ACT: What You Need to Know

If you want to get into your preferred college or university, you must work hard to accomplish your goals. Specifically, you need to take the ACT. ACT used to stand for “American College Testing,” but these days the term simply stands for the test itself. It’s similar to the SATs in scope and goal – a standardized measure of high school students’ overall proficiencies and readiness to tackle college work.

After all, the leap from high school to college is significant, and students need to be prepared to handle the responsibilities that lie ahead. The ACT is one of the simplest ways to determine whether students are prepared, so learning all you can about ACT is important. This simple ACT overview will provide you with everything you need to know about the ACT, from its overall format to developing studying habits that can help you ace your test.

ACT Overview

The ACT was introduced in 1959 as an alternative to the SAT, another standardized test that colleges and universities use to measure the aptitude of high school students. Nowadays, the ACT is accepted by almost every college and university, making it the standard for college testing systems.

The importance of the SAT still depends on your chosen college. Some institutions do not require ACT scores for student admissions. However, this is more of an exception rather than a rule. Many colleges require ACT scores, which play a significant role in your academic future.

As such, it’s important that you take your ACT exam seriously so that you don’t limit your opportunities as far as colleges and institutions go. 

ACT Format

The test is separated into five sections, with one section being optional (but recommended). These sections include English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (optional). Aside from the writing section, the ACT is a multiple-choice type of test. Those who are knowledgeable in each content area and are also skilled at making educated guesses are more likely to ace the test.

The format of each section is as follows:


This section is composed of 75 questions, and you’re given 45 minutes to finish it.


This section is composed of 60 questions, and you’re given 60 minutes to finish it.


This section is composed of 40 questions, and you’re given 35 minutes to finish it.


This section is composed of 40 questions, and you’re given 35 minutes to finish it.

The Writing section is only composed of one question, and you’re given 40 minutes to write an essay. It’s recommended that you take the ACT writing test as it gives admission officers a clearer picture of whether they should accept you or not. However, taking the writing test will cost you more

As in any test, you can expect to encounter questions that vary in difficulty. Since they’re multiple-choice questions, they can also be tricky. For example, you might encounter questions such as these in the Reading section:

In the above passage, the main character’s decision to leave their homestead was motivated by the following:

  1. Wanderlust and a general desire for adventure.
  2. A longing for something more out of life.
  3. A chance to live independently of their family.
  4. Fear of stagnation.

ACT Registration and Schedule

Fortunately, registering for the ACT is relatively easy as they offer the exams several times a year. The months typically include February, April, June, July, September, October, and December. However, remember that not all test centers offer the ACT in the specified months, so you must plan carefully.

Since the ACT is usually taken by high school students preparing for college admissions, it’s typically taken during spring (junior year) or fall (senior year). These test dates are ideal for helping students get a spot in the test center without having to push for tight deadlines.

The registration and testing fees for the ACT vary. It’s best to check their official website for pricing updates.

ACT Preparation Tips

Preparing for the ACT is crucial, as it will determine which colleges and universities accept your application. It’s a good idea to remember a few essential tips for study, including:

  • Brushing up on the ACT sections where you feel you struggle the most
  • Reviewing various ACT practice test materials online 
  • Studying regularly to ensure you remember your notes
  • Using different study techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique and the use of  flashcards
  • Taking regular breaks to ensure you don’t experience burnout

ACT Scoring

One of the first things to remember when looking into the ACT scoring system is that there are no passing and failing scores. The ACT measures your aptitude, nothing more and nothing less. But, of course, the scores still matter, as many colleges and universities have a minimum score you have to achieve before they accept your application.

The overall scoring system of the ACT ranges from 1 to 36. The four primary sections of ACT are also rated at 1 to 36, with the Writing score ranging from 2 to 12. Remember that the writing score does not factor into the composite score of the entire test and is usually kept separate.

As far as what is considered an acceptable score, it depends on your chosen college or university. Many institutions are fine with a final score of 20, but the more prestigious schools might require scores of around 30 and above.

Retaking the ACT

It can be disheartening to retake the ACT, but there’s no need to worry. There are no limits on how many times you can retake the test. However, there are some rules to follow.

You need to wait at least two months (60 days) between tests, even if you can register for the next test immediately. Take advantage of the waiting period. Take a breath and figure out how to improve your scores.

Secure Your Future

The ACT can be stressful for many. After all, most standardized exams tend to challenge people and have them second-guess their answers. Fortunately, understanding the upcoming exam gives you many opportunities to achieve a high score and the best chance at getting into your college of choice.