What is the ACT&Reg; Test?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2019
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The ACT® test is an aptitude test geared toward measuring high school student's education level and likelihood of successfully handling college courses. Originally designed to compete with the SAT® test administered by the college board, the ACT® test is now accepted by many colleges and universities as an acceptable substitute. The test measures aptitude in several basic areas, and, unlike the SAT®, allows students to demonstrate writing capability through an optional essay section.

In the ACT® test, English, reading, scientific and mathematical skills are tested through multiple choice questions. These sections are required and make up the bulk of the final score. Students can opt to take a writing test that results in an additional score, but does not affect the final score. Each section is timed based on the amount of questions and the requirements of the test. For instance, the mathematics section features a 60 minute time block for 60 questions, while the English section allows students only 45 minutes to complete 75 questions.

Unlike the SAT® test, the ACT® test does not subtract points for incorrect answers, which may encourage students to take their best guess at tricky questions. The test covers a variety of basic knowledge considered to be requisite by many universities. Grammar, sentence structure, reading comprehension, algebra, geometry, and scientific reasoning skills are all tested through the four main sections of the ACT® test.


The writing section requires a short essay based on an age-appropriate topic. The essays are read by two professionals, who score the writing on a scale of one to six, where six is the top score. If the scores from each reader vary considerably, a third reader may also score the test to ensure an accurate result. While this portion of the test is optional, some universities may require a writing score. Check with the admissions department at each potential college to determine whether or not the essay portion is mandatory.

ACT® tests are usually offered several times a year and require a fee. There are many preparatory booklets and practice tests available that can give a good indication of score range on the test. Some high schools and community centers may also involve ACT® prep tutoring for struggling or concerned students. This tutoring is often done by a college student with an exceptionally high ACT® test score; be certain to ask for a copy of the tutor's ACT® results before hiring him or her.



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