The ACT Test Guide

The ACT Test Summary
What: The ACT is a college entrance examination administered to evaluate a high school student.
Who: ACT is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides assessment services to education.
Where: Tests are administered at local high school, colleges and universities and test centers.
When: Five times a year nationally: October, December, February, April and June. The test is offered in some states additionally in September.
How: The ACT is a paper and pencil test.
Type: The ACT is a multiple choice test, broken into four sections: math, reading, science, and English.
Why: The ACT is a nationally accepted test for college admission. It is a multiple choice question and based upon actual high school curriculums.
Time: The ACT takes 4-5 hours.
Language: English
Preparation: Students can use practice tests or prep courses.
Cost: Basic test: $31.00; essay is $15

By Elizabeth M. Burkhart, Tests.com Contributing Writer

The ACT is a standardized test used to measure a student’s readiness to perform college-level work. Similar to the SAT, the ACT is administered to high school juniors planning on attending college. Most colleges will accept either test, but requirements do vary, so students should make sure their scores will be accepted by the colleges and universities to which they apply.

Key differences between the two exams include test subject matter. While the SAT tests students in 10 separate sections, the ACT tests four: math, science, reading and English. ACT math questions test through the trigonometry level, while the SAT tests through algebra II.
The ACT is offered several times a year across the United States and throughout Canada. It is developed and administered by ACT, a non-profit organization which offers educational services.

ACT Exam Components
The ACT (No Writing) exam tests students in English, mathematics, science and reading in four separate tests totaling 215 questions. If students elect to take the ACT Plus Writing, they will complete the four ACT (No Writing) tests plus an essay.

In the English test, students read five passages and answer 75 questions about those passages. Students are tested on the mechanics of writing, such as punctuation, usage, diction and grammar, as well as on paragraph style and organization. The English test lasts 45 minutes.

The reading test asks 40 multiple-choice questions based on four reading passages that include prose fiction, humanities, social science and natural science topics. Students have 35 minutes to complete this section.

The science test asks questions on earth and space science, biology, physics and chemistry. The test includes seven sets of scientific information – graphs and tables, research summaries and conflicting summaries – that are each followed by multiple choice questions. Students must answer 40 science questions within 35 minutes.

In the math test, students are asked 60 multiple-choice math problems that test students on pre-algebra and arithmetic (24 questions); elementary and intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry (18 questions), and plain geometry and trigonometry (18 questions). Test takers have a total of 60 minutes to complete the section.

Calculators are permitted for the math section only. Students should check with the test center about approved models before bringing a calculator on test day.

In the Writing Test, students have 30 minutes to respond to an issue. A prompt offers an explanation of an issue and two viewpoints. Students are instructed to take a viewpoint, or develop their own, and explain it in writing. The essay should be fully developed and well organized.

ACT Registration and Scores
Students can register online or through the mail. During online registration, students are able to know immediately what test centers are available on particular dates. Online registration takes approximately 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Many students are able to take the exam in their own high school. The fee for ACT (No Writing) is $31.00. ACT Plus Writing is $46.00.

The ACT is given five times a year nationally in October, December, February, April and June. The test is also offered in some states in September. ACT recommends that students take the test at least two months prior to submitting college applications so that test results are received in time.

Students can view test scores online with two-and-a-half weeks of the test date. Official score reports are mailed within three to eight weeks. Writing score reports are mailed separately, usually two weeks after official score reports for the multiple-choice exam.

Each test taker receives a score for each test, as well as a composite score that averages the four test scores. Scores range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). While the writing essay is scored, it does not affect the composite score.

The official score report also includes national rankings, and students are able to see how they compare in each subject area to students across the nation.

Are you planning on taking the ACT test and want to start preparing? Take a look at our ACT Test Directory to get started. If you would like to learn about an expert's point of view on the ACT, read our interview with ACT preparation expert Karl Schellscheidt.