Frequently Asked Questions about the ACT Test
What is the ACT?
The ACT Assessment, also known as the American College Test, is a multiple-choice examination required for
admission to many colleges.
Performance on the ACT exam is one of the important items of information that college admissions people consider when deciding whether to accept an applicant. Since the ACT is taken by students all over the country, colleges use the scores to compare the achievement and ability of applicants from a variety of secondary schools. The exam serves as a common standard for predicting students' success in college courses.
Although the ACT is based on subjects studied in high school, the test emphasizes thinking skills. Rather than asking students to recall facts or to remember the content of courses, most of the questions require students to solve problems, draw conclusions, make inferences, and think analytically. Colleges like to know that prospective students have the depth of mind for figuring out answers rather than merely memorizing information.
When Do I take the ACT test?
Most college-bound students take the ACT during the spring of the junior year or at the beginning of the senior
year. Which time you choose works neither for nor against you in the eyes of college admissions officials.
Click here to see the next ACT test date.
How do I sign up to take the ACT Exam?
The ACT is given several times a year. The exact dates, times, and testing sites are listed in a free booklet
called Registering for the ACT Assessment, which is usually available in the guidance office of your school.
Or you can contact:
ACT Registration Department
P.O. Box 414
Iowa City, IA 52243-0414
Telephone: (319) 337-1270
You can also register for the ACT on-line. To take advantage of this service, go to:
What is the Format of the ACT Exam
The ACT takes 2 hours and 55 minutes to complete, and it contains four parts:
The Four Parts of the ACT
1. The ACT English Test assesses mastery of the understanding and skills needed to write well. In particular, it tests:
Usage and Mechanics
- Punctuation - 10 questions
- Grammar and Usage - 12 questions
- Sentence Structure - 18 questions
- Writing Strategy - 12 questions
- Organization - 11 questions
- Style - 12 questions
Satisfactory performance on the English Test tells a college that you know the conventions of standard grammatical
English and that you can punctuate and write complete, carefully structured sentences. The test further assesses
your understanding of rhetoric, that is, whether you can tell when a piece of writing is unified, well organized,
and consistent in style.
On the English Test you are given five prose passages, each about 325 words. Portions of the passage are underlined and numbered. Most of the questions ask you to decide whether the underlined sections are correct, and, if not, which of four alternative choices is the most appropriate substitute. An item may contain an error in punctuation, sentence structure, or some other aspect of grammar and usage. The remaining questions on the English Test, which ask you to judge the quality of expression, unity, clarity, or overall effectiveness of the writing, refer to passages in their entirety or to selected portions of the text.
For the English Test, the ACT reports a total score in addition to two sub-scores:
Sub-score 1. Usage/Mechanics
Sub-score 2. Rhetorical Skills
Colleges may use sub-scores to place you in a suitable English course during your freshman year.
2. The ACT Mathematics Test measures knowledge and understanding of mathematics, in particular.
- Pre-Algebra - 14 questions
- Elementary Algebra - 10 questions
- Intermediate Algebra - 9 questions
- Coordinate Geometry - 9 questions
- Plane Geometry - 14 questions
- Trigonometry - 4 questions
Each of the 60 items presents a mathematical problem that you must solve by using algebra, geometry or trigonometry.
The problems are presented in the order of their difficulty. This is not a test of your ability to memorize
formulas and techniques or to demonstrate your skill in arithmetic. Accuracy and knowledge are important, of
course, but your mathematical reasoning ability is what counts most.
For each problem, you must pick one of five alternative solutions, one of which may be "None of the above." About half the items on the test are application items that require you to perform a sequence of operations. Another eight items require you to analyze the sequence of operations and conditions of the problem. The remaining problems test your basic mathematical proficiency.
The ACT reports your total score on the Mathematics Test as well as three subscores:
Sub-score 1. Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra
Sub-score 2. Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry
Sub-score 3. Plane Geometry/Trigonometry
Sub-scores reveal your strengths and weaknesses and are often used by college advisors to place you appropriately in college math courses.
3. The ACT Reading Test measures your ability to understand materials similar to those read in college courses. The test consists of four passages, each about 750 words, drawn from four different areas of knowledge:
- Prose Fiction: novels, short stories - 10 questions
- Humanities: art, music, dance, architecture, theater, philosophy - 10 questions
- Social Sciences: sociology, psychology, economics, political science, history, anthropology 10 questions
- Natural Sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, space science, earth science - 10 questions
Passages are given in the order of reading difficulty; the first is easiest, the last hardest.
On a given ACT any of the four types of passages may be placed first, second, third, or fourth. The order is not announced ahead of time. Passages are taken from books, articles, periodicals, and other publications. Since each passage contains whatever information you need for answering the questions, no additional background or knowledge is required. The 10 multiple-choice questions about each passage are arranged by level of difficulty, with the easiest first and the hardest last. Each question is followed by four choices. To answer the majority of the questions (26 out of 40) you need to draw inferences from the passage, perceive implications, distinguish the author's intent, separate fact from opinion-show, in short, that you have more than a superficial grasp of the content of the passage. The remaining 14 questions ask about material explicitly stated in the passage.
For the Reading Test, the ACT reports a total score as well as two subscores:
Sub-score 1. Arts/Literature, which measures your performance on the prose fiction and humanities passages. Sub-score 2. Social Studies/Sciences, which indicates how well you read the social sciences and natural sciences passages.
A significant difference between subscores could be useful to both you and your college advisor in making decisions about courses and programs of study. Moreover, a higher subscore in one area may indicate that your interests and talents lean in a particular direction.
4. The ACT Science Reasoning Test assesses your ability to think like a scientist. On the test you must answer questions about seven sets of scientific information presented in three formats:
- Data Representation: graphs, tables, other schematics - 15 questions
- Research Summaries: several related experiments - 18 questions
- Conflicting Viewpoints: alternative interpretations of scientific matters - 7 questions
The sets of information come from biology, chemistry, physics, and the physical sciences, which include earth
science and space science. Three of the seven sets of data are presented as graphs, charts, tables, or scientific
drawings. Another three are summaries of research, and the seventh is a discussion of a controversial scientific
The key word in this test is reasoning. Half the questions ask you to determine the accuracy and validity of conclusions and hypotheses based on the information presented. Another thirteen questions require you to generalize from given data by drawing conclusions or making predictions. The remaining seven questions check your understanding of the information itself. Simple arithmetic or algebra may be necessary to answer some of the questions.
The ACT reports no sub-scores on the Scientific Reasoning Test.
How do I prepare for the ACT exam?
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