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
- Subjects Covered on the ACT Test
- More Information About ACT Scores
- ACT Versus SAT
- Taking the ACT Test
- Preparing for the ACT
- Registering for the ACT
- What to Expect After Taking the ACT Test
The ACT Test in a Nutshell: What You Need to Know
|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 $20.00 and adds 40 minutes to the exam.|
|Cost||$60 (no Writing)||$80 (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.
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.
Subjects Covered on the ACT Test
Within each test, what can you expect to find?
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 (optional essay) has 1 test question and takes 40 minutes.
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.
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.
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.
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 Date||Deadline||Late Deadline|
|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|
|September 11, 2021||August 6, 2021||August 20, 2021|
|October 23, 2021||September 17, 2021||October 1, 2021|
|December 11, 2021||November 5, 2021||November 19, 2021|
|February 12, 2022||January 7, 2022||January 21, 2022|
|April 2, 2022||February 25, 2022||March 11, 2022|
|June 11, 2022||May 6, 2022||May 20, 2022|
|July 6, 2022*||June 17, 2022||June 24, 2022|
*Test date excludes New York and international locations.
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.
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!
- One Week ACT Study Schedule
- One Month ACT Study Schedule
- Two Month ACT Study Schedule
- Three Month ACT Study Schedule
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:
The total cost to rent a tour bus for a day is the same for any party over fifteen. If the cost is $720 for a group of sixteen, how much less would a group of twenty-four riders have to pay per person than a group of sixteen?
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!).
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?
Registering for the ACT
How do I register for the ACT test?
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!
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!