ACT Test

American CollegeTesting Assessment

The American College Testing assessment (ACT) is a standardized test designed to measure the academic skills of potential college entrants. The ACT was developed in 1959 to compete with the SAT, although some now consider it to be superior. The two tests are treated as equals by the majority of colleges in the U.S.

ACT, Inc., a private, non-profit organization, administers the test.

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Competing Tests

The trend in the past has shown the ACT to be the entrance exam of choice for schools in the Midwest, and the SAT as the preferred choice for schools in the Northeast. In recent years, however, that trend has changed - both tests are now considered equal but are focused on different areas. This is an advantage for students, as they're able to select the test that is best suited to their own skills and knowledge.


The ACT tests students entering college on math, reading, English and scientific reasoning. The test runs for two hours and 55 minutes, and consists of multiple choice questions divided into four sections, each based on one subject area. There are five to fifteen questions per passage, except for the math section, which has 60 questions.

The ACT English Test

The English test consists of five passages of nonfiction prose, each of which has 15 accompanying questions. Some questions require you to choose the best rephrasing of an underlined sentence or phrase, while others ask about the overall organization of the passage (a roughly 35 to 40 split of questions, respectively).

The best way to complete the ACT English Test is to read each sentence slowly and pick out the part that sounds wrong immediately. If nothing jumps out at you, look for basic sentence structure errors. These include subject verb disagreement, pronoun errors, errors of sentence structure and awkwardness.

The ACT Mathematics Test

The math section tests understanding of basic high school mathematics. The test consists of word problems, graphs and charts, and presents problems in geometry, trigonometry and some algebra. There are 60 questions in this section.

In order to do well on the Math test, find the right answer quickly and move on. Draw a diagram of the question so you can visualize the problem in two or three dimensions. If you're spending a lot of time on calculations, this may be an indication that you're on the wrong path.

The ACT Reading Test

The Reading test consists of four passages, one of which is a fictional narrative and the others nonfiction passages on topics ranging from natural sciences to arts and humanities. There are approximately 10 multiple choice questions that will test you on your understanding of each passage.

Try to "dialogue" with the text as you read it, using a pencil to take notes and draw connections among themes and ideas in the passage.

The ACT Science Reasoning Test

The science portion of the ACT includes seven passages, each relating to a different kind area of science. Questions will involve:

  • Charts, diagrams, graphs and tables
  • Experiments and their results
  • Different theories concerning a single scientific question

Each passage is followed by several questions that test your understanding and interpretation of the data or material presented.

To achieve the best results, read each passage closely. Focus on the gist of the passage, without letting yourself get bogged down in the jargon or irrelevant details.

The ACT Writing Test

The writing test is a single essay question, with two optional positions on the question that you can choose between. Your essay must have a thesis concerning the issue and your reasons for taking the position you chose. The essay will be graded on its development and coherence, use of language and sentence structure.

You'll be given a higher grade if you follow standard rules of grammar, syntax and essay organization (for example, using topic sentences to organize your paragraphs). Be sure to write three solid body paragraphs that support your argument well.


The ACT renders 12 separate scores - one composite, four subject scores (one for each subject category) and seven sub-scores. Of course, the composite score (which, in essence, is the average score) is the most important of these. The composite score ranges from 1to 36, with nearly half of all ACT takers scoring in the range of 17 to 23. Scores over 30 are typically in the 99th percentile.

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