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ACT questions are more straightforward and less puzzle-like than those on the SAT. For those who read quickly and find science to be tolerable or enjoyable, the ACT can be a great alternative to the SAT. Every college in America now accepts the ACT with the same regard as the SAT. Students applying to top 20 colleges should consider taking both the ACT and SAT and submitting both test results to colleges, though no college currently requires it.

The ACT is made up of four “tests” always given in the same order:

  • ACT English
  • ACT Reading
  • ACT Math
  • ACT Science

The ACT includes a Science portion not found on the SAT. It is called Science and the subject matter is scientific, but the questions mostly involve extracting data from graphs, charts, and tables, rather than testing any prior knowledge one might have in science. Comfort with science content is helpful, but not required. Skill interpreting graphs, charts, tables, and diagrams quickly and accurately is far more important.

The ACT also offers an optional 40-minute Writing section. While optional, an excellent ACT Writing score can serve as a major differentiator among applicants. Each ACT section is scored on a 1–36 scale; the average of all four is your ACT composite score. The ACT composite score also ranges from 1 to 36, and the national average is 21. The ACT Writing Test is not considered in the ACT composite score.

The ACT English Test

Contains 75 questions, divided over five passages with 15 questions each
Test time: 45 minutes
Includes grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills

The ACT Reading Test

Contains 40 multiple-choice questions, divided over four passages with 10 questions each
Test time: 35 minutes
Includes analysis of prose fiction, social studies, humanities, and natural sciences

The ACT Math Test

Contains 60 multiple-choice questions
Test time: 60 minutes
Includes algebra I and II, geometry, and some trigonometry

The ACT Science Test

Contains 40 multiple-choice questions, divided over six passages with six to seven questions each
Test time: 35 minutes
Includes science-based questions involving graphs, charts, tables, and research summaries

The ACT Writing Test (Optional)

Consists of one statement followed by three stated positions
Student must support at least one of the three positions while writing a strong persuasive essay
Test time: 40 minutes