Test Prep

The ACT: Four Tests in One

The ACT® is a college entrance exam designed to evaluate what a student has learned during their high school career and how ready they are for college level courses. Many colleges require a minimum ACT composite score for admission. However, depending on the specific degree program, colleges may look at more detailed scoring. The score typically referred to as the ACT score, is actually a composite score created from the average of the scores of each of four different tests.

The four main tests in the ACT evaluate a student’s skill in four main disciplines: English, Reading, Science, and Math. While the composite score is important, a student who is applying for entrance in some specific degree programs that have a focus on one of these disciplines might find that colleges use results from a specific test to make decisions. A person who is applying for a science-based degree program, for example, might find that their prospective college looks at their Math and Science test scores for both admission decisions and to determine what classes the student needs to start with.

The English test has 75 total questions, 40 of which deal with language usage and mechanics. There are 5 essays in the test, and a number of multiple choice questions follow each essay. Some of the test questions can be tricky, because many of the multiple choice answers include a “no changes” option; this selection is used if the student feels that the portion of the essay referenced in the question is correct as is. The English test itself is timed and takes 45 minutes to complete.

The Mathematics test is a 60 minute test containing 60 questions. The Mathematics section covers concepts and skills that students are expected to have learned up through the beginning of 12th grade. The questions are multiple choice; some problems presented, such as those involving graphs, may have more than one multiple choice question per problem. Calculators are allowed in the mathematics portion of the test, but be sure to check the ACT calculator policy to determine which calculators are permitted and which are prohibited. 

For the Reading test, students have 35 minutes to complete 40 questions. The reading test is composed of passages or short essays, followed by several multiple choice questions per essay to determine the student’s level of reading comprehension. The test examines several items, such as determining the main idea of a passage, establishing cause and effect, and making comparisons.

The Science test is also a 40 question test, that the student has 35 minutes to complete. This test measures the student’s preparedness for college level science classes, assuming a core science course of study for three years, with a focus either in Earth science, physical science, or biology. Unlike the Math test, calculators are not allowed for the Science test. 

On testing day, the first two tests are administered, and then there is a short break. After the break, the last two tests are administered. Those students who are not taking the Writing test will typically start at 8am and be finished with the test at 12:15. Adding the Writing test will be 40 minutes longer.

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