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The ACT is a standardized test used for college admissions in the United States. It is currently administered by ACT, a nonprofit organization of the same name. The ACT test covers four academic skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. It also offers an optional direct writing test.

Knowledge / skills tested: English, math, reading, science, writing (optional)

Annual number of test takers: Over 1.91 million high school graduates in the class of 2018

Scores / grades used by: Colleges or universities offering undergraduate programs (mostly in the US and Canada)

Year started: 1959

Purpose: Undergraduate admissions (mostly in the US and Canadian universities or colleges)

Offered: US and Canada: 7 times a year. Other countries: 5 times a year.


The purpose of the ACT test is to measure a high school student’s readiness for college, and provide colleges with one common data point that can be used to compare all applicants. College admissions officers will review standardized test scores alongside your high school GPA, the classes you took in high school, letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors, extracurricular activities, admissions interviews, and personal essays. How important ACT scores are in the college application process varies from school to school.

Overall, the higher you score on the ACT and/or SAT, the more options for attending and paying for college will be available to you.

When should I take the ACT?

Most high school students take the ACT, SAT, or both during the spring of their junior year or fall of their senior year. It’s important to leave time to re-take the test if you need to raise your score before you apply to college. The ACT exam is offered nationally every year in September, October, December, February, April, June, and July. 

What is on the ACT?

There are four ACT sections:

  • English
  • Reading
  • Math
  • Science

How long is the ACT?

The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long. If you choose to take the ACT with Essay, the test will be 3 hours and 35 minutes long.

How is the ACT scored?

Each section of the ACT is scored on a 1 to 36 point scale. Your composite ACT score is the average of your four section scores, also on a scale from 1 to 36. If you take the ACT with Writing Test, you will receive a separate score on the Writing Test.

Should I take the ACT or the SAT?

Most colleges and universities will accept scores from either the SAT or ACT, and do not favor one test over the other. That said, college-bound students are increasingly taking both the SAT and ACT. Changes made to the SAT in 2016 have made it easier than ever to prep for both tests concurrently—and earn competitive scores on both! The best way to decide if taking the SAT, ACT, or both tests is right for you is to take a timed full-length practice test of each type. Since the content and style of the SAT and ACT are very similar, factors like how you handle time pressure and what types of questions you find most challenging can help you determine which test is a better fit. Try our QUIZ: SAT, ACT, or Both?

How do I register for the ACT?

Registration deadlines fall approximately five weeks before each ACT test date. You can get registration materials from your school counselor, or you can register online on the ACT website.


Section Number of questions Time (minutes) Score Range Average score (2018) College Readiness Benchmark Content
English 75 45 1–36 20.2 18 Usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills
Mathematics 60 60 1–36 20.5 22 Pre-algebra,
elementary algebra,
intermediate algebra,
coordinate geometry,
elementary trigonometry,
and problem
Reading 40 35 1–36 21.3 22 Reading
Science 40 35 1–36 20.7 23 Interpretation,
reasoning, and
Optional Writing Test (not included in composite score) 1 essay prompt 40 1–12 6.5 Writing skills
Composite 1–36 20.8 Average (mean) of all section scores except Writing


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