The ACT exam is a national college-admissions exam that assesses students in English, Reading, Math, and Science.
Test Prep

The ACT is a national college admissions exam that assesses students in English, Reading, Math, and Science. It consists of 215 multiple-choice questions and takes about three hours to complete. All colleges in the United States will accept either the SAT or ACT; in fact, more students now take the ACT than the SAT I every year. Neither test is preferred or looked down upon by college admissions officers, so students should choose to take the test they feel the most comfortable with. The ACT is generally considered to be more straightforward than the SAT I, but is more time-pressured and has a greater emphasis on reading comprehension skills.

The ACT Exam is comprised of four sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science, followed by an optional essay. Whether or not a student needs the essay depends upon individual college requirements, so be sure to check with schools early.

Section Time Questions Objective
English 45 mins 75 Measures standard written English and rhetorical skills.
Math 60 mins 60 Measures mathematical skills students have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade 12.
Reading 35 mins 40 Measures reading comprehension.
Science 35 mins 40 Measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences.
Writing (optional) 40 mins 1 essay prompt Measures writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses.

Please note: the ACT is not an aptitude or an IQ test. Instead, the questions on the ACT are directly related to what students have learned in their high school courses in English, Mathematics, and Science.


Students receive one point for every correct answer and these points add up to their raw score in each section. Based upon the global results for each test date, the ACT then scales the raw scores to provide students with their corresponding scaled score. The Composite Score is calculated by averaging the four test scores (English, Math, Reading, Science) and rounding to the nearest whole number.

Test Section Scaled Score Range
English 1-36
Math 1-36
Reading 1-36
Science 1-36
Composite 1-36

The optional essay is scored separately from the four main test sections. Two readers grade it in four distinct categories: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions. These four domains contribute to the subject-level Writing Score.

Category Grader 1 Grader 2 Total
Ideas and Analysis 1-6 1-6 2-12
Development and Support 1-6 1-6 2-12
Organization 1-6 1-6 2-12
Language Use and Conventions 1-6 1-6 2-12
Composite 1-36

English Test Overview
Standard Written English (punctuation, grammar/usage, sentence structure)
Rhetorical Skills (strategy, organization, style)
Five passages of 15 multiple-choice questions with four possible answers

Math Test Overview
Pre-Algebra (20-25%)
Elementary Algebra (15-20%)
Intermediate Algebra (15-20%)
Coordinate Geometry (15-20%)
Plane Geometry (20-25%)
Trigonometry (5-10%)
60 multiple-choice questions with five possible answers

Reading Test Overview

The Reading Test consists of four reading passages in the following categories: Literary Narrative, Social Sciences, Humanities, and Natural Sciences, always in that order. Each passage is worth 25% of the total score for this section.

Determining main ideas, understanding sequences of events, making comparisons, determining meanings of content-dependent words or phrases, compare-and-contrast, etc. Four passages of 10 multiple-choice questions with four possible answers, including one paired-text passage

Science Test Overview

The ACT Science Test includes passages on Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and the Earth/Space Sciences (for example, Geology, Astronomy, and Meteorology). However, advanced knowledge in these subjects is not required. Rather, the test is more about reading comprehension and scientific reasoning skills. Note that use of a calculator is not permitted on this section.

Data Representation (30-40%). This format presents graphic and tabular material similar to that found in science journals and texts.
Research Summaries (45-55%). This format provides descriptions and results of one or more related experiments.
Conflicting Viewpoints (15-20%). This format presents expressions of several hypotheses or views on a given topic that are inconsistent with one another.
Six or seven passages containing multiple-choice questions with four possible answers

Writing Test Overview

As of September 2015, the ACT Writing Test will be undergoing a change in format. Students will now be assigned a subject and given three different perspectives on that topic. They will be asked to analyze those three viewpoints and to also defend their own perspective on the topic.

Read a Writing Sample Prompt and Essay from the ACT.