What You Need To Know About The ACT Test

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a multiple-choice, paper-and-pencil entrance exam used by many colleges and universities to measures college readiness in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science (with an optional writing assessment). The purpose of the exam is to measure what a student has learned in high school to better determine academic readiness.

When do you usually take the ACT?

Most students take the ACT during the winter/spring of junior year or fall of senior year. The exam is offered nationally every September, October, December, February, April, June and July. The assessment should be taken at least two months ahead of application deadlines. Scores usually report within 2-4 weeks after the test date. Most students take the ACT more than once to make sure that scores accurately represent academic abilities. According to the ACT registration page, 57% of students who took the test more than once increased their composite score. (Click here to read more).

How long is the ACT?

The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes without the essay section and 3 hours 35 minutes with the optional essay.

How much does the ACT examination cost? (2018-2019)

The ACT admission price for the 2018-2019 calendar year is
$50.52 (without essay)
$67 (with essay)

What are the test sections/format of the ACT?

The ACT has four main sections: English (Writing and Language Arts), Reading, Math and Science. There is also an optional 40 minute writing test.

Reading Section

  • 40 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes
  • 4 sections (either 1 long passage or 2 shorter, paired passages) with 10 multiple-choice questions
  • Reading comprehension of what is directly stated or implied
  • Prose fiction, literary narrative, Social Science, Humanities, and natural science are the main topics

English Section (Writing and Language Arts)

  • 75 multiple-choice questions in 45 minutes
  • Questions based on grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, correct verb tenses and forms, pronouns, and rhetorical skills

Math Section

  • 60 multiple-choice questions in 60 minutes
  • Pre-algebra, elementary algebra, Algebra 1 & 2, geometry, and trigonometry

Science Section

  • 40 multiple-choice questions in 35 minutes
  • Graphs, charts, tables and research summaries
  • Interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving
  • Biology, Chemistry, Earth/space sciences, Physics


  • 1 essay in 40 minutes
  • Plan, write and edit an essay in response to one writing prompt
  • Take a position and defend it, address all perspectives, and explain relationships between perspectives

How is the ACT scored?

The ACT exam is based on a composite score. A composite system is scored as follows:

The correctly answered questions on each section are counted (there is no score for incorrect answers) and the raw score (number of correct answers) is converted to a “scale score.” The scale score for each section is then averaged to create a composite score for the exam (scores are rounded to the nearest whole number). Basically, the number of correct answers on the ACT is converted into a score that ranges from 1-36 for each of the four main sections. The composite score is the average of those scores.

36 is the highest score for a section, but know that the national average score is around 21

The writing section of the exam is scored on a 2-12 scale and does not count towards the final score. It is also optional for many college applications.

Tips and strategies for the ACT

Here are a few things you can do at home/school to better prepare for the ACT exam:

  • Familiarize yourself with the test- instructions, format, and subject areas
  • Review and answer actual ACT test questions and understand how the exam is scored
  • Identify areas for improvement when it comes to testing-taking strategies and strengths/weaknesses in each subject area.

How can MINDSPIRE help with the ACT?

At MINDSPIRE, we provide tutoring and test prep that addresses specific learning styles and individual needs. If you are interested in getting a tutor for the ACT, give us a call at 844-537-PREP (7737) or click here to learn more.


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