• Monica James

What you need to know about the ACT


Your scores on the ACT help colleges judge how well you have mastered high school content compared to other applicants. Since the test is “standardized,” it helps colleges compare apples with apples.

What's Tested on the ACT?

The ACT measures the academic knowledge and skills you should have acquired in a standard high school curriculum. It includes four multiple-choice tests: English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science. The entire test is two hours and 55 minutes long. An optional 40-minute writing test may be required by some colleges.

The ACT English Test

This test measures your mastery of the elements of effective writing. Questions focus on punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.

The ACT Reading Test

Here, you will read four prose passages that are representative of the level and kind of reading required in first-year college courses. Each passage covers a different subject area, either social studies, natural science, literature, or humanities. Questions test your understanding of information that is directly stated and implied.

The ACT Mathematics Test

The math test measures mathematical skills that students have typically acquired by the end of grade 11. You'll be asked to solve a wide range of math problems involving geometry, trigonometry, and algebra.

The ACT Science Test

The science test is designed to gauge your interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. You will review several sets of scientific information and then analyze experimental designs and scientific results, compare alternative viewpoints and hypotheses, and interpret data. Many students are surprised by this section as it often feels more like “graph reading” than actual mastery of science.

The ACT Writing Test

This optional test measures writing skills emphasized in entry-level college composition courses. You will be presented with three points of view on an issue. You'll be asked to evaluate each perspective and write about your position on the issue, using facts to support your case. We always encourage students to do the writing section as it is required at most colleges.

How the ACT Is Scored

Your scores are based on the number of questions answered correctly. No points are deducted for questions left blank or answered incorrectly. Your composite ACT score is the average of the four required tests, rounded to the nearest whole number. If you take the Writing Test, your score will be included in a separate English Language Arts score, which is the average of your scores on the essay and the required English and reading tests.

How to Prepare for the ACT

The ACT organization offers testing tips and free practice questions on actstudent.org, along with an online prep course. There are many other online resources and books to help you become more familiar with the test.

When to Take the ACT This is a tricky question. We like for our students to be finished with all testing by the end of junior year. That said, because some of the ACT is based on the full year of junior year math, we suggest that you take one test in February, one in April and the last one in June. Be sure to confirm the last possible date you can take the test with the colleges you are applying to.

Sending Your Scores to Colleges When you register for the ACT, you can choose up to four colleges to receive your scores at no cost, and more colleges for a fee per college. We suggest that you do not sign up to send these yet. Wait until you have seen your scores. Also, some colleges gaug

e “demonstrated interest” on this list. You don’t want to tip your hand yet.Let us know if you need suggestions of how to study for this test and/or available tutors with whom we partner.


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