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ACT Exam Frequently Asked Questions

About ACT Exam

General questions about the ACT Registration questions Test day Test prep Understanding scores Score reports

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a national college admission examination that consists of subject area tests in:

English Mathematics Reading Science

The ACT Plus Writing includes the four subject area tests and a 30-minute Writing Test.

ACT results are accepted by virtually all U.S. colleges and universities.

The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete with breaks (or just over four hours if you are taking the Writing Test). Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes if you are taking the Writing Test).

The ACT is administered on five test dates-in October, December, February, April, and June. In selected states, the ACT is also offered in September.

The basic registration fee includes score reports for up to four college choices for which a valid code is listed at time of registration.

The ACT tests are prepared according to the:
  • Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education (1985).
  • Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement
  • , National Council on Measurement in Education (1995).
  • Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education, Joint Committee on Testing Practices (1988).


Who can take the ACT?

People of all ages and grade levels are eligible to take the ACT. This includes junior high or middle school students and those who have already graduated from high school. Of course you'll need to register and pay the test fees.


What accommodations are available for students with disabilities?

ACT accommodates students with disabilities by providing reasonable accommodations appropriate to the student's disability. For detailed information, see Services for Students with Disabilities.

ACT has established policies regarding documentation of an applicant's disability and the process for requesting accommodations. For details, see ACT Policy for Documentation to Support Requests for Testing Accommodations on the ACT Assessment.


What is the difference between the ACT and SAT?

  • The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.
  • The ACT has up to 5 components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 components: Verbal, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.
  • The College Board introduced a new version in 2005, with a mandatory writing test. ACT continues to offer its well-established test, plus an optional writing test. You take the ACT Writing Test only if required by the college(s) you're applying to.
  • The SAT has a correction for guessing. That is, they take off for wrong answers. The ACT is scored based on the number correct with no correction for guessing.
  • ACT lets the student decide what set of scores they want sent. The College Board's policy is to send all scores.
  • The ACT has an interest inventory that allows students to evaluate their interests in various career options.


How do the SAT and ACT compare?

ACT stands for American College Test.
It is a standardized examination for prospective college students developed by the University of Iowa. Although originally popular only in western states, colleges all over America now allow applicants to submit either the ACT or SAT I. The ACT is a better measure for students who have good recall of specific knowledge learned in school. It is less abstract than the SAT.

Look at an ACT review book to familiarize yourself with the content and structure of the test. Take a practice test of the ACT and the SAT I to see which format best highlights your talents. May the scores be with you!

What are the differences between the SAT and ACT?

The major differences between the SAT and the ACT:
  • The SAT is preferred on the coasts, while the ACT is more often used in the Midwest. However, each school has its own policies, and many schools accept both exams. You should check with every school to which you're considering applying.
  • The ACT has a Science section. If you hate science, this is a potential reason to avoid the ACT. However, you should realize that the Science section of the ACT tests reasoning skills and not actual science knowledge.
  • The essay is required on the SAT, but optional on the ACT. More importantly, the essay factors into your overall SAT score but not your composite ACT score.
  • There is no penalty for wrong answers on the ACT. However, this shouldn't affect your decision about which test to take.
  • All your SAT scores show up on every SAT report, but you can send only the ACT scores you want. So it's easier to hide bad ACT scores. However, most schools claim to look at only your highest score on a particular test. The biggest ramification of this difference is probably that it's harder to hide taking the SAT many times.
  • While the College Board would deny it, the SAT tends to work slightly more like an IQ test than does the ACT. The subject matter is no more advanced, but math is trickier and grammar concepts are harder to pin down. So at least marginally, good test-takers do better on the SAT while good students (including "grinders") do better on the ACT.

In the end, you'll need to take whichever test your prospective colleges require. But if those colleges will accept either exam, you should probably make a decision about where to focus most of your prep efforts.

Still, don't forget that you can at least take both the SAT and the ACT. A lot of overlap exists between the exams, and at least attempting both of them may give you the best shot of getting the score you need.


When should I test?

Pick a test date that is at least two months ahead of the application deadlines of all the colleges and scholarship agencies you might want to apply to. Reports for the ACT (No Writing) are normally mailed within 4-8 weeks after the test date. If you take the ACT Plus Writing, reports will be mailed only after all of your scores are available, including Writing scores, normally within 5-8 weeks after the test date.

Advantages to testing in your junior year:

  • You've probably completed the coursework corresponding to the test material.
  • You'll have your test scores and other information in time to influence your senior year. (For example, you may decide to take an additional class in an area in which your test score was low.)
  • Colleges will know of your interests and have your scores in time to contact you during the summer before your senior year, when many of them are sending information about admissions, course placement, scholarships, and special programs to prospective students.
  • You'll have information about yourself and the schools you're interested in prior to your campus visits, making your visits more focused.
  • You'll have the opportunity to retest if you feel your scores don't accurately reflect your ability. ACT research shows that of the students who took the ACT more than once:
    • 55% increased their Composite score
    • 22% had no change in their Composite score
    • 23% decreased their Composite score


Are there any restrictions on how often I can test?

While you can take the ACT as often as you wish, there are some restrictions on when you can retest and receive test scores.

  • You may not receive scores from more than one test date per national or international administration (Saturday, non-Saturday, or rescheduled test date arranged by ACT). If you are admitted and allowed to test, we will report only the scores from your first administration. The second set of scores will be cancelled without refund.
  • You may not receive scores from more than one test date per state administration (initial or makeup), if your state participates in ACT State Testing. If you are allowed to test more than once, we will report only the scores from your first test administration.
  • If you test through another type of testing such as special or residual testing, you must wait a minimum of 60 days between retests through that kind of testing. If you are allowed to test without waiting 60 days, your second set of scores will be cancelled without refund.


Can I take the ACT outside the U.S. or Canada?

Yes. You must register on the Web if you plan to test outside the United States, U.S. territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada. Check the website for additional information www.act.org

I am overseas in the military. Where can I take the SAT and ACT?

All editions of the ACT are developed using the same test specifications. Sometimes there are slight differences in difficulty from test to test, but they do employ a statistical process called "equating" that helps ensure a score for a test taken on one date or at one place is equivalent to a score for a test taken on another date or in another place. The ACT makers claim there is no truth that the ACT in one month, say in October, is easier than other months.


What should I take to the test center?

Be sure you take these items to the test center:

  • Your test center admission ticket.
  • Acceptable identification. (Your admission ticket is not identification.) You will not be admitted to test without acceptable identification.
  • Sharpened soft lead No. 2 pencils with good erasers (no mechanical pencils or ink pens). Do not bring highlight pens or any other kinds of writing instruments; you will not be allowed to use them. If you have registered for the ACT Plus Writing, your essay must be completed in pencil.
  • A watch, to pace yourself. The supervisor in standard time rooms will announce when five minutes remain on each test.
  • A permitted calculator, if you wish to use one on the Mathematics Test. Not all models are permitted.

Pack your bag the night before and make sure everything is ready to go, especially your calculator if you intend to use one. You don't want to forget anything!

Do not bring food or drink (including water), books, dictionaries, notes, scratch paper or other aids, highlighters, colored pens or pencils, correction fluid, any electronic device other than permitted calculators (examples include timer, cell phone, media player, PDA, headphones, camera), reading material, tobacco in any form, or anything else not on the above list. For additional information, see prohibited behavior at the test center.


What identification will I have to show at the test center?

When you arrive at the test center, you'll be required to show acceptable identification before being admitted to test. The ID you present must be original, not a photocopy or reproduction. Only the following forms of identification are acceptable. If it's not on this list, it's not acceptable, and you will not be admitted.

Acceptable forms of identification:

  • Current (not expired) official photo ID: Must be issued by your school, employer, or city/state/federal government (such as driver's license or passport) on which both your name and photo appear.
  • Recently published individual photo: Recognizable individual photograph of you in a recent (within the last two years) publication, such as a newspaper or school yearbook, with your first and last names in the caption. All but yearbooks will be sent to us for our files. Group photos are not acceptable.
  • School letter or transcript: Letters must meet all of the following requirements:

    • The letter must be on school letterhead and include your name and physical description including age, gender, height, race, and hair and eye color, or an attached recognizable recent photo with school seal or official's signature across a portion of the photo.
    • Form letters reproduced on school letterhead and then individually completed and signed in ink are acceptable.
    • If school letterhead is computer-generated or photocopied, a school seal is required.
    • Transcripts may be used only if they include a recent photo as described above and are signed as described below.
    • You must sign the letter or transcript in ink in the presence of the school official (who may not be a relative), and that official also must personally sign the letter or transcript in ink. Printed, stamped, or photocopied signatures are not acceptable.

  • Notarized statement with photo: If you do not have acceptable photo ID or your school does not have letterhead stationery, contact a notary public (who must not be a relative). Attach a current photo of yourself to a sworn statement that includes your name. You must sign this statement in ink in the presence of the notary public, who must affix the notary seal or stamp to a portion of the photo.

Note: If you present a school letter, transcript, or notarized statement, you must sign it again in the presence of test center staff on test day, and they will send it to us for our files.

Unacceptable Identification:

You will not be admitted if you try to present any forms of ID other than those listed as acceptable. The following are examples of unacceptable identification:

  • ACT admission ticket
  • Learner's driving permit, if it doesn't include a photo
  • Passport or other photo so old that the person presenting it cannot be identified
  • Charge, bank, check cashing, or credit cards with or without photo
  • Photo ID issued by a business for promotional purposes (e.g., amusement parks)
  • Birth certificate
  • Social Security card
  • Report card or diploma
  • Organization membership card
  • Police report of a stolen purse or wallet
  • Traffic ticket, even with a physical description and signature
  • Photo ID of parents
  • Graduation picture or family portrait
  • Fishing or hunting license
  • ChildFind ID card
  • Web page with photo
  • Photo with student's name embossed or printed on the photo by a photographer


Should I test again?

There are no limitations on how many times you can take the ACT, although there are restrictions on how frequently you can test. Many students test twice, once as a junior and again as a senior.

You should definitely consider retesting if you had any problems during testing, such as misunderstanding the directions, running out of time, or not feeling well.

You may also want to consider retesting if you aren't satisfied that your scores accurately represent your abilities, especially if you see a discrepancy between your ACT scores and your high school grades, or if you have completed coursework or an intensive review in the subject areas included in the ACT since you tested.

How will you do on a retest? Research shows that of the students who took the ACT more than once:

  • 55% increased their Composite score on the retest
  • 22% had no change in their Composite score on the retest
  • 23% decreased their Composite score on the retest

If you test more than once, you control which set of scores are sent to colleges or scholarship programs. See "Which scores are reported if I test more than once?" for more information.


Can I use a calculator?

You may use a calculator on the ACT Mathematics Test but not on any of the other tests in the ACT. You are not required to use a calculator. All problems on the Mathematics Test can be solved without a calculator.

WARNING: You are responsible for knowing if your calculator is permitted. If you use a prohibited calculator, or you use a calculator on any test other than the Mathematics Test, you will be dismissed and your answer document will not be scored. If scores are reported and ACT determines that you used a prohibited calculator or used one inappropriately on that test, those scores may be cancelled.

If you wish to use a calculator, you are responsible for bringing it to the test center and making sure it works properly. The test center will not provide backup calculators or batteries. You may not share a calculator with anyone else. You may bring a backup calculator, but you may not have more than one on your desk or in operation at a time.

You may use your calculator only while you are working on the Mathematics Test. At all other times, it must be turned off and put away. If you finish the Mathematics Test before time is called, you must turn your calculator off and wait quietly. If your calculator has games or other functions, you may not use those functions-you may use only the mathematics functions of your calculator.

Permitted Calculators

You may use any four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator, unless it has features described in the Prohibited Calculators list. For models on the Calculators Permitted with Modification list, you will be required to modify some of the calculator's features.

Prohibited Calculators

These types of calculators are prohibited:

  • Texas Instruments: all model numbers that begin with TI-89 and TI-92, and the TI-Nspire CAS-The TI-Nspire (non-CAS) is permitted.
  • Hewlett-Packard: hp 48GII and all model numbers that begin with hp 40G, hp 49G, or hp 50G
  • Casio: Algebra fx 2.0, ClassPad 300, and all model numbers that begin with CFX-9970G
  • calculators with built-in computer algebra systems
  • pocket organizers
  • handheld or laptop computers
  • electronic writing pads or pen-input devices-The Sharp EL 9600 is permitted.
  • calculators built into cell phones or other electronic communication devices
  • calculators with a typewriter keypad (keys in QWERTY format)-Calculators with letter keys not in QWERTY format are permitted.

Calculators Permitted with Modification

These types of calculators are permitted, but only after they are modified as noted:

  • calculators with paper tape-Remove the tape.
  • calculators that make noise-Turn off the sound.
  • calculators that can communicate wirelessly with other calculators-Completely cover the infrared data port with heavy opaque material, such as duct tape or electrician's tape (includes Hewlett-Packard hp-38G series and hp-48G)
  • calculators that have power cords-Remove all power/electrical cords.


How many questions are asked and how long will the test take?

English: 75 questions - 45 minutes
Mathematics: 60 questions - 60 minutes
Reading: 40 questions - 35 minutes
Science: 40 questions - 35 minutes
Total: 215 questions
Writing: 1 prompt - 30 minutes
Testing begins after all examinees present by 8:00 a.m. are checked in. A break is scheduled after the first two tests. A brief break is also scheduled before the Writing Test. Students testing with standard time are normally dismissed at about 12:15 p.m. (1:00 p.m. if you take the Writing Test). For more information about what to expect on test day, see test day procedures.


What are some tips for successful testing?

  • Carefully read the instructions on the cover of the test booklet.
  • Read the directions for each test carefully.
  • Read each question carefully.
  • Pace yourself-don't spend too much time on a single passage or question.
  • Pay attention to the announcement of five minutes remaining on each test.
  • Use a soft lead No. 2 pencil with a good eraser; do not use a mechanical pencil, ink pen or correction fluid.
  • Answer the easy questions first, then go back and answer the more difficult ones.
  • On difficult questions, eliminate as many incorrect answers as you can, then make an educated guess among those remaining.
  • Answer every question. Your scores on the multiple-choice tests are based on the number of questions you answer correctly. There is no penalty for guessing.
  • Review your work. If you finish a test before time is called, go back and check your work.
  • Mark your answers neatly. Erase any mark completely and cleanly without smudging.
  • Do not mark or alter any ovals on a test or continue writing the essay after time has been called or you will be dismissed and your answer document will not be scored.
  • If you are taking the Writing Test, see the Writing Test tips.


Which subject areas do the multiple-choice questions cover?

English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.


How do I prepare for the ACT Writing test?

There are many ways to prepare for the ACT Writing Test. You may be surprised that these include reading newspapers and magazines, listening to news analyses on television or radio, and participating in discussions and debates about issues and problems. These activities help you become more familiar with current issues, with different perspectives on those issues, and with strategies that skilled writers and speakers use to present their points of view.

Of course, one of the best ways to prepare for the ACT Writing Test is to practice writing. Practice writing different kinds of texts, for different purposes, with different audiences in mind. The writing you do in your English classes will help you. So will practice in writing essays, stories, poems, plays, editorials, reports, letters to the editor, a personal journal, or other kinds of writing that you do on your own. Because the ACT Writing Test asks you to explain your perspective on an issue in a convincing way, writing opportunities like editorials or letters to the editor of a newspaper are especially helpful. Practicing a variety of different kinds of writing will help make you a versatile writer able to adjust to different writing assignments.

It's also a good idea to get some practice writing within a time limit. This will help build skills that are important in college-level learning and in the world of work.


What is the highest possible ACT score?



How does ACT figure ACT scores?

  1. First we count the number of questions on each test that you answered correctly. We do not deduct any points for incorrect answers.
  2. Then we convert your raw scores (number of correct answers) to "scale scores." Scale scores have the same meaning for all the different versions of the ACT offered on different test dates.
  3. Your Composite score and each test score (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science) range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). The Composite Score is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.
  4. We compute your seven subscores (Usage/Mechanics, Rhetorical Skills, etc.) in the same way, but subscores range from 1 (low) to 18 (high). There is no direct, arithmetic relationship between subscores and test score-this means your subscores usually won't add up to your test score.
How ACT figures the multiple-choice test scores and the Composite score
  1. First we count the number of questions on each test that you answered correctly. We do not deduct any points for incorrect answers.
  2. Then we convert your raw scores (number of correct answers) to "scale scores." Scale scores have the same meaning for all the different versions of the ACT offered on different test dates.
  3. Your Composite score and each test score (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science) range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). The Composite Score is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.
  4. We compute your seven subscores
    (Usage/Mechanics, Rhetorical Skills, etc.) in the same way, but subscores range from 1 (low) to 18 (high). There is no direct, arithmetic relationship between subscores and test score-this means your subscores usually won't add up to your test score. Relationship between the tests, questions, and subscores
Test No. of
English Test 75 Usage/Mechanics (40 questions)
Rhetorical Skills (35 questions)
Mathematics Test 60 Pre-Algebra/Elementary Algebra (24 questions)
Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry (18 questions)
Plane Geometry/Trigonometry based (18 questions)
Reading Test 40 Social Studies/Sciences reading skills (20 social studies & natural sciences questions)
Arts/Literature reading skills (20 prose fiction & humanities questions)
Science Test 40 None: the total test score is based on all 40 questions.


Which scores are reported if I test more than once?

If you have taken the ACT or ACT Plus Writing more than once, we maintain a separate record for each test date. If you ask us to send a report to a college, we will release only the record from the test date you request. This protects you and ensures that you maintain control of your records.

If you wish, you may ask us to report more than one test date record to a college. However, you may not select test scores from different test dates to construct a new record; you must designate an entire test date record as it stands. ACT does not create new records by averaging scores from different test dates.


When will my college need to have my ACT scores?

Colleges have different procedures regarding application materials. Many will keep ACT scores in a holding file for a short time until they receive additional materials; however, some prefer to have your application before they receive the score report. Because these requirements differ greatly among the thousands of colleges to which we send score reports, we aren't able to provide students with information about a specific college's practices. Please contact the college directly to learn its preferences.


Will anyone be able to see the essay I wrote?

Yes, the high school and colleges to which you have ACT report scores (by listing their code numbers when you register or by requesting Additional Score Reports later) will be able to view an image of your essay online. The image of your essay will remain available for them to view for up to one year after you graduate from high school.