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Information About the ACT

The ACT is a standardized exam that is accepted at many colleges around the United States. It is sometimes seen as being an alternative to the more well-known SAT I exam. The ACT is different in structure and content from the SAT exams.

Questions to consider:

What is the ACT Assessment?

What is the ACT Assessment content like?

General tips and strategies to improve performance on ACT

When should I take the ACT?

How much does it cost to take the ACT?

Should I take the SAT I or the ACT?

ACT dates and locations

What is the ACT Assessment?

The ACT Assessment measures knowledge, understanding, and skills typically taught in high school that are important for successfully completing a college education. The scores are useful to college admissions officers in comparing applicants from different high schools with widely varying courses and grading standards. The ACT is an all-multiple-choice test given five times a year

What is the ACT Assessment content like?

This test is a multiple-choice examination divided into four sections: English, mathematics, reading and science reasoning. The test takes about three hours plus an additional thirty minutes or so for directions and completing the personal information section of the answer sheet.

The English section consists of...

  • A 75 question, forty-five minute test that measures your understanding of the convention of standard written English, including 40 questions on punctuation, grammar and usage, and sentence structure

  • 35 questions on rhetorical skills, including strategy, organization, and style.

  • Spelling, vocabulary, and rote recall of rules of grammar are not tested.

The mathematics section consists of...

  • A 60 question, sixty minute test designed to assess the mathematical skills you have typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of grade twelve.

  • Pre-algebra/elementary algebra: 24 questions.

  • Intermediate algebra/coordinate geometry: 18 questions.

  • Plane geometry/trigonometry: 18 questions.

  • Plane geometry: Properties and relations of plane figures.

  • Starting this year (2002-03) You may use a calculator on the Mathematics Section if you choose to. However, check your ACT Registration Packet for information about restrictions on the kinds of calculators that are acceptable.

The reading test consists of...

    A 40 question, thirty-five minute test that measures your reading comprehension as a product of your skill in referring and reasoning. The test contains the following types of reading passages about which questions are asked.

  • Social Studies: 10 questions. History, political science, economics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology.

  • Natural sciences: 10 questions. Biology, chemistry, physics and physical sciences.

  • Prose fiction: 10 questions. Intact short stories or excerpts from short stories or novels.

  • Humanities: 10 questions. Art, music, philosophy, theater, architecture, and dance.

The science reasoning test consists of...

    A 40 question, thirty-five minute test that measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences. Test content is drawn from biology, chemistry, physics, and the physical sciences (earth/space sciences such as geology, astronomy and meteorology.) The test presents scientific information in three different formats.

  • Data representation: Graphic and tabular material similar to that in science journals and texts is presented. Test items measure skills such as graph reading, interpretation of scatter plots, and interpretation of information presented in tables.

  • Research summaries: This format provides descriptions of one or more related experiments. Test items focus on the designing of experiments and the interpretation of experimental results.

  • Conflicting viewpoints: This format presents sets of hypotheses or views that, being based on differing premises or on incomplete data, are inconsistent with one another. Test items focus on the understanding, analysis, and comparison of alternative viewpoints or hypotheses.

General Tips and Strategies

1.       There is no penalty for guessing, so ACT takers should fill in an answer for every question

2.       Know the directions and answer sheet ahead of time

3.       Read carefully and thoroughly. Avoid careless mistakes

4.       Answer easier questions first, and harder questions later

5.       Check answer sheet regularly

6.       Develop a strategy for guessing

Section: English

  • Don't jump on the questions right away. Skim the paragraph for a few seconds, and then start working on the questions

  • Brevity is the soul of wit. The best way to write something is the shortest correct way of writing it

  • Be on the lookout for subject-verb and noun-pronoun agreement

  • Be on the lookout for sentence fragments, incorrect sentence structure, verbosity and inappropriate use of phrases and idioms

  • Develop the habit of occasionally checking your progress through the test

Section:  Math

  • Use your calculator only when you need to

  • Understand and analyze the problem before crunching numbers

  • Look for patterns and shortcuts in any given question

  • Think before working on each problem, use common sense to verify your answer choice

 Section: Reading 

  • Do not get caught in the specific details of the passage

  • Answer general questions before detail questions

  • Always refer to the passage before choosing an answer

  • Mentally outline all major points covered in non-fiction passages, take notes if necessary to find answers quickly

  • Concentrate on paragraph opening and closing

  • For fiction passages pay attention to the story and the characters

  • Answer the easy questions for each passage first. Skip the tough ones and come back to them later

 Section: Science 

  • Start by scanning the passage. Read the passage or look at the data presentation quickly, just to get a rough idea of what it is all about

  • In order to comprehend graphs and tables quickly concentrate on nature of data being presented, units of measurement, relationship among variables and perceive trends and pattern in the data

  • If the answers are numerical, use estimation to save time

  • Focus on the questions that require analyzing data from just a single table or graph

  • Do not get bogged down by technical terminology, avoid the frills and get to the core of the problem


When should I take the ACT?

If you intend to take the ACT Assessment, take it for the first time during the spring semester of your junior year. Some students take it earlier for additional practice. You may want to re-take it one or more times in your senior year. Take the ACT as many times as you wish; however, two to three times seems about right. Beyond that, it becomes expensive and you will probably not see any substantial changes in your scores. For a complete listing of all ACT test dates click on the Personal Profile icon in the toolbar to go to your Test Profile section.

How much does it cost to take the ACT?

The ACT registration fee for 2002-03 is $18.00 and $22.00 in the states of New York and Florida. Fee waivers are available for students unable to afford the cost of this test.

For more ACT information:


Registration information--call 319-337-1270 (or write ACT Registration; PO Box 414; Iowa City, IA. 52243-0414)

ID requirements--call 319-337-1510 (or write ACT Test Administration: PO Box 168; Iowa City, IA 52243-0168)

Score Reports--call 319-337-1313 (or write ACT Records: PO Box 451; Iowa City, IA 52234-0451)

Should I take the SAT I or the ACT?

You might want to take both the ACT and SAT I: Reasoning Test. Since the tests are somewhat different in purpose, content and structure, you may find that you score better on one than the other. Many students find that they perform differently on the two tests. Review the descriptive information provided in the sample booklets that you receive with your testing applications to determine which test might be best for you. Be sure to consult with your guidance counselor or Career Center Specialist to see if they can help you make a decision. If your grades are not strong enough to give you a good chance of admission at the college of your choice, test scores might make a difference. Therefore, it may be to your advantage to try both tests to maximize your admission chances.

Most colleges accept scores from either test. However, some schools prefer one over the other and may not accept one or the other. Generally, the SAT I: Reasoning Test is more widely used. Use the College Research service in this program to find specific information about which of these tests is accepted at your college choices.

Act Test Dates and Locations

 Exam Date                   Register by:                 Registration Deadline

October 23, 2011            Sept. 17, 2011                  Oct. 1, 2011

December 11, 2011         Nov. 5, 2011                     Nov. 19, 2011

February 12, 2011           Jan. 7, 2011                     Jan. 21, 2011                      

ACT Tests are administered at high schools and test centers nationwide. Check with your high school or guidance counselor or contact ACT, Inc. for more information