ACT Test

ACT LogoThe ACT (/eɪ siː tiː/ ay-see-tee; originally an abbreviation of American College Testing) is a standardized college readiness test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States. Produced by ACT, Inc, the ACT has seen a gradual increase in the number of test takers since its inception, and in 2011 the ACT surpassed the SAT for the first time in total test takers; that year, 1,666,017 students took the ACT and 1,664,479 students took the SAT. All four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept the ACT. The majority of colleges do not indicate a preference for the SAT or ACT exams and accept both, being treated equally by most admissions officers. Other important factors school consider in their admissions decisions are high school GPA, academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, interviews and personal essays. For more specific information on any of these please contact the admissions offices of the schools you are interested in directly.

The four main tests (English, Math, Reading and Science) are scored individually on a scale of 1–36. An optional test, the writing test, can also be taken and is scored independently (not part of the composite score).

Additional informational and instructional videos related to the ACT test can be found on the ACT Video page.

The ACT Test

The ACT test is a set of four curriculum-based, multiple-choice tests in English, Mathematics, Reading, Science Reasoning, and an optional 40-minute Writing test. The tests are based on the major areas of high school and post-secondary instructional programs where a student’s performance has a direct relationship to their educational achievement. The test is normally taken for the first time in the spring of the junior year of high school. This gives students the summer months to apply to colleges as well as additional time to re-take the test during the fall of the senior year if not satisfied with the initial score.

The standard ACT test lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes and 3 hours and 25 minutes if the optional writing test is taken.

English Test

The first section is the 45-minute English test covering usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills. The 75-question test consists of five passages with various sections underlined on one side of the page and options to correct the underlined portions on the other side of the page. More specifically, questions focus on usage and mechanics – issues such as commas, apostrophes, (misplaced/dangling) modifiers, colons, and fragments and run-ons – as well as on rhetorical skills, style (clarity and brevity), strategy, transitions, and organization (sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a passage). The 75 questions are broken down into 40 usage/mechanics questions and 35 rhetorical skills questions.

Mathematics Test

The second section is the 60-minute, 60-question Mathematics test. The questions are broken down into the following areas: 14 covering pre-algebra, 10 elementary algebra, 9 intermediate algebra, 14 plane geometry, 9 coordinate geometry, and 4 elementary trigonometry. Calculators are only permitted in this section of the test. The calculator requirements are stricter than the SAT’s in that computer algebra systems (such as the TI-89) are not allowed; however, the ACT permits calculators with paper tapes, that make noise (but must be disabled), or that have power cords with certain “modifications” which the SAT does not allow. Standard graphing calculators, such as the TI-83 and TI-84 family, are allowed. This is also the only section that has five instead of four answer choices.

Reading Test

The 35-minute reading section consists of four ten-question passages, from the realm of prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. Each passage contains 10 questions for a total of 40 questions.

Science Reasoning Test

The Science Reasoning test is a 35-minute, 40-question test. There are six or seven passages (see note below) each followed by five to seven questions. The passages have three different formats: Data Representation, Research Summary, and Conflicting Viewpoints.

Note: starting in 2015 the format of this test changed from seven to six passages. While the format used to be very predictable, when the number of passages was reduced from 7 to 6, more variability in the number of each passage type started to appear. So far though there is still always only one Conflicting Viewpoints passage. It is unclear if this change is permanent so best to be prepared for either format. For more information on the changes to the Science test, please see Has the Format of the ACT Science Test Changed? and Changes to the ACT Test Format in 2015.

Writing Test (optional)

The 40-minute optional writing section is always administered at the end of the test. It has been enhanced to measure critical writing competencies that are valued by high school and college educators. These enhancements have resulted in the addition of four writing domain scores (Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, and Language Use and Conventions), each scored on a scale of 2-12, in addition to a writing test score reported on a scale of 1-36.

Essays must be in response to a given prompt. The prompts are about broad social issues and students must analyze three different perspectives given, showing how their opinion relates to these perspectives. No particular essay structure is required. Two trained readers assign each essay sub-scores between 1 and 6 for the four different domains listed above. Scores of 0 are reserved for essays that are blank, off-topic, non-English, not written with a no. 2 pencil, or considered illegible after several attempts at reading. The sub-scores from the two different readers are summed to produce final domain scores from 2 to 12 (or 0) in each of the four categories. If the two readers’s sub-scores differ by more than one point, then a senior third reader makes the final decision on the score. The four domain scores are combined to produce a raw score (maximum of 48) which is then converted to a scaled score between 1-36. For more information on the new writing test and scoring see ACT Research Explains New ACT® Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores.

If a student chooses to take the ACT writing test, it must be taken in the same test administration as the other multiple-choice tests. Please note that while the writing section is optional, many colleges do require an essay score and will factor it into the admissions decision.

How is the Test Scored?

For each of the four multiple-choice tests, the raw score is the number of correct responses. Raw scores are converted to scale scores through statistical equating procedures to ensure that scores reported across test forms have a consistent meaning. Scale scores range from 1 (low) to 36 (high) for each of the four multiple-choice tests and the Composite score. The Composite is the average of the four-multiple-choice test scores, rounded to an integer. Fractions of .5 or higher are rounded up to the nearest whole number.

Students who take the optional Writing test will have the writing test scored independent of the other tests (not included in the Composite score). Without the writing test score however no English Language Arts (ELA) score will be reported. The student score report also includes national rankings comparing the test results against students across the country. For instance, a ranking in the 90th percentile on the mathematics test would indicate the student did better than 89 percent of other test takers, while 10 percent did better.

Readiness Scores and Indicators

Since fall 2015, students also receive readiness scores and indicators designed to show performance and preparedness in areas important to success after high school.

English Language Arts (ELA) Score

The English Language Arts (ELA) score is an average of the English, reading, and writing test scale scores and represents a measure of students’ overall literacy skills. The ELA score is reported on a scale of 1-36.

STEM Score

The STEM score is an average of the mathematics and science scale scores and represents a students’ overall performance in these subject areas. As the only national college admission exam to measure science skills, the ACT is in a unique position to inform students about their STEM skill strengths. The STEM score is reported on a scale of 1-36.

Understanding Complex Texts Indicator

The Understanding Complex Texts indicator is based on scores on a subset of questions on the reading test. These questions measure students’ global comprehension of the passages instead of sentence- or word-level understanding, and predict a students’ ability to succeed in a variety of entrance level college courses. The three categories of below proficiency, proficient, and above proficiency indicate, respectively, students’ probability of getting a B or higher in these courses.

Progress Toward Career Readiness Indicator

The Progress Toward Career Readiness indicator is based on students’ Composite scores and provides an indicator of future performance on the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate (ACT NCRC). The ACT NCRC is an assessment-based credential that certifies foundational work skills important for job success across industries and occupations. The Progress Toward Career Readiness indicator is reported as one of three levels: Bronze, Silver, or Gold.

How Can I Register and Take The ACT Test?

The fees for taking the ACT are US$ 39.50 without the writing test, and US$ 56.50 with the writing test in the United States and Canada. Test fees outside the United States or Canada are US$ 40.00 in addition to the above. The test is offered 6 times a year in the United States and Canada and 5 times a year outside the United States and Canada. The test can be taken in China (see restrictions below), Hong Kong and Macau.


The following Chinese regulations apply to testing in China:

  • Chinese citizens may take the ACT ONLY as an end-of-course examination as part of the Global Assessment Certificate (GAC). If you are a Chinese citizen and a GAC candidate, you must register through your GAC center. If you are not a GAC candidate, you may not take the ACT in China.
  • Citizens of countries other than China may register to test in China ONLY IF they are enrolled at the institution that serves as the test center. If you are enrolled at a school in China that also serves as a test center, you must get the test center code from your school.

If you are not a GAC candidate and are not enrolled at a school that serves as an ACT test center, consider whether you could test in a different location by travelling to a different region such as Hong Kong orMacau, or to a nearby country (for example, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore).

Hong Kong and Macau

The ACT test is administered at many locations across Hong Kong. In Macau it is given at the International School of Macao and the University of Macau. For more information on locations and test dates see the ACT Test Locator page. To register for the ACT, students need to create a free ACT web account and follow the simple instructions to select a test date and location. A valid credit card is required to finalize the registration. Complete International registration details can be found on the ACT International Registration Help and Information page.

Additional Resources


ACT Home
ACT Student Home
Resources for Students and Parents
Getting Ready
ACT Help
About ACT, Inc.
The ACT Test: User Handbook for Educators
ACT Online Prep Flyer
Preparing for the ACT Test – 2015/2016
Resources for Students and their Families
Using Your ACT Results – 2015/2016
ACT Research Explains New ACT® Test Writing Scores and Their Relationship to Other Test Scores
ACT International Test Dates – 2015/2016 and 2016/2017
USA/Canada ACT Test Dates: 2015/2016
ACT 2015 Annual Report

Practice Tests and Tutorials

ACT Online Practice Tests and ACT Past Exam
ACT English: Practice tests and
ACT Math: Practice tests and
ACT Reading: Practice tests and
ACT Science: Practice tests and
ACT Writing: Essay Prompts and
ACT Web TestMcGraw Hill
Complete Official ACT Practice Tests, Free LinksPrepScholar
Quantum ACT Prep – Very extensive collection of practice tests and explanation videos – Quantum ACT Prep
Sophia ACT Test


SAT and ACT Prep GuideOnline College Plan
The ACT at a GlanceKaplan Test Prep
Overview of the ACTKhan Academy
About The ACT TestPrinceton Review
SAT vs. ACTPrinceton Review
The ACT Test: Format, Timing & Question TypesStudyPoint

See Also

ACT Videos (Teachers Network Hosted)