ACT Test Structure
What's On the ACT?
The ACT consists of four multiple-choice, timed tests: English, Math, Reading, and Science, always given in that order. The ACT Plus Writing also includes an essay, with the Writing test given after the Science test. (ACT calls them tests, but we may also use the term "sections" to avoid confusion.) In Parts II–VI, we'll thoroughly review the content and strategies you need for each test.
1. English Test (45 minutes—75 questions)
In this section, you will see five essays on the left side of the page. Some words or phrases will be underlined. On the right side of the page, you will be asked whether the underlined portion is correct as written or whether one of the three alternatives listed would be better. This is a test of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills. Throughout each essay, commonly known as a "passage," there will also be questions about overall organization and style or perhaps about how the writing could be revised or strengthened.
2. Math Test (60 minutes—60 questions)
These are the regular, multiple-choice math questions you've been doing all your life. The easier questions, which test basic math proficiency, tend to come first, but the folks at ACT can mix in easy, medium, and difficult problems throughout the Math test. A good third of the test covers pre-algebra and elementary algebra. Slightly less than a third covers intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry (graphing). Regular geometry accounts for less than a quarter of the questions, and there are four questions that cover trigonometry.
3. Reading Test (35 minutes—40 questions)
In this test, there will be four reading passages of about 800 words each—the average length of a People magazine article but maybe not as interesting. There is always one prose fiction passage, one social science passage, one humanities passage, and one natural science passage, and they are always in that order. After reading each passage, you have to answer 10 questions.
4. Science Test (35 minutes—40 questions)
No specific scientific knowledge is necessary for the Science test. You won't need to know the chemical makeup of hydrochloric acid or any formulas. Instead, you will be asked to understand six sets of scientific information presented in graphs, charts, tables, and research summaries, and you will have to make sense of one disagreement between two or three scientists. (Occasionally, there are more than three scientists.)
5. Optional Writing Test (30 minutes)
The ACT Plus Writing contains an "optional" writing test featuring a single essay. We recommend you take the "ACT Plus Writing," version of the test because many if not most schools require it. While on test day you may think you don't need it, you might later decide to apply to a school that requires a writing score. The last thing you want is to be forced into taking the whole ACT all over again … this time with the Writing test. The essay consists of a prompt "relevant" to high school students on which you will be asked to write an essay stating your position on the prompt. Two people will then grade your essay on a scale of 1 to 6 for a total score of 2 to 12.