EduTrek College Search
Two Easy Ways to Start Your College Search
Get Matched to Schools
Tell us what you're looking for in a college, and we'll find them for you.
Create Your Free Profile Now
We've made over 1,444,945 college matches.
Search EduTrek's College Database
Search Tip: Looking for Online Colleges? Use ONLINE as the Location.

Taking the ACT

Studying for the ACT

The ACT, formerly known as American College Testing, is a standardized test used to evaluate high school achievement and admission into colleges. All 4 year colleges and universities in the United States now accept the ACT.

As with the SAT, the ACT is just one factor in determining college admission.

However there are a couple of main differences between the SAT and ACT. The ACT has an optional writing section, which adds $15.50 to the registration fee and a half hour to the test length, but can also improve your score. This optional writing section involves 2 essays on a social issue high school students will be familiar with. You'll receive both a separate writing subscore (out of 12) and a combined English and writing score, weighted with the English section at two-thirds and the writing section at one-third. Your English section score can be negatively affected to a maximum of 2 points from your writing section.

Other key differences are that the ACT has a science section while the SAT does not, the SAT puts a stronger focus on vocabulary, and the ACT focuses on more advanced math concepts, such as trigonometry.

ACT Test Dates

Test Date 9.8.2012 10.27.2012 12.8.2012 2.9.2013 4.13.2013 6.8.2013
8.17.2012 9.21.2012 11.2.2012 1.11.2013 3.8.2013 5.3.2013
8.24.2012 10.5.2012 11.16.2012 1.18.2013 3.22.2013 5.17.2013


ACT Test Locations

Click here to find a test center near you:


Basic Registration Fee
(No Writing Section):
Basic Registration Fee
(With Writing Section):
Late Registration Fee:
$34 $49.50 Add $21
If you can't afford the registration fee, you can apply for a fee waiver through your high school guidance counsellor.


ACT Registration

Click here to create an account with and register for the test:

ACT Test Format

Total Test Duration: About 4 hours without the optional writing section, about 4 hours and 30 minutes with the writing section (instructions and breaks included)

English: 75 multiple choice questions, 45 minutes
Mathematics: 60 multiple choice questions, 60 minutes
Reading: 40 multiple choice questions, 35 minutes
Science: 40 multiple choice questions, 35 minutes
Optional Writing: 1 essay, 30 minutes

An Overview of the ACT Test Sections

  1. English Section

    The English Section contains five passages of prose, each accompanied by corresponding multiple choice questions.

    These questions will test your grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure skills, as well as your ability to organize, strategize, and comprehend the English language.

    Some questions will reference an underlined portion of the prose passage, giving you several alternatives to it. You must pick the best substitution to answer the question correctly.

    Other questions will ask you about an underlined section, or the entire passage, and you must choose the best answer.

    Many of the English Section questions contain one answer that says “NO CHANGE.” You should select this answer if nothing in the underlined section is the best possible answer and should be changed from how it currently reads in the passage.

    Each underlined portion is also numbered consecutively to match up with the question that references it.

  2. Math Section

    The Math Section contains 60 multiple choice questions based on math concepts that students have generally studied by the end of 11th grade.

    You may use a calculator to complete these questions.

    The math questions are based on the following different areas:
    1. Pre-Algebra
    2. Elementary Algebra
    3. Intermediate Algebra
    4. Coordinate Geometry
    5. Plane Geometry
    6. Trigonometry
  3. Reading Section
    For the Reading Section you will need to read 4 different passages and then answer corresponding questions that test your reading comprehension skills. The 4 passages are based on 4 different subject areas:
    1. Social Studies
    2. Natural Sciences
    3. Prose Fiction
    4. Humanities

    You will need to be able to analyze and understand what is directed written as well as implied statements.

    Your knowledge and ability to do the following will also be tested:
    1. Determine the meaning of words and phrases within a given context.
    2. Analyze and interpret the author's or narrator's perspective and voice.
    3. Identify and interpret main ideas and significant details.
    4. Understand the order of events and cause and effect relationships.
    5. Draw comparisons and generalizations.
  4. Science Section
    The Science Section contains 7 sets of scientific information, each based on knowledge and skills you will have acquired in your Earth science, physical science, and biology courses. The sets of scientific information are given to you in the following formats:
    1. Data Representation - These information sets involve graphs and tables.
    2. Research Summaries - These information sets are comprised of descriptions of experiments.
    3. Conflicting Viewpoints - These information sets involve several different related viewpoints or hypotheses that conflict with one another.
    Each set of information has a corresponding set of questions that will test your ability to:
    1. Reason scientifically.
    2. Draw conclusions or make predictions based on given information.
    3. Understand the concepts related to the given information.

    The Science Section does not emphasize your ability to recall specific scientific content but instead focuses on your scientific reasoning skills.

    You are not allowed to use a calculator on the Science Section.

  5. Writing Section

    The writing section presents an issue, and then describes two different points of view on that issue. The essay you write is a response to a question about your own point of view on the issue. You may either select one of the given points of view to respond with, or you may come up with your own unique point of view.

    You are scored based on your writing skills in this section, and whatever point of view you select will not affect your score, as long as you defend it well.

ACT Study Tips

  1. Get started early - Begin studying well in advance of your test date. You want to have plenty of time to familiarize yourself with the test and its format, and work out any weak spots you have.
  2. Kick off studying with a blind practice test - This will show you where your weak spots are so that you can spend more time focusing on brushing up on skills that need more work and target your studying more effectively.
  3. Keep taking practice tests - Study and take practice tests to familiarize yourself with the styles and types of questions that are going to be asked of you. Question styles tend to be similar from year to year, so brushing up on old tests or practice tests is a great way to get to know the ACT.
  4. Form a study group or join a prep class - There are also many ACT review programs out there, whether they're online, sponsored by your local college, or even run through your high school. Take advantage of these to study and prepare for your tests.

    Or, form a group of others who will be taking the test along with you and organize your own study sessions and practice tests.

  5. Register for a test date that fits your schedule - You have plenty of test date options, so make sure register for one that will allow you sufficient time to study, and that won't conflict with or fall too close to any other important events like finals, a big championship game, etc.

ACT Test Taking Tips

  1. Test early - Take the tests early and if you don't like your first score, you always have the option of taking it again, or even a third time, and submitting those scores to the colleges you're applying to instead. Higher scores don't just mean admission into better colleges; they can mean better scholarships as well.
  2. Use the process of elimination and answer every question - Using the process of elimination for multiple choice questions is actually an excellent strategy when you're not sure of the answer. If you know or can figure out which answers are definitely wrong, you greatly improve your chances of selecting the correct answer.

    On the ACT, there is no penalty for choosing the wrong answer. So try your best to use the process of elimination to improve your chances of choosing correctly when you don't know the answer, but don't leave anything blank as your incorrect choices don't count against you.

  3. Don't rush - Take your time on the test. Make sure you read the directions and each question thoroughly, and slow down enough to logic your way through questions when you need to.
  4. Answer the easy questions first - Then go back and answer more difficult questions if you have time.
  5. Check your work - If you finish a test section early and have extra time, take it to go back and check your work and answers. This is a great way to catch silly mistakes.
  6. Eat a good breakfast - Don't underestimate the power of properly fueling up your body on test day. Eat something healthy, high in carbs and fiber, to keep you alert and at the top of your game throughout the test.
  7. Get a good night's sleep - Get a good 8 hours of sleep the night before the test so you wake up well rested and ready to conquer the ACT. Don't waste that much needed sleep time to cram for the exam; at that point either you're prepared or you're not and staying up late to study is only going to exhaust you for the test the next day.
  8. Bring with you to the test:
    1. Layers and comfortable clothing - You're going to be at this test for over 4 hours so you want to be comfortable and prepared for however sauna-like or freezing the testing center may be.
    2. Snacks and drinks - You'll be able to eat and drink these during the test break and are going to want them for continued energy, stamina, and brain power.
    3. Your admission ticket - This contains information that you'll need to copy onto your answer sheet. Without it, you could find yourself waiting for your scores for an extra 2 months.
    4. Identification - You need to bring an approved form of identification with you to the ACT. This can be one of the following:
      1. Driver's License
      2. Passport
      3. School ID with a photo
      4. Letter of identification issued by your school
      5. High school transcript with a photo, issued by your school
      6. Notarized statement with a photo
      7. Recently published identified photo (such as one in a yearbook or newspaper where you are identified by first and last name; only originals are accepted)
  9. Tips for the English Section
    1. Read through and analyze all of the answer options before choosing the one that you think is correct.
    2. If it's a question where you need to select an alternative to an underlined sentence or passage, reread the underlined selection with your chosen answer to make sure it reads correctly.
    3. Be aware of tone and emphasis in each passage.
    4. If a question has no underlined section, you will be answering a question about the passage in its entirety.
  10. Tips for the Math Section
    1. Make sure your calculator is a permitted type and has fresh batteries.
    2. Start by solving the problem and then find your answer among the choices.
    3. Check your work.
  11. Tips for the Reading Section
    1. Read the entire passage carefully before you start tackling the corresponding questions.
    2. Read through and analyze all of the answer options before choosing your answer.
    3. Refer back to the passage while you're answering the questions.
  12. Tips for the Science Section
    1. Read through and analyze all of the answer choices before selecting your answer.
    2. Refer back to the scientific information in the passage when answering each question.
    3. Be aware that some passages will present conflicting viewpoints.
  13. Tips for the Writing Section
    1. Plan it out - You'll have a much better and more cohesive essay if you write and an outline and/or do some pre-writing before launching into your essay.
    2. Don't skip lines and don't write in the margins.
    3. Be sure you use a number 2 pencil.
    4. In your introduction, be sure that you clearly demonstrate that you understand the issue at stake. Explain your chosen point of view clearly and logically.
    5. Keep your focus on the topic at hand.
    6. Use and cite specific examples, whether they're from history, literature, or your own life experiences.
    7. Bring up and introduce arguments others might make against your point of view and then go ahead and prove them wrong. This will show true understanding of the issue in a very well rounded way.
    8. Vary your sentence structure and make conscious choices of interesting (but valid) phrasing and vocabulary.
    9. Sum it up with a strong conclusion.
    10. If you have time, check your work and be on the lookout for:
      1. Grammar and spelling mistakes.
      2. Clear handwriting.

ACT Test Scores

2011 Average Scores
Average Composite Score: 21.1
Average English Score: 20.6
Average Math Score: 21.1
Average Reading Score: 21.3
Average Science Score: 20.9
Average Writing Score: 7.1
Average English/
Writing Combined Scores:
Perfect Composite/
Section Score:
Perfect Writing Score: 12


How the Multiple Choice Sections are Scored
  1. The number of questions you answered correctly is counted and totaled. No subtractions are made for questions you answered wrong.
  2. These raw total scores are then converted to scaled scores.
  3. Your composite score is calculated by averaging each of your separate test scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science) and rounding to the nearest whole number. These scores range from 1 to 36.
How the Writing Section is Scored
  1. The writing test does not affect your other scores.
  2. You will receive a Writing Subscore (on a scale of 2 to 12) and a Combined English/Writing Score (on a scale of 1 to 36) as well as comments on your essay.
  3. The Writing Subscore is determined by 2 different evaluators who will read your essay. They will grade your essay on a scale of 1 to 6; those 2 scores are then combined to form your Writing Subscore. If the evaluator's scores differ by more than 1 point, a third reader will score your essay as well.
  4. Your Combined English/Writing Score is formed by weighing your English Score at 2/3 and your your Writing Score at 1/3.