Welcome to Mometrix Academy’s ACT review page. We’ve created this resource so that you’ll be able to find all the information you need about the exam in one place, without having to skip from one website to another. We’ve also provided links to our extensive library of free ACT review videos to help you prepare for this crucial test. We think you’ll find that utilizing these videos as a key part of your test prep for the ACT will enable you to get the very best score you’re capable of. If you already have most of the information you need about the ACT, and want to start watching the videos right away, you can find the links to them directly below. If you need more information about the exam, just keep reading, and you should find everything you need to know right in this article. After you’ve finished reading, don’t forget to come back and check out the ACT prep videos.
ACT Video Review
What Is the ACT?The ACT is one of the two major college admissions test used by colleges and universities in the US. (The other big one is the SAT.) The name used to be an abbreviation for American College Testing, but now ACT is the official name. It’s not usually pronounced as the word “act”, but as the letters A-C-T. It was first used in 1959, and since that time its use by colleges has grown tremendously. In fact, in 2011, for the first time, more people took the ACT than took the SAT, which used to be the favorite among colleges. The ACT exam does two things: it measures how much knowledge a person has in English, math, reading, and science, and it also measures how likely the test taker is to be successful in studying these four areas at the college level.
ACT Practice Questions
Many people wonder why colleges and universities can’t simply rely on a student’s high school transcript, grade point average (GPA), and class rank in order to make their admissions evaluations and decisions. The reason they can’t is that there are thousands of high schools across the US, and they are very dissimilar in many ways. Some of the biggest and most important differences between high schools have to do with the quality of instruction and the honesty of the grading process. Some schools have teachers and classes that are far more challenging than others, and expect their teachers to be fair but firm in awarding letter grades. Some schools are terrible, with poor quality teachers who are very liberal in their grading, and routinely hand out grades that weren’t earned just to make sure a student isn’t held back a year. Most high schools, of course, are somewhere in between. This means that a college can’t simply look at which classes students took and what grades they got and get an accurate estimate of their prospects for successfully completing a college degree. So they turn to the ACT in order to have a standardized measurement for comparing all students against known benchmarks.
Until quite recently, the ACT was only administered as a paper and pencil test. Beginning in 2015, however, ACT is now offered in both a pencil and paper version, and an online computer version. (However, the ACT Writing test will still be taken with pencil and paper, even if a student is taking the rest of the ACT on a computer.) It is expected that in the not too distant future, the computer version of the ACT will be the one utilized by the vast majority of test takers, but for now the company that owns and develops the exam says that the old fashioned version isn’t going anywhere.
It takes about four hours to take the ACT (No Writing), including a short break after the first two of the four sections are completed. Testing will begin at approximately 8:05 in the morning, and will be over by around 12:15 pm. For people taking the ACT Plus Writing, there will be another short break at 12:15 before the Writing section begins, and the test will be over at around 1:00 pm.
What’s on the ACT?There are four required components of the ACT – English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional Writing test, as noted above. The Writing section is optional because some colleges and universities require applicants to take it, and some don’t. In other words, everyone taking the ACT must take the first four sections, but students only need to take the Writing section if they’re applying to a school that requires it. For most test takers in 2015 and 2016, all questions on the first four sections will be multiple-choice. That may change in the future, as ACT has recently introduced constructed response questions as an optional test format that colleges and universities may require applicants to take.
ACT Constructed Response QuestionsUntil 2015, with the exception of the written essay on the Writing test, all questions on the ACT have always been in multiple-choice format. In this format, the test taker is shown a question and then given several different possible answers to choose from, with one of the choices being correct, and the rest incorrect. This worked very well for decades, and is still working very well. However, academic testing is always evolving, and one of the latest innovations involves using constructed response questions.
The ACT constructed response format is quite a bit different than the traditional ACT multiple-choice format. Constructed response questions are open ended, meaning that the test taker won’t be asked to select one right answer out of several possible ones. Instead, no answer choices are provided at all, and the test taker must come up with the correct answer completely independently. Usually these kinds of responses will require filling in a blank with a word or a phrase, or writing a short sentence or two.
While the format may be quite a bit different, the challenge for the test taker should be about the same. The knowledge and skills needed to answer a multiple-choice question correctly by choosing from several different possibilities are the same knowledge and skills needed to generate the correct answer on one’s own. Of course, it’s true that in the case of multiple-choice questions there’s the possibility of a test taker getting lucky and simply picking the correct answer by chance when they don’t know the answer, but that’s a negligible difference. Generally speaking, the constructed response ACT should be no more difficult than the multiple-choice ACT. As of this writing, the vast majority of ACT tests are given in multiple-choice format. That may change in the future, depending on the results of the ongoing limited trials of constructed response versions, and the preferences of colleges and universities.
ACT EnglishACT English is the first section of the exam. There are 75 questions on the English section, and it has a time limit of 45 minutes. To many people, this may sound like a very high number of questions given the time limit. There’s no doubt that it’s a challenge to answer all 75 questions in 45 minutes, but it’s far from impossible. It’s meant to be challenging, but it shouldn’t be intimidating. The format of this section means that it’s not going to be as difficult as it sounds to complete all the questions.
What is the format of the English test on the ACT? You’ll have five different passages to read, usually consisting of several paragraphs. The passages will vary greatly in both style and topics, and are usually unrelated to any other passage. After each passage, you’ll be given several questions (an average of 15 for each passage) to answer concerning what you just read. Some parts of the passage will be underlined, and different parts of the passage will be assigned a number for easy reference when answering questions.
Many of the questions will be about one of the underlined portions of the passage. You will be shown several substitutes for the underlined portion and asked which one should replace it. In some questions, you have the option of selecting NO CHANGE if you believe the underlined text is correct as written. Other questions may concern the entire passage, or particular sections of the passage, even though they’re not underlined. None of the questions will be about spelling or vocabulary, and while you will be expected to know proper English grammar, you won’t be quizzed about the exact rules about determining where a preposition goes, or which future tense of a verb to use.
Questions will cover six areas in written English: style, organization, strategy, sentence structure, grammar and usage, and punctuation. There are two subscores on the English portion of the ACT. The first one is the Usage/Mechanics subscore, which is compiled from answers to the questions about sentence structure, punctuation, and grammar. The other one is the Rhetorical subscore, and it’s based on the answers to style, organization, and strategy questions.
Let’s look at each area in more depth: Style – In written English, an important factor is being able to use different elements of the language to express yourself clearly and effectively. In order to do that, you’ll need to be able to use and combine words and phrases to get your point across concisely, without being redundant, and without confusing the reader. These questions test your skills in this area. Organization – Good writing is organized writing. To express your ideas effectively, your writing should be well planned out and organized logically. You’ll need to be able to introduce your topic effectively, transition to different topics and sub-topics smoothly and naturally, and wrap everything up in a well-written conclusion. These questions test your skills in this area.
Strategy – This element is mainly concerned with the development of ideas and points expressed in your writing. Does it have enough detail, or too little, or possibly too much? Do the various points support each other and the main idea, or are there some contradictions? Are all the points brought up relevant to the main idea, or are some of them unrelated and should have been left out? These questions test your skills in this area.
Sentence structure – These questions are just about what you would expect from the name. You’ll be tested on your knowledge of complete sentences, sentence fragments, independent clauses, dependent clauses, the proper use of conjunctions and modifiers, etc.
Punctuation – Good writing is impossible without excellent punctuation skills, and these questions will test your knowledge and abilities in this area. Without excellent punctuation, a written passage can confuse or bewilder the reader, or even express an idea that’s completely different than the one the author intended. Good punctuation serves to eliminate confusion, emphasize meaning, and separate clauses and sentences correctly, among other functions.
Grammar and Usage – This area has more questions than any of the other five, constituting about 20-25% of English ACT questions. As noted above, you won’t be expected to have any rules about the finer points of grammar memorized, but you will be expected to know proper grammar, how to use it, and how to spot bad grammar. These questions test your skills in this area.
ACT MathACT Mathematics is the next section of the exam. In this section, you’ll have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions. It won’t be easy, but it can be done. The ACT Math section differs from the other sections in one important way – questions in this section have five answer choices, compared to four for the other three sections. The questions will test your knowledge and skills over a wide range of mathematics: pre-algebra (14), elementary algebra (10), intermediate algebra (9), plane geometry (14), coordinate geometry (9), and elementary trigonometry (4). To do well on the math section will require a thorough mastery of the mathematics classes that the average high school student has completed by the end of the junior year. According to ACT, you don’t need to memorize any complex formulas to do well on the Math section, nor will you be required to perform any long, intensive calculations. In fact, the company says that a calculator isn’t required to solve any of the math problems. However, you are allowed to use a calculator on ACT Math, but there are very specific rules for what kind of calculator you may bring into the testing room. To be on the safe side, it’s best to look up the latest ACT calculator rules on the official ACT website before taking a calculator with you. There are three subscores in this section: Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry, and Plane Geometry/Trigonometry.
Let’s look at what math topics you’ll need to know for ACT Math: For pre-algebra, expect to see questions on any of the following: whole numbers; fractions; integers; decimals; percentages; converting between fractions, decimals, and percentages; place value; factors; basic descriptive statistics; basic probability; linear equations in one variable; square roots and approximation; exponents; ratios; proportions; rate; absolute value and orderning numbers by value; scientific notation; and data collection, representation, and interpretation.
Elementary algebra questions revolve mostly around square roots and properties of exponents. You’ll need to understand algebraic operations, be able to use substitution to evaluate algebraic expressions, use factoring to solve quadratic equations, and express functional relationships by using variables.
For intermediate algebra, a thorough understanding of the quadratic formula is necessary, and questions will cover complex numbers; sequences and patterns; modeling; rational and radical expressions; roots of polynomials; matrices; functions; systems of equations; absolute value equations and inequalities; and quadratic inequalities.
Doing well on the coordinate geometry section will require a knowledge of graphing and the relations between equations and graphs. Question topics can include parallel and perpendicular lines, polynomials, points, midpoints, distance, circles and other curves, lines, slope, graphing inequalities, and conics.
The properties and relations of plane figures are the foundation of the subject matter in plane geometry. Questions will cover properties of circles, triangles, rectangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids; applications of geometry to three dimensions, angles and relations among perpendicular and parallel lines, volume, transformations, and the concept of proof and proof techniques.
Trigonometry is the final math section of the ACT. It will test your knowledge and skills in understanding trigonometric relations in right triangles, understanding values and properties of trigonometric functions, modeling with trigonometric functions, solving trigonometric equations, graphing trigonometric functions, and use of trigonometric identities.
ACT ReadingOne of the biggest differences between college and high school is the greatly increased amount of reading that’s required of college and university students. It’s hardly uncommon for college students to spend more time reading than they spend in class. Because of the massive amount of required reading, and because the texts student will be reading in college are much more advanced than the ones they had to read in high school, reading comprehension skills are of paramount importance for anyone who plans to go to college and then embark on a career. That’s why ACT Reading is its own section, and isn’t just combined with the English section. The function of the ACT exam is to predict who will and who won’t succeed in college, and being able to read well is so important that without this ability, a person has little chance of successfully completing a college education.
What’s on the ACT Reading test? As of this writing, there are 40 multiple-choice questions in this part of the exam, and it has a time limit of 35 minutes. There are four sub-sections on ACT Reading, and each one will have either one long reading passage, or two short ones, followed by ten questions about the material. There are two ACT Reading subscores: Social Studies/Natural Sciences, and Humanities/Prose Fiction or Literary Narrative.
What kind of material is in the ACT Reading passages? The reading material will be divided into four categories: Social Studies, Natural Sciences, Humanities, and Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction. In other words, you’ll have a passage (or two short passages) from each of the first three categories named, and one category will be either Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction. All of these categories are wide-ranging, so there’s no way to predict exactly what the subject matter in each category will be.
Social Studies topics can include sociology, anthropology, archaeology, psychology, education, business, economics, history, biography, geography, and political science. In Natural Sciences, subject matter can include physiology, botany, medicine, microbiology, natural history, anatomy, astronomy, geology, technology, meteorology, ecology, zoology, chemistry, and physics. The Humanities are also known as the liberal arts, so subject matter in this category can include TV shows, movies, plays, painting, sculpture, art, language, music, radio, philosophy, ethics, architecture, and literary criticism. Literary Narrative and Prose Fiction passages will be short stories, or passages from short stories, novels, memoirs, or personal essays.
In all of these categories, the ACT Reading test will be measuring your specific reading comprehension skills, and taken as a whole, the entire section will function as a measurement of your broad reading comprehension skills. Here are some of the specific tasks you’ll need to know how to do: quickly and accurately understand written text, grasp implications and draw logical conclusions from what you’ve read, determine which voice the author is writing in, quickly spot important facts and details, follow a chronological sequence of events (even if not clearly spelled out in order), compare and contrast, grasp the author’s Main Idea, figure out the meaning of words you’ve never encountered previously by using context clues, spot cause and effect relationships in the passage, etc.
ACT ScienceLike the other sections, the ACT Science test is very difficult, intentionally so, and getting a high score will be a challenge. The Science section is focused on the natural sciences. It assumes the test taker has completed (or is close to completing) three years of high school science classes, including one in biology, and one in either a physical science or an Earth science. It consists of 40 multiple-choice questions with a 35 minute time limit. There are no subscores in ACT Science, and calculators are not allowed to be used on this section. You may sometimes see or hear this section of the test referred to as the ACT Science Reasoning test; but on the official ACT website it’s just called the Science test. No matter which term you see, rest assured there’s only one section of the ACT about science, not two.
Subject matter can include geology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, biology, and other Earth or space sciences. Advanced knowledge in these subjects is not assumed; only a standard high school junior level of knowledge is expected. Furthermore, the test is less about the scientific knowledge a student has accumulated than it is about how skilled they are at scientific reasoning. This is not to imply that science knowledge plays only a small part on this section, only to stress that reasoning abilities are more of a factor. Knowing important scientific facts and concepts is crucial to success on ACT Science, but not quite as crucial as being able to reason scientifically.
Test material is presented in three different formats. All three formats will require a student to quickly grasp the important information and the underlying concepts in the material shown, examine and analyze both the information and any hypothesis or conclusion based on the information, make logical assumptions, make predictions, and draw conclusions. Between 30-40% of the material in ACT Science will be in Data Representation format. The material in these questions will attempt to mimic the format in which data is shown in science journals and monographs, mainly by using graphs and tables. The test taker will need to know how to read a graph, understand information presented in tables, and know how to interpret a scatterplot.
About half (45-55%) of the Science material on the ACT will be in the form of Research Summaries, which are pretty self-explanatory – the information presented will be descriptions of an experiment (or some related experiments). Questions will be about how to interpret the results of the experiments, and how the experiments were designed. Around 15-20% of the Science test will be presented in Conflicting Viewpoints format. Two or more opinions or hypotheses will be presented. They will be in conflict, either because one or more of them are using incomplete data, or because they are based on different premises, or a combination of both. The test taker will need to be able to quickly grasp each viewpoint, analyze it, and then compare and contrast all of them with each other.
ACT WritingSome colleges and universities require applicants to take the optional ACT Writing Test, which has a 40 minute time limit. Many test takers register for and take the ACT Writing exam even though their intended schools don’t require it, just in case they later change their mind and apply to one or more schools that do require it. If you do take the ACT Writing test, you’ll receive two additional scores – the Writing score itself, and another score called the Combined English/Writing Score.
This section requires writing an essay after reading a “prompt”, which is a reading passage about a particular topic, followed by three different perspectives on the passage. In the essay, the test taker should examine and evaluate all three perspectives, express their own view on the topic, show various ways in which their perspective agrees with or differs from the three given perspectives, use sound logic, and give examples and illustrations to help support their own perspective.
Here is an example of the sort of prompt you might encounter on the ACT Writing section: The main passage states some facts and figures about steroid use in professional sports. The first perspective says that there’s no reason to panic, that steroid use is declining, and adequate measure are in place to assure that this process will continue. The second perspective says that major sports leagues need to do far more to combat steroid use as the problem persists after years of efforts. The third perspective takes the position that not all steroid use is harmful to humans, that bigger, more muscular players make the game more interesting, therefore some steroids should be allowed in major league sports.
Test takers are not graded on the position they take in their essay. This portion of the exam is designed to measure how well a test taker:
- Uses clear and accurate language, and follows the rules of English, such as grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.
- Organizes their ideas
- Expresses their ideas logically
- Builds a solid argument with the use of sound logic and strong supporting ideas and/or details
- Keeps the entire essay focused on the topic
- Displays a good grasp of each of the three perspectives and their similarities and differences
Unlike the other sections of the ACT, which are scored by a computer, the Writing Test is read and graded by a human being. Actually, each essay is read and graded separately by two different people. Each grader will score it from 1, which is the lowest score, to 6, which is the highest. (An essay will receive no score if it’s illegible, in a language other than English, blank, or not written about the topic in the prompt.)
Here is the list of possible ACT Writing scores, the level of skills each one represents, and factors that go into determining the score (based on information from the official ACT website):
1. Few or no skills. The test taker didn’t take a position of their own, or if they did, they did not back it up, or they contradicted their own position. The essay contains a lot of filler language and/or repetitive writing or ideas. Faulty logic is used. Writing is rambling and unorganized. The essay doesn’t flow smoothly. There are many errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar.
2. Weak skills. The writer didn’t take a clear position of their own, or if they did, they didn’t offer much support for it, or they weakened or contradicted it later. They didn’t offer counterarguments against obvious objections to their position. Arguments and examples in favor of their position are weak, or poorly expressed. The essay features a poor introduction, a weak conclusion, or both. Organization is weak. The essay contains repetition of the test taker’s own ideas, or ideas from the prompt. Sentence structure variety and vocabulary are at low levels. There are several errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar.
3. Skills in development. The essay expresses a clear position, and may offer a basic rebuttal to an objection to its perspective, but the objection itself is not adequately explained. Ideas are stated, and expanded upon, but not in depth. Too much of the essay’s focus is on the overall topic, and not enough attention is on the specific question addressed by the perspectives. Language and sentence structure variety are better than levels 1 and 2, but are far from being excellent. The essay features basic, but not advanced levels of idea organization. It contains an introduction and conclusion, and both are clear, but not developed much at all. There are a few to several errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar.
4. Adequate skills. The writer stakes out a position clearly, adds context, and represents objections to their position fairly and accurately, and responds to them. Ideas are not just stated, but are developed somewhat. The focus stays on the prompt issue throughout the essay, and is divided between the big picture and smaller details. There is good idea organization, and a decent amount of variety in vocabulary and sentence structure. The introduction and conclusion are good, with some development. There may be a few errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar, but not a large number.
5. Competent skills. The essayist has a clear understanding of what is being asked of them, and they meet the challenge across the board. They state their position clearly and concisely, they fairly and accurately describe counterarguments, and they offer solid rebuttals in response. Arguments are more complex than the ones in essays receiving lower scores, better developed, and employ higher levels of logic and better examples or analogies. Ideas are laid out in a well-organized manner, with smooth transitions between sentences. While addressing specific issues in the prompt, the test taker never loses sight of the main topic. There is quite a bit of variety when it comes to vocabulary and sentence structure. The introduction and conclusion are both very good. There may be a small number of errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar, but not many.
6. Effective skills. The essayist has a clear understanding of what is being asked of them, and they excel at meeting the challenge across the board. The test taker stakes out a clear and forthright position on the topic of the prompt, looks at the issue from various angles for a more complex treatment, and offers well thought out responses to possible objections (after treating objections accurately and fairly). The writer never loses focus on the main topic, and addresses both the big picture and smaller details. Arguments are organized and elaborate, and well laid out in an orderly style, and transitions are very smooth. The introduction and conclusion are well written and accomplish what they’re intended to do. There is a lot of variety when it comes to vocabulary and sentence structure. There are very few or no errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar.
ACT Registration and ACT Test DatesThere are three ways to register for the ACT. The most common method, and the best, is to register online at the official ACT website. Once you’re on the website, just follow the instructions. The process begins with creating an account. When creating your account, make sure to enter your first and last names exactly as they appear on the photo ID you’ll need to show on the day of the test. You’ll want to do this well ahead of the registration deadlines. The second method is registration by mail. This isn’t the best choice, as it takes much longer and the possibility of correspondence getting lost or delayed always exists. The last method is by far the worst option, and that’s registering as a standby. In other words, if you missed the registration deadlines, standby registration allows you to have a slim chance to show up on the day of the exam and be allowed to take the test. If you’re in this situation, and standby registration is your only option, you’ll need to go to the ACT website and sign up for standby registration. However, you should do all you can to avoid standby registration, as there’s a very good chance you won’t be admitted to take the ACT.
The ACT is given nationwide at thousands of locations, six times a year – in the months of February, April, June, September, October, and December. Most locations are a public school or a local college or university. The test date always falls on a Saturday, but for students with religious convictions against testing on Saturday, other arrangements can be made. Information on how to register for non-Saturday testing is available on the ACT website. (However, non-Saturday testing is only an option for those whose religion doesn’t allow testing on Saturdays. It’s not an option for people who have a scheduling conflict, or who are simply trying to avoid being inconvenienced.)
Although the months are usually the same from year to year, the actual dates change from from one year to the next in order to keep the test on a Saturday, so you should always check the ACT website for the official test dates for the coming year. It’s important to register on time, in order to save on late registration fees. Regular registration usually ends about five weeks before the test date, with late registration available for around two additional weeks. The “last minute” standby registration option usually ends eight days before the test date.
ACT ScoresEvery person who takes the ACT actually receives several different scores. There is the Composite score, which is what most people mean when they talk about their ACT score. Then there are the four individual test scores – English, math, reading, and science. Each of these four scores can range from 1-36. The four scores are then added together, and the average becomes the Composite score, which also will be a number from 1-36.
In addition, there are also subscores. There are seven ACT subscores. The two in English are Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills. The three math subscores are Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra, Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry, and Plane Geometry/Trigonometry. The two reading subscores are Social Studies/Natural Sciences and Arts/Literature. The science section has no subscores. Each subscore can range from 1-18.
The most important score is the Composite. That’s the main number colleges and universities are concerned about when it comes to ACT scores. The individual test scores matter, too, as they show a test taker’s strengths and weaknesses. The subscores reveal even more detailed information along these lines. However, it’s the Composite score that dominates all the others. It’s easy to find the average ACT score of students at colleges and universities you’re considering. Many schools publish this information right on their website. For schools that don’t, there are many other websites and books that rate colleges, or describe them, and you’ll be able to find the information there. In addition, once you’ve gotten your score, you can find out where you stand among all the other American test takers. The official ACT website has pages containing national rankings of ACT test scores, both individual and Composite.
ACT Test PrepMany people don’t take the ACT seriously enough, and don’t spend nearly enough time on ACT test prep. This is a huge mistake. Your score on the ACT can have a massive influence on how the rest of your life plays out. It’s no exaggeration to say that your score on this test may well turn out to be one of the most important numbers of your entire life. Many people have earned full, four year scholarships to colleges and universities because of an outstanding performance on the ACT. Millions more have qualified for partial scholarships with a good ACT score. Every year, thousands of students get into a better school than they thought they would because they did well on the ACT, while thousands of others have their applications denied because their scores were too low.
Being well prepared for the ACT is one of the most important things you can do for your future. Taking a few weeks to review, with a good ACT study guide, is key to a successful score. You’ll want to take your time and not rush things, because cramming simply doesn’t work on a test like the ACT. Also, starting early and working methodically on your test prep will give you plenty of time to take an ACT practice test (or two). If you don’t do well on the practice test, you’ll still have time to go back and review some more, to make sure you’re ready on test day. If you’re looking for ACT test prep help, be sure to click on the links at the top of this page. You’ll find an abundance of free video tutorials to help you prepare for the ACT.
ACT® is the registered trademark of ACT, Inc. Mometrix Media, LLC has no affiliation with ACT, Inc., and Mometrix Academy ACT Review is not approved or endorsed by ACT, Inc.
Provided by: Mometrix Test Preparation
Last updated: 07/15/2015
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