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

close up of student hand filling out a bubble on scantron

Maybe you’ve heard rumors about the ACT test 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—and links to even more great resources to help you before test day.
 

 

Table of Contents

 

 

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 $20.00 and adds 40 minutes to the exam.
Cost$60 (no Writing)$80 (with Writing)
Score Range1-36
Average Score20.7
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.

How important is the ACT test?

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.

Is the ACT test hard?

For many students, even students who are strong academically, the ACT may be a hard test at first. While the ACT does not test intelligence, it is not easy to get a perfect score; fewer than 3,000 test-takers every year score a perfect 36.

But the ACT is learnable through regular practice. You can also make the ACT significantly less hard for yourself by learning the most important content you need to learn for the test.

Go back to the table of contents


 

Subjects Covered on the ACT Test

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?

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?

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

More Information About ACT Scores

How is the ACT test scored?

The highest possible score that you can get on the ACT is 36. The lowest possible score is 1. 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 test scores for your composite score (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.

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 high school 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.

Go back to the table of contents
 

ACT Versus SAT

What is the difference between the ACT and the SAT?

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.

Is the ACT or SAT harder?

It depends on what kind of thinker you are. No, really—many schools accept both tests, which they wouldn’t give equal weight to if one were objectively easier! Very generally speaking, the SAT is more of a reasoning test, while the ACT is more content-based. Get a sense of which one would be easier for you with Magoosh’s ACT vs SAT infographic.

Should I take the ACT or the SAT or both?

Most colleges that require admissions tests will accept either the ACT or the SAT (even Harvard doesn’t have a preference!), 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. Take the one you’re scoring higher on in practice!

Still not sure, or scoring in similar percentiles on both tests? Take the SAT or ACT quiz.

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

 

Taking the ACT Test

When is the ACT test?

The ACT is offered seven times a year: in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December. The July dates are not available in New York or internationally.

Choosing an ACT test date can seem overwhelming at first, but there are some guidelines to follow to make choosing when to take the ACT easier!

For a brief peek at recent and future test dates, here are the ACT test dates for 2021 and 2022:

ACT Test Dates (2021-2022)

Test DateDeadlineLate Deadline
February 6, 2021January 8, 2021January 9-15, 2021
April 17, 2021March 12, 2021March 13-26, 2021
June 12, 2021May 7, 2021May 8-21, 2021
July 17, 2021*June 18, 2021June 19-25, 2021
September 11, 2021August 6, 2021August 20, 2021
October 23, 2021September 17, 2021October 1, 2021
December 11, 2021November 5, 2021November 19, 2021
February 12, 2022January 7, 2022January 21, 2022
April 2, 2022February 25, 2022March 11, 2022
June 11, 2022May 6, 2022May 20, 2022
July 6, 2022*June 17, 2022June 24, 2022

*Test date excludes New York and international locations.

Go back to the table of contents
 

What is the best month to take the ACT test?

When should you take the ACT exam? Whenever is best for you. Honestly, 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.
 

 

Preparing for the ACT

How should I study for the ACT test?

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. Then, check out our review of the official guide!

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

If R = 10b^2 and b = 5, then R =

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.

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!).

Just want some quick tips? Take a look at the top ways to prepare for the ACT, according to Magoosh’s experts! Then, explore your options with the best online prep recommendations.

What are some ACT test 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.

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
 

Registering for the ACT

How do I register for the ACT test?

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.

Where do I take the ACT test?

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
 

What to Expect After Taking the ACT Test

When are ACT scores released?

Your multiple-choice ACT scores will be released two weeks after the test, while your optional writing test/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.

Should I submit both SAT and ACT scores?

If you did/do end up taking both tests, you have many options for sending your scores to school. In most cases, the best thing to do is to send in your higher score, percentile-wise. Unsure if this is right for you? Find out more about sending SAT and/or ACT scores to schools!

Should I retake the ACT if I’m not happy with my score?

If you have time to do it, yes! Taking the ACT twice is actually a great idea for most students, particularly with superscoring options! While it technically doesn’t matter how many times you take the ACT, we’d recommend maxing out at 3–after that, rethink your approach, try the SAT instead, and/or focus on making other parts of your application awesome.

And before you get back into that test room? Check out Magoosh’s expert advice on studying for an ACT retake to make sure you give yourself the best shot at boosting your score!

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

By the way, Magoosh can help you study for both the SAT and ACT exams. Click here to learn more!

No comments yet.


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply