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.
|Duration||2 hrs 55 minutes without the essay||3 hrs 35 minutes with the essay|
|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)|
|Registration||Online, at least 5 weeks before the exam date.
Late registration may be available for an additional fee up to three weeks before the exam.
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?
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.
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 2020 and 2021.
|Test Date||Deadline||Late Deadline|
|July 18, 2020* (Check if your test center has cancelled here)||June 19, 2020||June 20-26, 2020|
|September 12, 2020||August 14, 2020||August 15-28, 2020
|September 13, 2020: ADDED due to Covid-19||August 14, 2020||August 15-28, 2020
|September 19, 2020: ADDED due to Covid-19||August 14, 2020||August 15-28, 2020
|October 10, 2020: ADDED due to Covid-19||September 17, 2020||September 18-25, 2020|
|October 17, 2020: ADDED due to Covid-19||September 17, 2020||September 18-25, 2020|
|October 24, 2020||September 17, 2020||September 18-25, 2020|
|October 25, 2020: ADDED due to Covid-19||September 17, 2020||September 18-25, 2020|
|December 12, 2020||November 6, 2020||November 7-20, 2020|
|February 6, 2021||January 8, 2021||January 9-15, 2021|
|April 17, 2021||March 12, 2021||March 13-26, 2021|
|June 12, 2021||May 7, 2021||May 8-21, 2021|
|July 17, 2021*||June 18, 2021||June 19-25, 2021|
*Test date excludes New York and international locations.
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.
The exam consists of five tests: English, Math, Reading, Science, and the optional Writing (Essay) test.
Within each test, what can you expect to find?
And finally, how long is each test?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
You can register for the ACT on the official ACT website.
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!
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!).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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?
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.
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!).