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ACT: Overview


What Is The ACT?

The ACT (an acronym for its original name, the American College Test) is a college-entrance achievement test produced by ACT, Inc. It emerged in 1959 as a competitor to the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test, now the SAT Reasoning Test. In February 2005, an optional writing test was added to the ACT, mirroring changes to the SAT. Almost all 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept and treat the ACT and SAT equally.

Inside the ACT: Getting to Know the ACT Exam

What Does The ACT Look Like?

The ACT is divided into four subject tests: English, Reading, Mathematics, and Science. The math section covers pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, geometry, and trigonometry. The English section covers usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills, while the reading section covers social studies and arts/literature.

The Writing section which is optional includes writing an essay.


Testing Time (minutes)




75 multiple-choice questions



60 multiple-choice questions



40 multiple-choice questions



40 multiple-choice questions

Writing (Optional)


One essay

What Does The English Section Look Like?

In the English section, you would need to read 5 passages. Portions of the passages will be underlined, and you must decide whether these portions are correct as they stand, or whether one of the answer choices is better.

What Does The Math Section Look Like?

The Math questions in the ACT are pretty straightforward and cover topics from a typical high school math class. Geometry questions account for a greater percentage of the ACT Math Section compared to the other math topics.

You are allowed to use calculators.

What Does The Science Section Look Like?

The questions in the Science section are different from the questions in your high school science test. Instead, you will be presented with science-based passages and you will be required to answer questions about them.

For example, you may be asked to read graphs, tables, diagrams, and illustrations; interpret results and design experiments. You may be presented two or three conflicting viewpoints on a scientific phenomenon. and asked to analyze, and compare the alternate viewpoints and hypotheses.

What Does The Reading Section Look Like?

The Reading Section is based on 4 types of passages: prose fiction, social studies, humanities, and natural sciences. The passages are usually excerpts from various books and magazines.

The Prose Fiction passages usually consist of a short story or a selection from a short story or novel.

The Social Studies passages covers subjects like anthropology, archaeology, business, economics, sociology, psychology, political science, education, geography, or history.

The Humanities passages covers subjects like film, language, literary criticism, music, philosophy, radio, TV, theater, personal essays, memoirs, architecture, art, and dance.

The Natural Sciences passages covers passages from astronomy to zoology, or anything related to science.

What Does The Writing Test Look Like?

As of February 2005, the ACT includes an optional essay, known as the Writing Test. In the writing test, you will be given 30 minute to complete the essay.

Each essay will be evaluated on the evidence it gives of the student's ability to do the following:

  • express judgments by taking a position on the issue in the writing prompt
  • maintain a focus on the topic throughout the essay
  • develop a position by using logical reasoning and by supporting their ideas
  • organize ideas in a logical way
  • use language clearly and effectively according to the rules of standard written English

How Long Will The ACT Take?

The ACT test takes about 4 hours 30 minutes, including administration instructions and breaks. Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes, broken down as follows: English: 45 minutes, Math: 60 minutes, Reading: 35 minutes, Science: 35 minutes.

Include another 30 minutes if you are also taking the optional Writing test.

Rotate to landscape screen format on a mobile phone or small tablet to use the Mathway widget, a free math problem solver that answers your questions with step-by-step explanations.

You can use the free Mathway calculator and problem solver below to practice Algebra or other math topics. Try the given examples, or type in your own problem and check your answer with the step-by-step explanations.

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