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The ACT Test: Everything You Need to Know About the ACT

ACT Test-magoosh

Maybe you’ve heard rumors about the ACT floating around and you want to confirm them, or maybe you just want a treasure trove of information about the exam all in one place. In either case, you’re on the right page! Here, you’ll find everything you need to know about the ACT test—and links to even more great resources to help you before test day.
 

The ACT Test in a Nutshell: What You Need to Know

 

Duration2 hrs 55 minutes without the essay3 hrs 35 minutes with the essay
Sections
  • English

  • Math

  • Reading

  • Science

  • Writing (optional)
  • 75 questions; 45 minutes

  • 60 questions; 60 minutes

  • 40 questions; 35 minutes

  • 40 questions; 35 minutes

  • 1 question; 40 minutes
Essay?Optional, known as ACT Writing.The ACT Essay costs an additional $16.00 and adds 40 minutes to the exam.
Cost$52 (no Writing)$68 (with Writing)
Score Range1-36
Average Score20
RegistrationOnline, at least 5 weeks before the exam date.

Late registration may be available for an additional fee up to three weeks before the exam.


 

Table of Contents

 


 

What Is the ACT Test?

The ACT test is a standardized test that assesses a student’s college readiness. Colleges and universities use ACT scores during the admissions process, as one of several methods of assessing a student’s eligibility. You can learn more about the test on the ACT’s official website.

The ACT exam is made up of five “tests” (ACT lingo for “sections”): English, Math, Reading, Science, and the optional Writing (essay) section. They are always presented in this order. For more about the timing of each section, and for links to even more resources, check out What Subjects Does the ACT Test Cover?

Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

 

When Is the ACT?

The ACT is offered seven times a year: in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December. The February and July dates are not available in New York or international locations, while the July date is not available in California.

Learn more about the ACT test with our ACT test dates post.

Choosing an ACT test date can seem overwhelming at first, but there are some guidelines to follow to make it easier! The above post also includes a quiz that will tell you what your best date(s) will be.

For a brief peek at recent and future test dates, here are the ACT test dates for 2019 and 2020.

ACT Test Dates (2019-2020)

Test DateDeadlineLate DeadlineScores First Available
September 14, 2019August 16, 2019August 17-30, 2019September 24, 2019
October 26, 2019September 20, 2019September 21-October 4, 2019November 12, 2019
December 14, 2019November 8, 2019November 9-22, 2019December 26, 2019
February 8, 2020January 10, 2020January 11-17, 2020February 25, 2020
April 4, 2020: CANCELLEDFebruary 28, 2020February 29-March 13, 2020April 14, 2020
June 13, 2020 (Check if your test center has cancelled here)May 8, 2020May 9-22, 2020June 23, 2020
July 18, 2020* (Check if your test center has cancelled here)June 19, 2020June 20-26, 2020July 28, 2020

*These are projected registration and score release dates based on past history. The ACT has not yet released precise dates for these events, though they have released the test dates themselves. This chart will be updated when the test-makers do update this info!

**Test date excludes New York and international locations.

***The July test is a new addition to the ACT schedule! It debuted in 2018. This test date excludes New York, California, and international locations. For more info, check out our post, Who Should Take the New July ACT?

Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.
 

Are All ACT Tests the Same?

No matter which test date you choose, it’s all the same test. Yes, different versions of the ACT will appear on different dates, yet these differences have no impact on students’ final scores. ACT spends a lot of money vetting its questions so that the standardized tests it offers are, you know, standardized. So it really doesn’t matter which Humanities passage you read on the Reading Test, or which equations you tackle on the Math Test; you should get around the same score on any test date.

Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

 

What Subjects Does the ACT Test Cover?

The exam consists of five tests: English, Math, Reading, Science, and the optional Writing (Essay) test.

Learn more about the ACT test with our post on the most important things to study.

Within each test, what can you expect to find?

SubjectTopics
English
  • Production of Writing

  • Knowledge of Language

  • Conventions of Standard English

Math
  • Pre-Algebra

  • Elementary Algebra

  • Algebra/Coordinate Geometry

  • Plane Geometry

  • Trigonometry
Reading
  • Social Sciences

  • Sciences

  • Arts

  • Literature
Science
  • Physical Sciences

  • Biology

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

And finally, how long is each test?

  • The ACT English Test has 75 test questions and takes 45 minutes.
  • The ACT Math test has 60 questions and takes 60 minutes.
  • The ACT Reading Test has 40 test questions and takes 35 minutes.
  • The ACT Science test has 40 test questions and takes 35 minutes.
  • The ACT Writing test (essay) has 1 test question and takes 40 minutes.
  • Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    Do I Need to Take the ACT?

    Most colleges require the ACT or SAT. Almost all will accept either test, so you don’t necessarily need to take the ACT. Furthermore, some schools have test-optional admissions policies now. However, some states do require the ACT for high school graduation.

    Learn more about the ACT test with our post on states that require the ACT.

    Yep, some states do require the ACT; others require the SAT. You can find out where on this great ACT/SAT map. The good news is that some of these states will let you take the ACT for free. If you were going to take it anyway, that’s $52 back in your pocket!

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    How Important Is the ACT?

    The ACT is not the most important factor in college admissions. Those are your curriculum and grades. However, it is one metric that colleges use to measure your application against those of other applicants, so getting a competitive score for the schools you’re applying to is important. In most cases, it is also likely the first thing that college admissions officers will see about your application!

    You can find out more about how colleges use your ACT score and the average ACT scores for the top 100 U.S. colleges in our ACT Score Range post.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    Should I Take the ACT or the SAT?

    Most colleges that require admissions tests will accept either the ACT or the SAT, so determining which test you’ll perform better on is key. Students tend to score in a higher percentile on one test or the other.

    Learn more about the ACT test with our SAT versus ACT infographic.

    The ACT and the SAT more closely resemble each other after recent changes, but they still have their differences! You can find out more in ACT vs SAT: The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Right Test and Magoosh’s ACT vs SAT infographic. Still not sure? Take the SAT or ACT quiz.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    How Do I Register for the ACT?

    You can register for the ACT on the official ACT website.

    If you’re still not sure when and where to take the test, you can jump around a bit and read When Is the ACT? and Where Do I Take the ACT?, in the following section.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    Where Do I Take the ACT?

    There are thousands of ACT locations across the United States and internationally. You can find the ACT test center nearest you on the official ACT website.

    Even though there are tons and tons of ACT testing centers, remember that you might have to travel a while to get to the one nearest you with spots open. This is particularly true if you register late. Magoosh expert Kristin will tell you more about how to do well on ACT test day in this video!

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    Is the ACT Hard?

    The ACT is learnable. Most students find that taking it does not come naturally to them at first; however, regular practice can make the test seem a lot more manageable (a.k.a. easy!).

    Learn more about the ACT test with our post on how hard the ACT is.

    For more about the difficulty level of the ACT, check out How Hard Is the ACT?

    You can also make the ACT significantly less hard for yourself by learning ACT math formulas! And if you really want to ramp up your ACT practice, check out some of the hardest practice problems in each subject here:

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    How Is the ACT Scored?

    The highest possible score that you can get on the ACT is 36. This is a scaled score—to scale your practice test scores, be sure to use our official raw to scaled score chart. ACT scoring is fairly complicated, but we have a comprehensive guide to ACT scores that can help you out.

    Learn more about the ACT test with our ACT raw score conversion chart.

    The ACT scores each test (except Writing) from 1-36, and then averages these scores for your composite, or overall, score.

    Of course, there are fewer than 36 problems in some sections, and more than 36 problems in others. That’s why your final, 1-36 score (your scaled score) isn’t the same thing as the number of questions you got right (your raw score). Check out how to convert your raw ACT score to a scaled score.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    What Is a Good ACT Score?

    A good ACT score is the one that helps you get into the college of your dreams! For most students, scoring above average, 20 or higher, is a good ACT score. For those applying to elite colleges, scores in the 93rd percentile (30+) or even the 98th percentile (33+) are good ACT scores.

    Learn more about the ACT test with our post on ACT scores.

    For a more detailed answer to this question, check out ACT Score Range: What Is a Good ACT Score? for info about the top 100 U.S. colleges’ average scores, scores for scholarships, scores for the Ivy League, and more.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    What ACT Score Do I Need to Get into My School of Choice?

    To stand a good chance of getting into your dream school, aim for an ACT score that falls between the colleges’ 25th-75th percentiles for admitted students. The higher, the better!

    Learn more about the ACT test with our post on ACT scores for the top U.S. colleges.

    If you have a school of choice in mind (or even schools), or just want to get a general sense of things, you can find the average ACT scores for the top 100 U.S. colleges here.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    When Are ACT Scores Released?

    Your multiple-choice ACT scores will be released two weeks after the test, while your essay scores will be released four weeks after the test. Be prepared, though: in unusual cases, it may take up to eight weeks to get your multiple-choice scores.

    If you’re one of those students still waiting after two weeks, or you just want more info, you can read what the ACT has to say about late score release.

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    How Can I Best Prepare for the ACT?

    Start your ACT preparation off on the right foot by taking an ACT diagnostic test. Once you know what your strengths and weaknesses are, you can set an ACT study schedule that fits your needs. Take a look at any or all of the following for inspiration!

    To keep yourself on-target, check out our study habits tracker!

    Learn more about the ACT test with our free ACT practice test PDF.

    You’ll find our top recommendations for ACT prep materials with your ACT study schedule, but you can read our in-depth reviews of ACT books for even more info!

    Want a taste? Try this ACT math question of the day:

    The equation y = x^2 is graphed in the standard (x,y) coordinate plane below. In which of the following equations is the graph of the parabola shifted 4 units to the left and 2 units up?

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.

     

    What Are Some ACT Resources for Parents and Educators?

    The ACT offers information about the test for educators, including information about bringing the ACT to your school. Magoosh can help by providing tailored ACT prep solutions for your students, as well.

    Learn more about the ACT test with Magoosh's blog for schools.

    Parents and educators will find information about the ACT for students helpful, as well. After all, how better to learn about the test than to walk a mile in your student’s shoes?

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.


     

    Where Can I Go to Find ACT Study Resources?

    Magoosh offers an ACT eBook for even more free info on the ACT test, including practice problems and strategies. This great PDF resource can help you maximize your score and round out your knowledge of every aspect of the ACT, from learning about the test format to figuring out how to calculate your scores.

    Learn more about the ACT test with Magoosh's ACT eBook.

    We’re also thrilled to announce ACT Prep by Magoosh, Magoosh’s ACT guide with everything you need to know before test day (including tons of practice problems and expert-written tests!).

    Go back to the table of contents in our post on the ACT Test.