ACT Test Overview

American College Testing (ACT) is a non-profit organization in the USA that facilitates and administers a paper and computer-based college admissions test. This test is taken by learners from grades 10,11 and 12 and accompanies your college application. It also gives a good indication of a student’s career readiness and aptitude.

Why is ACT important?

Colleges in the USA are overwhelmed by applicants annually and a large portion of the placement and elimination is done by evaluating standardized testing scores. Your GPA and other scores and references are also taken into account but a standardized test like the ACTs evaluate your college readiness and can be compared to applicants from all over the world.

What is the format of the ACT?

The ACTs take a total of 2hours and 55 minutes to complete and is all multiple-choice questions. If you decide to add the writing section to your test your test time will be 3 hours and 35 minutes. There are 4 compulsory sections and one optional section.

  1. English
  2. Math
  3. Reading
  4. Science
  5. Writing (optional)


You will see 5 passages each full of mistakes and various issues with flow and syntax. 75 questions need to be completed in 45 minutes. These questions are all multiple choice and give you 4 possible answers to choose from.

Two broad skill areas are tested that are further broken down into subsections. The first half focuses on Mechanics and Usage. This refers to your knowledge of basic English elements such as punctuation and grammar. The three subsections are punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. The latter tests your understanding and use of various clauses and the relationship between them.

The second half of the English section takes a look at your rhetorical skills. The first of which is your understanding of style. Can you identify the tone of a passage and choose the correct words and phrases to emulate that style? Thereafter, you need to show your ability to organize a text. You must organize a passage from the introduction to the conclusion and easily let passages flow from one to the other. The last critical skill is the strategy of the passage. Does the author get his point across in the most effective way or are there changes to be made that will carry the message more easily?


The math section consists of 60 questions and is allocated the longest time, 60 minutes. 6 areas will be tested.

  • Pre-Algebra
  • Elementary Algebra
  • Intermediate Algebra
  • Coordinate Geometry
  • Plane Geometry
  • Trigonometry

The content of the questions is more or less grouped. They also roughly increase in difficulty as the test progresses. You will not be provided with any formulas and you will need to know them off by heart when entering the test. There are certain calculators allowed but they will simply be to help you make calculations more efficiently. Unlike the English section, the Math section gives you 5 possible answers instead of 4. The questions vary from word problems to straightforward equations.


Reading comprehension is tested in 4 subject areas in this order:

  • Prose Fiction
  • Social Science
  • Humanities
  • Natural Science

All but one will be tested with one passage each. The fourth subject will be represented by a pair of passages.

There are 5 types of questions you can encounter. Firstly, you should be able to interpret the passage as a whole. There should be one of these for each passage. The largest portion of your questions is about the smaller details in the text. These are questions you can simply find the answer to by reading the passage carefully. The third type of question is about the vocabulary found in the passages and the meaning thereof, considering the context. The next type of question tests your analysis skills. You need to show an understanding of the structure of the passage and how certain phrases relate to the passage. Lastly, inference requires you to make logical deductions based on the given information.


The science portion of the test has a bit more of a complicated structure. You will not simply be tested on your existing scientific knowledge but rather on the way you interpret information or apply the scientific method. The first three passages will condense an experiment or research from the scientific field. The next three will purely be graphs and data and there will be one question with a pair of passages that are related.

  • Research Summary Passages

There are 3 main question types for your first group of readings. You need to identify the purpose of the experiment and how it was designed. Moreover, you should be able to predict the outcome of the experiment and also see the connection between the outcomes and other scientific statements.

  • Data Representation Passages

The data can be represented as tables, graphs, or charts and you need to interpret the data and find facts therein. When interpreting data as a whole you should also be able to draw conclusions and identify trends. Lastly, you should also be able to predict further information regarding the data when you have identified the trends.

  • Conflicting Viewpoints Passages

Finally, you will be given two passages that are related and serve up conflicting viewpoints. These viewpoints should be understood and compared.

Writing (Optional)

The writing section is the final part of the test and is optional. It takes 40 minutes to complete. The writing question is multi-faceted.

First, you will be given a paragraph presenting an issue facing society and humanity as a whole. This issue will not be a solid argument based on one fact but more of a deep-thinking idea that can be interpreted in various ways.

After the passage, there will be 3 different interpretations stated. They cover various angles and are not very black and white.

Lastly, you will be prompted to ask the question. You should write an essay stating your opinion on the issue at hand. This viewpoint can be related to one of the 3 that are given to you. You could also partially agree with one of them or state a completely new viewpoint. The key is just that you need to state your opinion with conviction and provide a well-structured piece of writing.

How is the ACT scored?

4 Sections count towards your final ACT score. English, Math, Reading, and Science are all added up individually. Thereafter each section is scaled on a scale from 1-36. Adjusting a raw score to a scaled score will ensure that tests written on different days will all represent the same level of difficulty. Then they will calculate the average between these four scores (add them all together and divide it by 4). This score will be rounded up to the nearest whole number.

Three of the 4 compulsory sections also have a sub-score. This sub-score is also a scaled number from 1-18. This is done to give you a more accurate representation of your strengths during the test and which areas you need to improve on. It is important to note that these smaller scores are not added to your final ACT score, but are listed separately. These scores will be given to all areas except for science.

The writing section is optional and the writing score will never be included in your composite score for the 4 main sections. 2 examiners will evaluate your writing on a scale of 1-6 in 4 domains. These domains are Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, Language Use, and Convention. These four scores will also be averaged. The examiners’ final average scores from 1-6 are added together to give you a final score from 1-12. You will receive an average score for English/Language Arts between 1-36 by adding and averaging your Writing, English, and Reading Scores.

How do I prepare for the ACT?

The ACT is taken by high-school students and you need to find a good balance between your schoolwork and preparing for this test. No two students are the same and everyone learns at their own pace. Prepare a realistic study schedule that progresses at a comfortable pace for you.

Get accustomed to the format of the test as well as the style of questions. You can take multiple prep tests to see the layout of the questions and identify the sections you need to pay more attention to. Become used to the time constraints imposed on you by taking multiple tests in test conditions. You can eliminate a lot of stress if you are used to the timeframes you are given.


I hope that this article on the ACT was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Test Overview Category!