ACT Test Format

The ACT test lasts around 4 hours (30 minutes more if you are taking the optional writing exam). This is a general overview of the type and number of questions in each section. For a more thorough look at each part of the ACT, refer to the more detailed pages on this site for each section.

English 75 questions 45 minutes
Mathematics 60 questions 60 minutes
Reading 40 questions 35 minutes
Science 40 questions 35 minutes
Writing 1 prompt 30 minutes
Total 215 questions 175 minutes
205 minutes

Section 1: English

The English section of the ACT has 75 questions in 45 minutes. Yes, you read that right! You will have to hone your test-taking and English grammar and mechanic skills so that you can answer about two questions per minute. The test consists of 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. Some questions focus on usage and mechanics – issues such as commas, apostrophes, (misplaced/dangling) modifiers, colons, fragments, and run-ons. Other questions focus on rhetorical skills – style (clarity and brevity), strategy, transitions, and organization (sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a passage.)

Section 2: Mathematics

The Mathematics section of the ACT has 60 questions in 60 minutes. The areas which are covered are pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry, and elementary trigonometry. Calculators are permitted in this section only, but computer algebra systems are not allowed. However, the ACT permits calculators with paper tapes, that make noise (but must be disabled), or that have power cords with certain “modifications” (i.e., disabling the mentioned features).

At this point, you will be given a short break.

Section 3: Reading

The Reading section of the ACT has 40 questions in 35 minutes. You will be given reading passages covering various topics, such as prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. This test measures how well you can understand and apply knowledge from things that you have read. Skills that will be tested include determining main ideas, statements with implied meanings, understanding sequencing and the ability to analyze the narrator’s voice and method.

Section 4: Science Reasoning

The Science section of the ACT has 40 questions in 35 minutes. There are reading passages, often accompanied by displays of data in charts and/or graphs, followed by questions. The questions require you to recognize and understand the basic features of, and concepts related to, the provided information, examine critically the relationship between the information provided and the conclusions drawn or hypotheses developed, and generalize from given information and draw conclusions, gain new information, or make predictions.

If you are taking the Writing exam, you will get a break between the Science and Writing exams. Otherwise, you will be done after the Science exam.

Optional Writing Exam

The optional ACT Writing section 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. You are asked to respond to a question about your position on the issue described in the writing prompt. In doing so, you may adopt one or the other of the perspectives described in the prompt, or you may present a different point of view on the issue. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.

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