What is on the ACT® Exam?

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For students looking to take a college-readiness test like the ACT exam, there is often a feeling of nervousness and uncertainty. After all, this is a high-stakes test with a lot on the line.

One of the best ways to overcome your nerves and build confidence before test day is to become familiar with the exam ahead of time. When you know what your test will look like, how much time you have to complete questions, and what information will be covered, you can prepare in advance and walk into the exam center with poise and an assurance that you are ready to perform at your very best.

If you are considering taking the ACT exam, here are some things you need to know about the type of content that you will face:


The ACT exam consists of four mandatory sections and one optional section: English, Math, Reading, Science, and Writing (optional). The exam lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes (3 hours and 35 minutes if you elect to take the optional Writing section). There are a total of 215 questions on the ACT test and all of the questions have multiple-choice answer options. The order of the exam content is as follows:

English (45 minutes)
Math (60 minutes)
Break (10 minutes)
Reading (35 minutes)
Science (35 minutes)
End of exam or Break (5 minutes)
Writing (optional) (40 minutes)

English Section

The English section of the ACT test examines:

  • Conventions of Standard English (sentence structure, sentence formation, punctuation, usage)
  • Knowledge of Language (correct word choice, maintain consistency in style and tone)
  • Production of Writing (understand rhetorical aspects of texts, identify parts of text, evaluate relevance of material, ensure text flows smoothly, effective introduction and conclusion)

There are 75 questions on the English section of the ACT exam and you are given 45 minutes to complete this section. That is an average of 36 seconds per question. Every question is a multiple-choice question with four answer choices.

Math Section

The Math section of the ACT exam tests six basic categories of math, all of which should have been covered by the end of your junior year in high school. The categories of math you will see on the ACT exam are:

  • Elementary Algebra
  • Intermediate Algebra
  • Pre-Algebra
  • Coordinate Geometry
  • Plane Geometry
  • Trigonometry

Unlike the SAT® exam, you will not be provided with math formulas on the ACT exam. However, you are allowed to use a calculator on the ACT exam. (The SAT exam has a Math section that does not permit the use of a calculator.)

The Math section of the test has fewer questions than the English section and allows for more time. There are 60 questions on the Math section and you are given 60 minutes to complete the section. That is an average of one minute per question. Each question is a multiple-choice question with five answer choices to consider.

**After a 10-minute break, you will now move on to the Reading section of the ACT test.**

Reading Section

The Reading section of the ACT exam consists of four sections. Three of the sections have one long passage of content and one of the sections gives you two shorter passages. In these passages, reading comprehension is tested. This section of the exam is built to measure your understanding of the following:

  • Craft and Structure (understanding the perspective of the author, determine the meaning of words and phrases, analyze the points of view of characters)
  • Key Ideas and Details (central themes, ascertain inferences and conclusions, understand cause-effect relationships)
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (the difference between opinions and facts, understanding the construction of arguments, evaluate evidence from various sources)

The Reading section of the test has 40 questions, and you are expected to complete this section in 35 minutes. This allows for 52 seconds per question. Every question is a multiple-choice question with four answer choices to consider.

Science Section

Another difference between the SAT and the ACT exam is that the ACT exam has a Science section.

The Science section of the ACT exam is made up of seven passages. You will be asked to interpret charts, tables, figures, and graphs. On this section of the exam, you will be tested on the following understanding:

  • Scientific Investigation (compare and modify experiments, understand scientific tools and design)
  • Interpretation of Data (analyze scientific data through graphs, tables, and diagrams, reason mathematically)
  • Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (process information and formulate conclusions and predictions)

Much like the Reading section of the ACT exam, the Science section is made up of 40 questions with a time allowance of 35 minutes. As with previous sections, every question is a multiple-choice question. This section also provides four answer choices to consider for each question.

Writing Section (Optional)

The optional Writing section of the ACT exam is a complement to the English and Reading sections of the test. You will be given a writing prompt and instructed to write an essay in which you develop and demonstrate your own perspective on the issue presented. Your score is not affected by your opinions or the point of view you choose. You are allotted 40 minutes to complete the Writing section of the exam.

Click here to discover What Is on the SAT Exam.

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