike the SAT, the ACT is curriculum based: it is not an aptitude test. The questions on the ACT test the core subjects that students typically study through their third year of high school (English, reading, mathematics, and science). Although the ACT is taken more frequently in the Midwestern and Rocky Mountain states, the test is accepted by all U.S. colleges and universities. Approximately 1.5 million students take the ACT each year.

Test Format

The ACT consists of four individual multiple-choice tests:

The ACT Plus Writing also features an optional 30-minute Writing Test.

Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (3 hours and 25 minutes with the optional Writing Test) but students should be prepared to spend between 4 and 5 hours in the testing facility, including administration instructions and breaks.

There is no experimental section on the ACT.

The English Test

The English Test consists of five prose passages. Each question corresponds to an underlined portion of a passage or to a box located in the passage. Questions on the English Test are followed by four answer choices.

Test-takers will receive two subscores on the English Test: one for Usage and Mechanics, and another for Rhetorical Skills. Each subscore is determined by questions that measure specific skills, which can be broken down as follows.


Rhetorical Skills

Spelling and vocabulary are not tested.

The Mathematics Test

The ACT Mathematics Test requires you to use your reasoning skills to solve mathematical problems. A working knowledge of basic formulas and computational skills is required, but detailed knowledge of complex formulas and the ability to perform lengthy calculations are not. Questions on the Mathematics Test require you to select the correct answer choice from among the five presented.

You may use any four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator on the Mathematics Test as long as it does not have any prohibited features (visit the ACT website for a list of prohibited calculator features). Test-takers who use a prohibited calculator will be dismissed from the ACT and will not have their tests scored. All the problems on the Mathematics Test can be solved without a calculator.

Test-takers receive three subscores for the Mathematics Test based on six content areas:

Pre-Algebra and Elementary Algebra

Intermediate Algebra and Coordinate Geometry

Plane Geometry and Trigonometry

The Reading Test

The Reading Test requires you to read four prose passages. Each passage is accompanied by a set of multiple-choice test questions that test (1) how well you understand what is directly stated in the passage and (2) your ability to draw reasonable inferences based on this information. Specifically, you may be asked to:

Test-takers receive two subscores for the Reading Test: a Social Studies and Sciences subscore (based on questions from the social studies and natural sciences passages) and an Arts and Literature subscore (based on the questions from the prose fiction and humanities passages). Together, the four passages are representative of the level and type of reading that first-year college courses require.

The Science Test

The Science Test presents seven sets of scientific information drawn from biology, chemistry, physics, and other scientific disciplines. Each set of information is followed by a number of multiple-choice test questions; students must select the correct answer choice from among the four presented. Question on the Science Test require you to:

Advanced scientific knowledge is not required to answer these questions, but background knowledge acquired in introductory science courses is needed to answer some of them. The primary focus of the Science Test is on scientific reasoning skills rather than on recalling particular scientific content.

Information on the Science Test is presented in one of three ways

Test-takers are not permitted to use a calculator on the Science Test.

The Writing Test

The Writing Test is an optional 30-minute essay that consists of one writing prompt, which defines an issue, and two points of view on that issue. Your task is to respond to a question about your position on the issue. In doing so, you may adopt one of the points of view provided or present your own. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.

The Writing Test measures the skills that are emphasized in entry-level college composition courses.