The ACT: An Overview


What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test that measures college readiness.

What is on the ACT?

There are four sections and an optional writing section.

English Section (45 minutes)

The English section is made up of five passages with seventy-five questions that cover grammar, rhetoric and passage structure. Students are asked to correct underlined sections as needed.

Math Section (60 minutes)

The math section is a sixty minute, sixty question test. The test is made up of the following question types:

  • 14 questions on pre-algebra,
  • 10 on elementary algebra,
  • 9 on intermediate algebra,
  • 14 on plane geometry,
  • 9 on coordinate geometry, and
  • 4 on elementary trigonometry.

Reading Section (35 minutes)

The reading section consists of four reading passages with ten questions each.

Science Section (35 minutes)

The science section is made up of seven passages with five to seven questions each, for a total of 40 questions. There are three data representation passages with five questions each, three research summary passages with six questions each and one conflicting viewpoints passage with seven questions.

Optional writing test (30 minutes)

The optional writing test is given at the end of the exam. Students are given a prompt and asked to respond.

When do people take the ACT?

The ACT is administered four times a year. We recommend taking the test three times during junior and senior year.

What score do I need to get on the ACT?

The highest score one can get on the ACT is a 36.  The most selective schools require scores between 31-36, highly selective schools usually require scores between 27-30, selective schools require scores between 25-27, less selective schools require 22-24 and the least selective schools require scores between 18-21.

If I take the test multiple times, can I mix and match the sections on which I’ve scored the highest?

No. The ACT requires that you send in scores from a complete test.

Why do some people take the ACT instead of the SAT?

Please see our ACT vs. SAT article.  

How does Central Park Tutors prepare students for the ACT?

Student begin by taking a diagnostic exam. Based on the diagnosis and student's goals, the tutor and the tutee develop a study plan. Then using official ACT materials, Central Park Tutors’s tutors work sequentially and systematically through the easiest to the hardest questions as the student is prepared.

Where can I find official tests?

Eleven official practice tests are available .

Here are four free official tests:

Test#1:  Preparing for the ACT 2007-08 (Form 61C)

Test#2: Preparing for the ACT 2013-14 (Form 67C, 2009 June Test

The Real ACT Prep Guide 3rd Edition has five practice tests.

The ACT Online Prep from the ACT test writers includes two online full length practice tests.  The “prep” course provides little if any prep but is worth the expense for access to the two official tests. Cost: $21.95.

Additional Resources

General Information:


College Confidential:

Have you or your kids struggled with this? If so, we'd love to hear about it and strategies you took to overcome it in the comments below!

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