ACT (American College Testing)

The ACT (abbreviation of American College Testing) is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States. The ACT test has historically consisted of four tests: English, Math, Reading, and Science reasoning. In February 2005, an optional writing test was added to the ACT. All four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept the ACT .

In 2005 the company established ACT International. This organization is composed of ACT Education Solutions, Limited, and ACT Business Solutions, B.V. ACT Education Solutions is directed toward helping non-native speakers learn English in preparation for studying at an English-speaking educational institution. ACT Business Solutions attempts to help employers assess their employees’ level of English proficiency through use of the WorkKeys assessment.


ACT, Inc. says that the ACT assessment measures high school students’ general educational development and their capability to complete college-level work with the multiple choice tests covering four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. The optional Writing Test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay. Specifically, ACT states that its scores provide an indicator of “college readiness”, and that scores in each of the subtests correspond to skills in entry-level college courses in English, algebra, social science, humanities, and biology.

Most colleges use ACT scores as only one factor in their admission process. It is recommended that students check with their prospective institutions directly to understand ACT admissions requirements.


The ACT is more widely used in the Midwestern and Southern United States, while the SAT is more popular on the East and West coasts, although recently the ACT has been gaining more use on the East Coast.


The required portion of the ACT is divided into four multiple choice subject tests: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. Subject test scores range from 1 to 36; all scores are integers. The English, mathematics, and reading tests also have subscores ranging from 1 to 18. (The subject score is not the sum of the subscores.) The “composite score” is the average of all four tests. In addition, students taking the writing test receive a writing score ranging from 2 to 12, a “combined English/writing score” ranging from 1 to 36 (based on the writing score and English score), and one to four comments on the essay from the essay scorers. The writing score does not affect the composite score.

On the ACT, each question correctly answered is worth one raw point. Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for marking incorrect answers on the multiple-choice part of the test. To improve the result, students can retake the test: 55% of students who retake the ACT improve their scores, 22% score the same, and 23% see their scores decrease.


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, the 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 second section is the 60-minute, 60-question math test with 14 covering pre-algebra, 10 elementary algebra, 9 intermediate algebra, 14 plane geometry, 9 coordinate geometry, and 4 elementary trigonometry. Calculators are permitted in this section only. The calculator requirements are stricter than the SAT’s in that computer algebra systems are not allowed; however, the ACT permits calculators with paper tapes, that make noise, or that have power cords with certain “modifications” (i.e., disabling the mentioned features), which the SAT does not allow. Also, this is the only section that has five instead of four answer choices.


The 35-minute, 40-question reading section measures reading comprehension in four passages (taken and edited from books and magazines) one representing prose fiction (short stories and novels), another representing social science (history, economics, psychology, political science, and anthropology), a third representing humanities (art, music, architecture, dance), and the last representing natural science (biology, chemistry, physics, and the physical sciences), in that order.

Science reasoning

The science reasoning test is a 35-minute, 40-question test. There are seven passages each followed by five to seven questions. There are three Data Representation passages with 5 questions following each passage, 3 Research Summary passages with six questions each, and one Conflicting Viewpoints passage with 7 questions.


The optional writing section, which is always administered at the end of the test, is 30 minutes long. All essays must be in response to a given prompt. The prompts are about a social issue applicable to high school students. This test has no effect on the overall composite score. Instead, a separate English/writing score is created. A two point demerit is the maximum allowed for a writing penalty. No particular essay structure is required. Two trained readers assign each essay a score between 1 and 6, where a score of 0 is reserved for essays that are blank, off-topic, non-English, not written with no. 2 pencil, or considered illegible after several attempts at reading. The scores are summed to produce a final score from 2 to 12 (or 0). If the two readers’ scores differ by more than one point, then a senior third reader decides.

Although the writing section is optional, several schools do require an essay score and will factor it in the admissions decision.

ACT Time vs. SAT Time

The ACT is generally regarded as being composed of somewhat easier questions (versus the SAT), but the time allotted to complete each section increases the overall difficulty (equalizing it to the SAT). The ACT allots:

45 minutes for a 75-question English section

60 minutes for a 60-question Math section

35 minutes for a 40-question Reading Comprehension section

35 minutes for a 40-question Science section

Comparatively, the SAT is structured such that the test taker is allowed at least one minute per question, on generally shorter sections (25 or fewer questions).