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The American College Test (ACT)

When applying to colleges, there are numerous factors to consider, including coursework, location, size and expenses, just to name a few. However, in order to narrow down the possibilities, taking the ACT exam is beneficial, and, in some cases, required. While this exam can be both difficult and time consuming, consistency and preparation are key, and once finished, you will have a better idea of which university is right for you. Learning more about the ACT, what it is, the parts involved and how to best anticipate what to expect is not only crucial for success, but will also help to optimize your results.

What is the ACT?

The ACT exam, or American College Test, is a national standardized test that serves as a measurement of aptitude and critical thinking. Colleges and universities in the United States carefully review exam results when admitting students to schools. ACT scores are an important factor of consideration. Therefore, performing well on the ACT is a key component to your future.


Registering for the exam can be done in two ways: online or via post. Of course, registering online is the most efficient manner. The only reason you should be registering by mail is if you are under the age of 13 or do not wish to pay by credit card. The general cost to take the exam, without the writing section, is $36.50. With the writing section, the cost increases to $52.50. For additional registration fee questions, you can reference the ACT website.

Parts of the Exam

The ACT exam is composed of four different sections, as well as one optional writing section. Some schools recommend taking this optional writing section, while others do not. Whether you should or not depends on the school you are applying to and what kind of programs you are applying for. It is essential to research the schools you are interested in and understand the requirements before signing up for the ACT. When in doubt, however, it might be best just to take the writing portion of the exam, as it only adds 30 minutes to the clock.

Unlike the SAT exam, the ACT has a science section, which requires additional preparation, of course. That being said, however, all the information provided in the questions is sufficient and drawing on outside knowledge is by no means necessary.

Let’s look at a basic breakdown of the ACT according to the section, number of questions and time allotted.

Section Number of Questions Time Allotted
English 75 questions 45 minutes
Mathematics 60 questions 60 minutes
Reading 40 questions 35 minutes
Science 40 questions 35 minutes
Writing (Optional) 1 prompt 30 minutes

With the exception of the Mathematics section, which offers a five-choice multiple-choice structure, the other sections are all four-choice multiple choice. The writing section is an essay prompt, and therefore does not include multiple choice style answers.

Question Content

So, what is the ACT really and what kind of skills are required? The required skills vary according to section.

This section primarily tests grammar & usage, punctuation, sentence structure, strategy, organization, and style.
Some subjects reviewed in this section include pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry, and trigonometry.
This section of the exam challenges reading comprehension based on question content. Just as with the other sections of the exam, you must deduce based on the information provided.
The science portion of the test challenges interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem solving.
The writing section tests just that: writing skills. It will test your ability to create and defend an argument in a clear and concise manner.

Preparing for Success

There are two components necessary for a positive outcome on the ACT exam: consistency and practice. Cramming is simply not the route to take here. Let’s examine these two ingredients more closely:


A little goes a long way when preparing for this type of an exam. While it can be exhausting both physically and mentally, just like training for a race, it is necessary to be consistent and build up your stamina. For example, studying and doing practice exams for an hour each day, rather than spending five hours in one day, is much preferred. This way, you will become more familiar with the test and the more comfortable you feel with the exam, the better.


The expression “practice makes perfect” definitely applies here. While your exam grades may not be exactly perfect, what is most essential is improvement. Mimicking exam conditions is advisable. Since you will be taking the exam in silence, don’t practice with music. Drink and eat what you would on exam day, and complete each section in one sitting. Before you know it, you will be able to sit for nearly four hours straight with ease! Timing yourself is also crucial, especially if you have difficulty finishing a section. Give yourself a time limit for each question, and if you have time at the end to go back, do. This way you don’t waste time on questions you don’t know. Time is precious on this test, so make sure not to waste it! If you require additional ACT help, explore enrolling in an ACT prep course. There are several companies that offer ACT prep courses, including Prep Expert. Prep Expert employs instructors who have scored in the top 1% of ACT test takers, guaranteeing a score improvement or your money back.

If you employ both consistency and practice in your studying, you are sure to have a recipe for success!

After the Exam: What now?

So begins the waiting game. As aforementioned, test scores are posted generally two weeks after the exam date online. You have the option of sending your scores to the colleges you are applying to through the website. The scores will not be sent until both the multiple choice and writing section results are available.

Upon completion of this article, you should have a greater understanding of the ACT exam and be able to answer the following questions: What is the ACT? How does it influence my future? When is it offered? Where can I take the exam? What sections does the exam have? How do I prepare for the test? This list is by no means exhaustive, but, if you can answer these questions, you will be able to tackle the ACT exam with confidence and ease. Continue to practice, be consistent, and don’t get discouraged. Good luck!

Explore an ACT Prep service to see how you can improve your score.

Find Colleges and Universities that Don’t Require an Admission Essay to Apply.

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