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The ACT (American College Testing Assessment)

  • Introduction
  • English
  • Science
  • The ACT Test Structure
  • Math
  • Registering for ACT
  • General Tips and Strategies
  • Reading
  • Act Test Dates and Locations


The ACT (American College Testing Assessment) is one of the two major standardized college entrance tests taken in the United States today, (the SAT I is the other). The ACT is an all-multiple-choice test given five times a year. Standardized tests like ACT are designed to allow college admissions officers to judge all students by a common measuring stick. In addition, Admissions officers use these scores as a way to predict academic performance in the first year of college. The ACT Assessment, tests knowledge in four subject areas: English, Reading, Math, and Science Reasoning. Unlike the SAT, the ACT is not an aptitude test. The questions on the ACT are related directly to the material students have learned in high school. The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions. It lasts three and a half hours (including breaks-actual testing time is two hours and 55 minutes. ACT-takers actually receive 12 separate scores on the ACT: 1 composite, 4 subject scores, and 7 sub scores. However the composite – or scaled – score is the most important. It ranges from 1-36. Nearly half of all test takers fall in the 17-23 range. On the ACT, unlike with the SAT, there is no penalty for guessing. So ACT takers should fill in an answer for every question, even if they have no idea of what the correct answer is.

The ACT Test Structure



Focus Area & No of Questions in Each Area

English Test

45 minutes, 75 questions

Consists of five passages of nonfiction prose. Each passage contains 15 questions.

Punctuation (10), Basic Grammar and Usage (12), Sentence Structure (18), Strategy (12), Organization (11), and Style (12)

Math Test
60 minutes, 60 questions

In this section, knowledge is tested of the basic facts and skills taught in most high school math programs.

Pre-Algebra (14), Elementary Algebra (10), Intermediate Algebra (9), Coordinate Geometry (9), Plane Geometry (14), and Trigonometry (4)

Reading Test
35 minutes, 40 questions

Includes four passages; one being a fictional narrative, while others being nonfiction discussion of topics from varied fields as the natural sciences, social science, and the humanities.

Pose Fiction (10), Humanities (10), Natural Science (10) and Social Studies (10)

Science Reasoning Test
35 minutes, 40 questions

Includes seven passages containing data presentation by means of graphs, tables, charts, or diagrams. Descriptions of experimental studies and their results, and presentations of differing theories or hypotheses relating to a specific scientific query.

Data Representation (15), Research Summaries (18), and Conflicting Viewpoints (7)

Note: Contents of Science Reasoning Test include: Biology, Earth/Space Science, Chemistry, and Physics.

General Tips and Strategies

  1. There is no penalty for guessing, so ACT takers should fill in an answer for every question
  2. Know the directions and answer sheet ahead of time
  3. Read carefully and thoroughly. Avoid careless mistakes
  4. Answer easier questions first, and harder questions later
  5. Check answer sheet regularly
  6. Develop a strategy for guessing

Section: English

  • Don't jump on the questions right away. Skim the paragraph for a few seconds, and then start
    working on the questions
  • Brevity is the soul of wit. The best way to write something is the shortest correct way of writing it
  • Be on the lookout for subject-verb and noun-pronoun agreement
  • Be on the lookout for sentence fragments, incorrect sentence structure, verbosity and inappropriate
    use of phrases and idioms
  • Develop the habit of occasionally checking your progress through the test

Section: Math

  • Use your calculator only when you need to
  • Understand and analyze the problem before crunching numbers
  • Look for patterns and shortcuts in any given question
  • Think before working on each problem, use common sense to verify your answer choice

Section: Reading

  • Do not get caught in the specific details of the passage
  • Answer general questions before detail questions
  • Always refer to the passage before choosing an answer
  • Mentally outline all major points covered in non-fiction passages, take notes if necessary to
    find answers quickly
  • Concentrate on paragraph opening and closing
  • For fiction passages pay attention to the story and the characters
  • Answer the easy questions for each passage first. Skip the tough ones and come back to them later

Section: Science

  • Start by scanning the passage. Read the passage or look at the data presentation quickly, just to
    get a rough idea of what it is all about
  • In order to comprehend graphs and tables quickly concentrate on nature of data being presented,
    units of measurement, relationship among variables and perceive trends and pattern in the data
  • If the answers are numerical, use estimation to save time
  • Focus on the questions that require analyzing data from just a single table or graph
  • Do not get bogged down by technical terminology, avoid the frills and get to the core of the problem

Registering for ACT

Registration for the ACT is simple and quick with their online registration form. Students can usually get an ACT test registration packet from their high school counselor. If no registration packets are available, students or counselors can write or call ACT -

  • ACT Registration
    P.O. Box 414
    Iowa City, IA 52243-0414
    Tel: (319) 337-1270
    8:00 am - 8:00 pm Central Time, Monday - Friday

There is a basic fee of $33 to register for the ACT. Additional fees may apply for phone registration for repeat test takers of $12, test date change fee of $20, late registration fee of $21, test center change fee of $20, etc. The basic fee includes having student’s scores sent to 4 colleges of their choice.

Act Test Dates and Locations

Test Date

   Registration Deadline

(Late Fee Required)

 September 8, 2012*

August 17, 2012

August 18 – 24, 2012

 October 27, 2012

September 21, 2012

September 22 – October 5, 2012

 December 8, 2012

November 2, 2012

November 3 – 16, 2012

 February 9, 2013**

January 11, 2013

January 12 – 18, 2013

 April 13, 2013

March 8, 2013

March 9 – 22, 2013

 June 8, 2013

May 3, 2013

May 4 – 17, 2013

 September 21, 2013


 October 26, 2013


 December 14, 2013


 February 8, 2014*


 April 12, 2014


 June 14, 2014


* This test date is available ONLY in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas & Washington ** No testing in State of New York ACT Tests are administered at high schools and test centers nationwide. Check with your high school or guidance counselor or contact ACT, Inc. for more information.