ACT – Overview
What is the ACT?
The ACT (American College Testing) test is a standardized test used to assess high school students’ readiness for college-level academic work. It measures knowledge and skills in English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. There is also an optional writing section that some colleges and universities may require. The ACT is commonly used as an admission requirement by many colleges and universities in the United States, and it is one of the two major college entrance exams in the country, alongside the SAT. The ACT is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with the composite score being an average of the four section scores.
In what order are the sections given on the ACT test?
- English Section – This section consists of 75 questions and measures a student’s ability to revise and edit written English passages.
- Math Section – This section consists of 60 questions and measures a student’s mathematical skills in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry.
- Reading Section – This section has 40 questions and measures a student’s reading comprehension skills based on four passages.
- Science Section – This section consists of 40 questions and measures your scientific reasoning skills based on graphs, charts, and experiments.
How many questions are in each section of the ACT? How much time do students get to complete each section of the ACT?
|Number of Questions
|Time (in minutes)
ACT – English Section
How is the English Section organized? What skills does it assess?
The English section of the ACT test is organized into five subsections, each of which has 1 – 2 passages followed by a set of multiple-choice questions. In total, the section contains 5 – 7 passages with 75 multiple-choice questions that assess various aspects of your understanding of written English. The five subsections are:
- Punctuation – This subsection assesses a student’s understanding of the rules of punctuation such as commas, semicolons, and colons.
- Grammar and Usage – This subsection assesses a student’s understanding of the rules of grammar, such as subject-verb agreement, verb tense, and pronoun usage.
- Sentence Structure – This subsection assesses a student’s understanding of the structure of sentences such as independent and dependent clauses, parallelism, and modifiers.
- Rhetorical Skills – This subsection assesses a student’s ability to identify and improve the organization, style, and clarity of written English, based on the context of the passage.
- Style – This subsection assesses a student’s ability to use written English effectively, by recognizing and correcting problems with word choice, tone, and style.
What types of questions are on the English section of the ACT test?
The English section of the ACT requires students to read and analyze written passages and choose the best option to improve or revise the passage. The questions are designed to test the student’s understanding of English grammar and usage as well as their ability to identify and correct errors in writing. Here are some examples of how questions might be asked on this part of the test:
- Usage/Mechanics – Which of the following options provides the correct subject-verb agreement in the sentence?
- Rhetorical Skills – Which of the following options would best introduce the main idea of the passage to the reader?
- Strategy – Given the overall organization of the passage, which of the following options would be the best way to revise the third paragraph?
- Organization – Which of the following options would best improve the transition between the second and third paragraphs?
- Style – Which of the following options would be the most concise way to express the idea presented in the sentence?
ACT – Math Section
How is the Math section of the ACT test organized?
The Math section of the ACT test is given second on the test. Calculators are not allowed during the first 25 questions but may be used for the remaining 35 questions. The questions in the Math section increase in difficulty as you work your way through each category.
- Time allotted – 60 minutes
- Number of questions – 60
- Type of questions – Multiple-choice
What is on the Math section of the ACT?
Questions cover the following:
- Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra
- Basic arithmetic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division
- Exponents, square roots, simple equations
- Basic operations with integers, fractions, decimals, and percentages
- Basic algebraic expressions and equations
- Word problems
- Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry
- Graphing linear equations
- Solving systems of equations
- Polynomials and quadratic equations
- Advanced algebraic expressions
- Systems of linear equations and inequalities
- Quadratic and higher-order equations and functions
- Graphs and equations of lines and circles
- Parabolas and other conic sections
- Plane Geometry/Trigonometry
- Lines, angles, triangles, circles, and other basic geometrical concepts
- Similarity and congruence of triangles
- Trigonometric functions and identities, solving trigonometric equations
- Data Analysis/Statistics/Probability
- Interpreting graphs and charts
- Calculating measures of central tendency and variability
- Solving problems involving probability and statistics
ACT – Reading Section
How is the Reading section of the ACT organized?
- 4 passages approximately 750-words long
- 10 multiple-choice questions go with each passage for a total of 40 questions
- 35 minutes to read the passages and answer the questions (8-minutes and 45 seconds per passage)
- 4 categories of passages:
- Prose Fiction – texts from novels, short stories, and other words of fiction
- Social Studies – texts from social sciences like anthropology, psychology, sociology
- Humanities – texts from works in the humanities such as art, music, philosophy
- Natural Science – texts from works in areas of biology, chemistry, and physics
What skills are assessed in the Reading section of the ACT?
Questions in the ACT Reading section are designed to test a student’s ability to understand the main idea of a passage, make inferences, analyze the author’s tone and purpose, and identify specific details and information in the passage. Here are examples of the types of questions that may appear:
- Main idea – Identify the central message or main point of this passage.
- Detail – Recall specific details or facts from the passage.
- Inference – Draw conclusions based on what is implied or suggested in the passage (but which is not specifically stated).
- Vocabulary – Do you understand the meaning of specific words or phrases in the context of the passage?
- Author’s purpose/tone – Identify the author’s attitude or tone toward the subject matter of the passage.
- Compare and contrast – Compare and contrast information presented in different parts of the passage.
- Logic – Use reasoning and logical thinking to determine the meaning or purpose of the passage.
ACT – Science Section
How is the Science section of the ACT organized?
The ACT Science Test is a 35-minute section of the ACT test that assesses a student’s ability to understand, analyze, and interpret scientific information. There are 40 multiple-choice questions that cover 3 areas:
- Data Representation – This tests a student’s ability to read and understand graphs, charts, and tables related to scientific experiments and data.
- Research Summaries – This section presents a passage that describes one or more scientific experiments. Students are asked to analyze and interpret the data and information presented.
- Conflicting Viewpoints – Here, two or more viewpoints on a scientific issue are presented. The student is asked to evaluate and compare the different perspectives presented.
What skills are assessed in the Science section of the ACT?
- Scientific Reasoning – Students are expected to demonstrate their ability to reason scientifically and use logical thinking to analyze and interpret scientific data.
- Data Analysis – Students are expected to be able to read, understand, and analyze graphs, charts, and tables and use them to draw conclusions about scientific experiments based on the information provided.
- Scientific Concepts – Students are expected to have a basic understanding of scientific concepts in areas such as biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science.
- Experimental Design – Students are expected to understand the basic principles of experiment design, including control groups, variables, and hypothesis testing. Questions in this area may ask the student to design an experiment or interpret the results of an experiment.
While some background knowledge of science concepts can be helpful, the Science section primarily assesses a student’s ability to interpret and analyze scientific information, rather than test their knowledge of specific scientific concepts. The information needed to answer each science question is generally provided in the question itself, as well as in the accompanying graphs, charts, and tables. However, having a basic understanding of scientific concepts and terminology can be helpful in understanding the questions and information presented in this part of the ACT test. Students who have taken high school science courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science will be familiar with the terminology and concepts presented in questions on this part of the test.
ACT – Essay Section (Optional)
How is the Essay section of the ACT organized?
- This is a pencil-to-paper test (no mechanical pencils or pens).
- There is one writing prompt.
- The prompt first describes an issue and provides 3 different perspectives or ways of thinking about the issue.
- You are instructed to read about the issue and the 3 perspectives, state your own perspective on the issue, and then analyze the relationship between your personal perspective and at least one other perspective on the issue.
How is your essay scored?
- Even though this part of the test is optional, it is recommended that you do it as it will open up more school options for you.
- Your score is not impacted by the position you take on the issue.
- Two readers will read and score your essay with a score between 1 – 6. The two scores are then added together for an overall score of 2 – 12.
- Your essay is scored based on 4 domains: 1) Ideas and analysis, 2) development and support, 3) organization of the essay, and 4) Language use. CLICK HERE to see the ACT Writing Test Scoring Rubric.
- Ideas and analysis – Did the writer clearly state their own perspective on the issue and analyze the relationship between their perspective and at least one other perspective? Is there a thesis that states the writer’s position up front? Do the ideas and evidence stated in the essay support the argument that the writer makes? Does the writer demonstrate clarity in thought and purpose?
- Development and support – Did the writer develop and support their ideas with reasoning and examples? Does the writer develop and support the claims made in the essay? Are their ideas and implications explained and illustrated with examples? Are they relevant to the position the writer is taking?
- Organization – Did the writer organize their ideas clearly and logically? Is there a logical path that guides the reader through the arguments being made by the writer? Does the overall essay have a discernable structure? Are ideas consistently grouped within the paragraphs? Are transitional devices used to join related thoughts together?
- Language Use – Did the writer use language effectively to convey their arguments? Are there errors in usage, punctuation, or mechanics that interfere with the clarity of the writer’s position? Did the writer use conventions of grammar, syntax, word usage, and mechanics in their essay?
How is the ACT Test scored?
- First, they count the number of questions on each test (English, Math, Reading, Science) that you answered correctly. No points are deducted for incorrect answers (no penalty for guessing).
- Then, your raw score (the number of correct answers on each test) is converted to “scale scores.”
- Your composite score for each test score (English, Math, Reading, Science) ranges from 1 – 36. The composite score is the average of your 4 tests, rounded to the nearest whole number. Fractions less than ½ are rounded down; fractions ½ or higher are rounded up.
What is a good score on the ACT test?
A good score on the ACT test will vary depending on what scores the colleges or universities you are applying to are looking for.
- In general, a score of 28 or higher will put you in the top 90th percentile of test takers, which means you did better than 90% of the other test takers.
- A score of 24 or higher will put you in the top 75th percentile of test takers, which means you did better than 75% of the other test takers.
- A score of 20 or higher will put you in the top 50th percentile of test takers, which means you did better than 50% of the other test takers.
How are the SAT and ACT Tests different from each other?
- SAT has a stronger focus on vocabulary than ACT.
- ACT has a Science section and SAT does not. For SAT, while there is no Science section, there is science content in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections of the test which measures your ability to interpret charts, graphics, and data on scientific topics.
- The ACT has more questions per section and less time per section than the SAT. Pacing and time management will be important for the ACT test.
- The two tests emphasize different math skills. ACT emphasizes algebra and problem solving. The ACT Math section includes more straightforward problems and covers a broader range of math topics, including coordinate geometry, matrices, logarithms, and graphs of trigonometric functions. SAT emphasizes geometry and data analysis. The SAT Math section includes more complex, multi-step problems that require a higher level of critical thinking and analytical skills than the ACT. SAT also includes a section without a calculator, which assesses a student’s ability to perform calculations by hand.
- In general, questions on the SAT require more reasoning and analysis, while the ACT is straightforward, assessing basic achievement skills and fewer reasoning abilities.
- Depending on what schools you are applying to, some schools prefer one test over the other.
How do you choose between taking the SAT or the ACT?
The SAT and ACT have content differences such that, depending on your strengths and weaknesses, you are likely to do better on one test versus the other. For example, the SAT has a stronger vocabulary focus while the ACT has a science section. The types of math problems emphasized by each test are different. The SAT is longer overall but gives you more time for each question than the ACT. So, students with time-management issues may do better on the SAT. Most important, questions on the SAT require more reasoning and analysis, while the ACT is [delete the word “more”] straightforward, assessing basic achievement skills and less reasoning abilities.
If you are interested in determining which test you are most likely to score highest on, Testing Mom can give you a 1-hour Mindprint Assessment of your cognitive affinities. This will predict and project your scoring range on both tests and offer advice on which test may be best for you. It also guides you on which areas of the test you have the best chance of improving upon and where to focus your attention during preparation. The advantage of taking the Mindprint Assessment is that you won’t waste time or money preparing for a test you don’t end up taking or one that you are less likely to excel on. One of our experts will meet with you after you take the Mindprint Assessment to explain your score and what it means in terms of whether the SAT or ACT is the better test for you, given your cognitive strengths and weaknesses. To learn more about this tool, CLICK HERE and scroll down to the video called SAT vs. ACT with Mindprint Data.
Does TestingMom.com offer tutoring for the ACT test?
Yes, we do! Call us at 877-609-6203 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or to get started.
Can you practice for the ACT test on TestingMom.com?
Yes! Join TestingMom.com today and as part of your membership, you will have access to an in-depth library of interactive practice questions, detailed lessons, and printable worksheets every section and topic on the ACT test. Questions and learning resources are available for each skill listed below that is assessed on the ACT:
- Grammar and Usage
- Sentence Structure
- Rhetorical Skills: Strategy
- Rhetorical Skills: Organization
- Rhetorical Skills: Styles
- 3 ACT Writing Tests
- ACT English: Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- ACT English: Test-Taking Strategies Video
- Number Comparison and Operations
- Scientific Notation
- Ratio, Proportion, and Percent
- Linear Equations in One Variable
- Counting Techniques and Probability
- Data Collection, Representation, and Interpretation
- Simple Descriptive Statistics
- Elementary Algebra
- Properties of Exponents
- Square Roots
- Algebraic Expressions – Substitution
- Functional Relationships – Expressed with Variables
- Equivalent Expressions
- Quadratic Equations – Factoring
- Intermediate Algebra
- Understanding Quadratic Formula
- Rational Expressions
- Radical Expressions
- Absolute Value Equations and Inequalities
- Sequences and Patterns
- Systems of Equations
- Functions and Modeling
- Roots of Polynomials
- Complex Numbers
- Coordinate Geometry
- Graphs and Equations
- Graphing Inequalities
- Parallel and Perpendicular Lines
- Plane Geometry
- Properties of Circles
- Properties of Angles and Lines
- Properties of Quadrilaterals
- Applications of Geometry to Three Dimensions
- Modeling Trigonometric Relations in Right Triangles
- Properties and Graphs of Trigonometric Functions
- Trigonometric Identities
- ACT Math: Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- ACT Math: Test-Taking Strategies Video
- Fiction, Plot, and Point of View
- Humanities, Main Concepts, and Facts
- Social Science, Inferences, and Main Concepts
- Natural Science, Vocabulary, and Structure
- Paired Passages, Inferences, and Making Connections
- ACT Reading: Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- ACT Reading: Test-Taking Strategies Video
- Data Representation
- Earth/Space Science
- Research Summaries
- Earth/Space Science
- Conflicting Viewpoints
- Earth/Space Science
- ACT Science: Test-Taking Strategies Guide
- ACT Science: Test-Taking Strategies Video