The ACT® at a Glance

Like the SAT, the ACT is a nationally administered, standardized paper-and-pencil test that helps colleges evaluate candidates. Colleges now accept your ACT or SAT scores interchangeably. This means that you have the opportunity to decide on which test you'll perform better. And in many cases, students prepare for and take both exams. Is the SAT or ACT better for you?

Generally, you'll take the ACT for the first time in the spring of your junior year. This allows you to reserve the summer months for college applications or enough time to re-take the test during the fall of your senior year if you're not satisfied with your score.

The Anatomy of the ACT

How long is the ACT test? Without the optional Writing Test, the ACT exam lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes, or 3 hours and 25 minutes with the Writing Test. The order of test sections and the total number of questions covered in each test section never changes:

Section Length Question Type
English 45 Minutes 40 Usage/Mechanics Questions
35 Rhetorical Skills Questions
Mathematics 60 Minutes 14 Pre-Algebra Questions
10 Elementary Algebra Questions
9 Intermediate Algebra Questions
9 Coordinate Geometry Questions
14 Plane Geometry Questions
4 Trigonometry Questions
Reading 35 Minutes 10 Social Studies Questions
10 Natural Sciences Questions
10 ​Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction Questions
10 Humanities Questions
Science 35 Minutes 15 Data Representation Questions
18 Research Summary Questions
7 Conflicting Viewpoint Questions
Writing Test 40 Minutes You write in response to a question about your position on an issue

The ACT English Test

On the ACT English Test, you'll have 45 minutes to answer 75 questions—that's about 30 seconds per question! The test is divided into 5 passages, each with about 15 questions.

You're not being tested on spelling or vocabulary. Rather, the ACT English Test is designed to assess your understanding of the conventions of English—punctuation, grammar, sentence structure—and of rhetorical skills. Rhetorical skills are more strategic including things like organizing the text and making sure it's styled clearly … Learn more.

The ACT Math Section

On the ACT Math Test, you'll have 60 minutes to answer 60 questions—that's 1 minute per question! Questions include Pre-Algebra, Elementary and Intermediate Algebra, Coordinate and Plane Geometry, and Trigonometry … Learn more.

The ACT Reading Section

On the ACT Reading section, you’ll be tested on Social Studies, Natural Sciences, ​Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction and Humanities. You'll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions—that's about 50 seconds per question! The section contains four passages, each followed by 10 questions … Learn more.

The ACT Science Section

On the ACT Science Test, you’ll be given passages containing various kinds of scientific information—drawn from the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, and meteorology—which you'll have to understand and use as a basis for inferences. You'll have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions—that's about 50 seconds per question! The section contains seven passages, each followed by 5-7 questions … Learn more.

The ACT Writing Section

The optional ACT Writing Test is 40 minutes long, includes one essay, and is always the last section of the test. You'll be given a topic or an issue and expected to take a position on it, supporting your point of view with examples and evidence. … Learn more.

Your ACT Score

Some of the most common questions we get from students and parents are: "What does this ACT score mean?" and "What is a good ACT score?"

Each of the four multiple-choice ACT test sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) is scored on a scale of 1-36. You will also receive a composite score, which is the average of your four test scores (1-36).

Your score report also includes national rankings where you can compare your performance against students across the country. For instance, if you ranked in the 90th percentile on the Mathematics Test, you did better than 89 percent of other students, while 10 percent fared better than you … Learn more.