The ACT Exam

Every year, high school juniors across the country take the ACT exam. A top score on the ACT can help you get into the college of their choice. Learn more about ACT basics here.

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ACT stands for American College Testing. The company which administers the test, now referred to simply as ACT, is a non-profit organization founded in 1959. It is a national college admission exam comprising 215 multiple-choice questions in English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. It takes about three and a half hours to complete. There is another version of the test, called the ACT Plus, which also includes a 30-minute writing test. Within the U.S., the ACT is administered in October, December, February, April and June with an additional date in September in some states.


Like the SAT, the ACT is accepted by virtually all colleges and universities in the U.S. (including all of the Ivy League schools.) But there are several differences between these two important tests.

  • The SAT measures aptitude, but the ACT is an achievement test. All of the questions are related directly to the material covered in high school math, English, and science classes.
  • The ACT includes up to five components: English, math, reading, and science are the minimum, with writing as an option. The SAT includes only 3 components: verbal, math and a newly required writing test.
  • The SAT scoring system subtracts fractional points for wrong answers, which means test takers are penalized for guessing. The ACT scores are based on number of correct answers only; there is no penalty for guessing.

When to Take the Test

Pick a test date at least two months ahead of all application deadlines of colleges and scholarship agencies you want to apply to. It may take four to eight weeks after a test date to receive your score report. Most students take the ACT during the winter or spring of their junior year or beginning of their senior year. You may want to take the test several times; many students improve their score by taking the test multiple times.

Tips for the ACT

As with any test, preparation is key. You can work out of test preparation books, enroll in an online preparation course, or take an in-person class. You can also consider one-on-one Test preparation helps you learn any content you may have forgotten or never learned and also helps you master test-taking strategies. Here are some tips for preparing for each test section:


  • Review rules of grammar and punctuation
  • Practice editing


  • Review math concepts in algebra, geometry, and trig
  • Practice using answer choices to help you get the correct answer
  • Learn how your calculator can help you


  • Practice reading passages quickly
  • Review vocabulary words
  • Practice finding the main idea and details of passages


  • Practice reading and interpreting graphs, tables, and figures
  • Review science terms and concepts
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