ACT® Sections and Test Format
The ACT® is a standardized test used by many U.S. colleges and universities as part of the admissions process for undergraduate college programs. In order to get started with your test prep, it is important to first familiarize yourself with how the ACT is structured. Read this comprehensive guide to know everything about the ACT format, sections, duration, question types, and more
How Is the ACT Structured?
The ACT test consists of four compulsory sections plus one optional section: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (optional), lasting for 2 hours 55 minutes (3 hours 35 minutes if you take the Writing section). There are a total of 215 questions on the ACT test. All the questions on the ACT are multiple-choice, and the optional writing section comprises one long essay question.
Below we've broken down each ACT section by the total number of questions and duration.
How is each section scored on the ACT?
Each section of the ACT—English, Math, Reading, and Science is graded separately. One point is awarded for each correct answer, and you don’t lose points for wrong answers or unanswered questions. Once the entire test is scored, the four section scores are averaged to create your ACT final score, ranging from 1-36. Note that the optional essay section score highlights your writing and critical thinking abilities but does not contribute to your final ACT score in any way.
To learn in detail about how the ACT sections are scored, read our ACT scoring guide.
How many versions of the ACT test are there?
The ACT test is available in two versions: paper and online/digital. While the majority of US students take the paper ACT, the online test known as the ACT Computer-Based Test (CBT) is the only version of the ACT available for international students. The paper ACT and CBT are the exact same tests - same sections, duration, types, number of questions, and scoring system. The only difference between the two versions is how these tests are administered. Note that you cannot take the CBT from home on your computer. It needs to be taken at school or a testing center.
It is important to keep in mind that you cannot select which ACT test version you want to take. Here are the current guidelines about who can take the paper test or the CBT.
|Test Takers||ACT Test Version|
|US students on national test dates||Paper only|
|US students on a school day||May vary depending on state/district|
|International students (outside US)||CBT only|
Now that we have covered the overall ACT structure, let's learn more about the format of each ACT section and the kinds of questions you can expect on them.
ACT English Format
The ACT English test is worth 25% of the total test score. It contains a total of 75 questions from five passages to be answered in 45 minutes. The questions in this section evaluate your usage and/or mechanics and rhetorical skills and check your knowledge of grammar rules, punctuation, and sentence construction.
Below is the list of question types you can expect on the English Test:
- Production of Writing
- Topic Development
- Organization, Unity, and Cohesion
- Knowledge of Language
- Convention of Standard English
- Sentence Structure and Formation
ACT Math Format
The ACT Math section accounts for 25% of the total score. It consists of 60 questions to be answered in 60 minutes. Unlike the other multiple-choice sections on the ACT, where you get four answer choices, the math section provides you with five answer choices. This section checks the math knowledge required for a first-year college program. To solve the math questions, you do not need to know all the advanced math concepts, but you should be good at basic formulas and computational skills. Note that you are allowed to use a calculator on the math test.
The following are the math categories that you will find in this section:
- Preparing for Higher Math
- Number & Quantity
- Statistics & Probability
- Integrating Essential Skills
ACT Reading Format
The ACT Reading test makes up 25% of the total ACT score. It includes 40 questions from four passages to be answered in 35 minutes. These four passages include three standalone passages and one paired set that needs to be read together. This ACT section evaluates your reading and reasoning skills and provides the kind of text you will find in entry-level college courses.
You will find the following five types of questions in the reading section:
- Central idea questions
- Detailed questions
- Vocabulary questions
- Function and development questions
- Implied ideas questions
ACT Science Format
The ACT Science test contributes to 25% of the total ACT score. It has 40 questions that come from seven passages, and you have 35 minutes to answer them. In this section, you will find problems related to natural sciences like physics, biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and meteorology. The questions test your analytical, reasoning, and comprehension skills and require you to interpret data from the graphs, charts, and figures given in the passages.
The three types of questions that you will see in the science section are:
- Interpretation of Data
- Scientific Investigation
- Evaluation of Models, inferences, and experimental results
ACT Writing Format
The ACT Writing section does not affect your total ACT score. It is scored separately by two graders on a scale of 2–12. In this section, you will be given a passage to read and asked to write an essay to express your opinions on the central theme in 40 minutes. You will be assessed on your understanding of the author’s viewpoints and opinions and your ability to build your essay around them.
Your essay will be scored on the following domains:
- Idea and analysis
- Development and support
- Language use and convention
Now that you know everything about the ACT sections and their format, it is time to start your test prep. By using UWorld’s ACT practice test, you will be able to find thousands of exam-like questions and detailed answer explanations. Our practice test also provides performance tracking tools, which will help you improve your weak areas and achieve your target score. Sign up for your free trial today!