ACT Test

Everything you need to know to ace the test.

Welcome to the Mometrix Academy ACT page. If you are hoping to enroll in college, you may very well be required to take the ACT as part of the admissions process.

If you’re new to this test and would like to know more about it, you’re in the right place! On this page, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this important exam.

If you’re already familiar with the test, and you’re looking for ACT test prep help, you’re also in the right place! Just below, you’ll find links to a wide variety of free review videos and practice questions that can help you get a great score on the ACT.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is one of the two major college admissions tests used by colleges and universities in the US. The name used to be an abbreviation for “American College Testing,” but now ACT is the official name. It was first used in 1959, and since that time its use by colleges has grown tremendously, with over 1.3 million students taking the test in 2022.

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 Test Outline

The ACT contains 215 multiple-choice questions and has a time limit of about 3 hours.

The test is split into four sections (plus an optional fifth section).

1. English (75 questions)

The 75 questions in this section are split into three categories, and you will be given a time limit of 45 minutes:

Production of Writing (29%-32%)
The questions in this category assess your knowledge of topic development, organization, unity, and cohesion when it comes to a piece of writing.

Knowledge of Language (15%-17%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to use precision and concision in word choice to demonstrate effective language use, as well as your ability to maintain consistency in the tone and style of a piece of writing.

Conventions of Standard English (52%-55%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to revise and edit a piece of writing using standard grammar, mechanics, and language usage conventions.

You will be given 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.

2. Mathematics (60 questions)

The 60 questions in this section are split into two categories, and you will be given a time limit of 1 hour:

Preparing for Higher Math (57%-60%)
The questions in this category assess your knowledge of recently learned math concepts, from algebra to statistics. This category is divided into further subcategories:

  • Number and Quantity (7%-10%)
  • Algebra (12%-15%)
  • Functions (12%-15%)
  • Geometry (12%-15%)
  • Statistics and Probability (8%-12%)

Integrating Essential Skills (40%-43%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to solve complex problems by synthesizing and applying various concepts.

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, ACT says that a calculator isn’t required to solve any of the math problems (though you are welcome to use an approved calculator if you wish).

3. Reading (40 questions)

The 40 questions in this section are split into three categories, and you will be given a time limit of 35 minutes:

Key Ideas and Details (52%-60%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to identify main ideas and themes in a text, draw logical inferences and conclusions from a text, summarize information and ideas from a text, and understand various types of relationships presented in a text (sequential, cause-and-effect, etc.).

Craft and Structure (25%-30%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to analyze text structure, define words and phrases, analyze characters’ points of view, understand a passage’s purpose, and rhetorically an author’s word choice.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13%-23%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to distinguish facts from opinions, understand and evaluate an author’s claims, and make logical connections between related texts.

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.

4. Science (40 questions)

The 40 questions in this section are split into three categories, and you will be given a time limit of 35 minutes:

Interpretation of Data (40%-50%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to analyze and manipulate scientific data found in charts, tables, graphs, and diagrams.

Scientific Investigation (20%-30%)
The questions in this category assess your knowledge of experimental tools and procedures and your ability to compare and modify experiments.

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25%-35%)
The questions in this category assess your ability to validate information and establish conclusions and predictions based on that information. This category is divided into further subcategories:

  • Data Representation (25%-35%)
  • Research Summaries (45%-60%)
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (15%-20%)

The Science section is focused on the natural sciences, and it assumes that you have completed (or are 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.

5. Writing (optional)

Some colleges and universities require applicants to take the optional ACT Writing test. Many people register for and take the Writing test 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 choose to take the optional Writing test, you will be given 40 minutes to write an essay that outlines your perspective on an issue presented in a given writing prompt. Your score on this test is calculated separately from the other parts of the ACT, so it does not negatively affect your overall ACT score if you perform poorly.

Here is the list of possible ACT Writing scores, the level of skills each one represents, and factors that go into determining the score:

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 writer’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 writer 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 few errors in spelling, vocabulary, punctuation, or grammar, but not many.
6. Effective skills
The writer has a clear understanding of what is being asked of them, and they excel at meeting the challenge across the board. They stake out a clear and forthright position on the topic of the prompt, look at the issue from various angles for a more complex treatment, and offer 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.

exam outline for the ACT, which contains 215 multiple-choice questions and has a time limit of about 3 hours

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ACT Test Registration

There 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.

Test Dates

The ACT is given nationwide at thousands of locations, six times a year: 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.

Test Day

You must report to your assigned testing site by the time that is noted on your admission ticket, which you should bring with you. A late arrival will result in your test being canceled.

What to Bring

Along with your admission ticket, you should also bring an acceptable form of photo ID and at least one sharpened No. 2 pencil. You are also allowed to bring snacks, a watch to keep track of time limits, and a calculator.

You are not allowed to bring any books, study materials, notes, scratch paper, highlighters, white-out, or colored pencils/pens. If you do bring any of these, you will be asked to leave them outside of the testing room.

Taking the Test

Before the test begins, you will be assigned a seat and given specific test-taking directions and information. Once all of the rules and information has been presented, the test will begin.

A break will be scheduled after the second test, during which you can relax but cannot use your cell phone or any other electronic devices.

Once the full test is over, you will be dismissed.

Average ACT Scores

Every person who takes the ACT receives multiple 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.

There are also seven ACT subscores, with each subscore ranging from 1 to 18. 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.

The most important score is the composite score. This is the main number colleges and universities are concerned about when it comes to ACT scores. The individual test scores also matter, as they show your 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.

When Do ACT Scores Come Out?

Release dates can differ depending on the section. Multiple choice scores are available about two weeks after your test date, while writing scores are about two weeks after the multiple choice scores are released. For those who took the writing exam, their overall scores are not reported until the scores from the writing exam have been added. One exception to this is when ACT holds equating activities. What this means is they go through and ensure that the scores being reposted have a consistent meaning across all test forms. During times that the ACT holds these activities, scores are available within 3-8 weeks.

Retaking the ACT

If you would like, you are able to take the ACT again to try for a higher score. You get to choose which set of scores are sent to schools, and you can even combine scores from different test dates to create a new composite score.

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What is a good ACT score?


A good ACT score is any score over 20.


How long is the ACT?


The ACT is timed at 175 minutes. If you take the optional Writing section, the total time is 215 minutes (about 3.5 hours).


What is the highest ACT score?


The highest score on the ACT is 36.


How many questions are on the ACT?


There are 215 questions on the ACT.

By Peter Rench

Peter Rench joined Mometrix in 2009 and serves as Vice President of Product Development, responsible for overseeing all new product development and quality improvements. Mr. Rench, a National Merit Scholar, graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in mathematics from Texas A&M University.

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.


by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: June 28, 2024