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What is ACT? [All Things ACT Covered]

Written by Shifa Ali

Updated on: 18 Jun 2024

Are you a high school student worried about the ACT? Or are you a parent who is struggling to help your child understand ACT? Don’t worry; you are not alone in this.

Understanding standardized testing like ACT is one of the many obstacles high school students must overcome to get into college. However, many students fail to understand the essence and importance of this exam, leading to stress and affecting students’ test performance. 

ACT is not just any exam. Over 1.35 million students took the exam in 2021. It seems like a big deal, but exactly what is it?

Rest easy! In this blog, we will clear all your doubts and provide you with the answers to questions like what the ACT is, what skills the ACT measures, why it matters for college admissions, and more.

By the end of this blog, you will have answers to all your doubts and feel confident enough to sit for the exam.

What is ACT?

ACT stands for American College Testing. It is a standardized test widely recognized and used for college admissions in the United States. 

ACT has 4 compulsory sections consisting of a total of 215 questions. The 4 sections are:

  1. English. This section has 75 questions.
  2. Mathematics. This section has 60 questions.
  3. Reading. This section has 40 questions.
  4. Science. This section has 40 questions.

It is a 2-hour and 55-minute test with 1 break in between. You will receive a 15-minute break after the Mathematics section.

There’s also an optional writing section in ACT where you have to write 1 essay. The duration of this section is 40 minutes, so if you sign up for it, the ACT will be 3 hours and 35 minutes for you.

If you opt for the optional writing section, you will receive an additional 5-minute break before the beginning of the writing section.

ACT checks how well the student holds the knowledge of the high school curriculum and how well they can apply it.

It is specifically designed to check whether a student is ready for college or not based on his high school knowledge in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.

It also provides colleges with a common data point that can be used to compare all applicants and move further with the admissions process.

Contents of ACT sections

English Section

This section contains multiple essays and passages followed by multiple-choice questions based on it. 

This will test

  • Your knowledge of the language
  • How well you choose and use precise words according to different scenarios
  • How well you understand the conventions of English grammar and usage
  • Sentence formation.
  • Usage of punctuation at the right places, etc.

Mathematics Section

This section analyzes how well a student can apply their mathematical knowledge to solve complex problems.

It includes questions based on

  • Numbers and quantity
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Functions
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Rates and Percentages
  • Volume and Surface area
  • Median, etc.

Reading Section

This section tests your reading skills alongside how well you can understand and apply logic based on the given evidence or information.

The questions in this section ask you to

  • Understand various situations and answer the questions based on them.
  • Locate and analyze small details
  • Analyze the author’s claims
  • Summarize given information
  • Analyze the author’s and character’s perspectives
  • Determine the meaning of words
  • Identify the information from the visuals, like graphs or figures and answer questions based on it, etc.

Science Section

This section analyzes your evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the field of science. The questions in this section are based on biology, physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, and meteorology.

It includes questions where you need to interpret the data based on the given analysis or scientific table or graphs, solve equations using mathematical formulas, etc.

NOTE: You can’t use a calculator for this section.

Writing Section

This is an optional section in the ACT. Students who opt for this section get a chance to showcase their writing skills.

In this section, you are provided with a topic that focuses on a complex issue, along with three different perspectives. You will be asked to read the topic, understand the issue, and come up with your unique perspective.

Is it important to take the ACT?

Yes, it is important to take the ACT. Many colleges and universities in the United States ask students to submit their ACT scores as part of their application process. So, the score you receive on the ACT plays a major role in getting into college.

Yet, colleges are starting to implement policies like “test-optional” policy or making the ACT exam optional. It implies that the student will have the option to submit the ACT scores. If they want, they can submit it, or else not.

If a student submits their test results, the college will consider them.

According to The National Center for Fair & Open Testing, almost 1,800 universities are test-optional across the U.S. Universities like Princeton University, Johns Hopkins University, Bucknell University, and California University of Technology fall within this category. 

Colleges are implementing the “test-optional policy” for the following key reasons:

  1. Money-related problems
  2. Absence of testing facilities
  3. Having trouble managing stress due to exams, etc.

Now, unlike the test-optional policy, some colleges are implementing “test-blind” or “test-free” policies. Universities like Amberton University, La Salle University, and Northern Michigan University fall within this category. It indicated that even if the student submits their scores, colleges will not accept them.

Sylvia Juarez, a former admission officer at University of California, a college consultant, and a college admissions expert, mentioned that while accessing the college applications, admission officers look for qualities along with the qualifications.

She said that “We are also looking at extracurricular activities, how are you involved, what are you doing outside the classroom.”

She also mentioned that, admission officers want to know you in all different types of angles, so the qualities that come with those extracurricular activities will show us the discipline, your commitment, your innovation, and the curiosity you have in general.

So, the admission decisions will be based on

  1. Student’s CGPA
  2. Letter of recommendation
  3. Additional essays
  4. Extracurricular activities, etc.

Though such policies are in place, you should not assume that the ACT exam isn’t important. Performing well in the ACT is a sign of strong academic preparation.

ACT mainly focuses on assessing your readiness for college by analyzing you in four core academic areas – English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional writing section that analyzes your writing skills.

It is because these are the basic knowledge and skill sets that will be required in college. 

The four compulsory sections of the ACT (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) contribute 25% each to make the overall 100% of the ACT, which helps in providing a balanced view of your skills.

If you are interested in STEM fields, then ACT should be important for you because it measures your science skills, which helps you to get a STEM major in college easily.

With thousands of applications to review, admission officers look for a standard way to assess all students equally. Students who take the ACT have attended different high schools in different countries with different grading systems and course levels.

So, it becomes difficult for admission officers to compare a student with a 3.8 GPA to a student with a 4.5 GPA following different grading systems and course levels.

This is where standardized tests like the ACT come into the picture. It provides colleges with a standard way to check the academic readiness of students based on various factors. To secure a better ACT score, you can opt for online tutoring services.

Who can take the ACT?

There are no specific age/eligibility criteria to take the ACT exam, which means anyone can take the ACT exam. Anyone who wants to enter their dream college can take this exam.

Usually, the ACT exam is intended for high school students, so students in grades 6, 7, 8, and 9, and high school graduates sit for this exam.

For students under 13 years old, the procedure slightly varies to take the ACT exam. The ACT exam comes with a lot of academic pressure, which is not considered ideal for a 13-year-old kid.

So, their parents need to connect with a representative using the ACT Contact Us form. After this, the parents or legal guardians of the child will receive a “Parental Consent Form” via email.

Once the form is completed, it should be submitted to ACT-Services@act.org.

As soon as the ACT staff receives the form, they will create an account for the students. 

After the creation of the account, you will receive a confirmation email along with instructions on how you can access the MyACT account.

This way, you will be able to register for the ACT. 

How to register for the ACT?

To register for the ACT exam, visit the ACT’s official website.

It generally takes more than 30 minutes to go through the registration process.

Here are the necessary steps that you should follow while registering for the ACT exam:

  1. If you do not have a MyACT account, create one by clicking on “Create MyACT account.” If you already have the account, then just sign in to your account using your credentials. If you are creating the account for the first time, then you will be asked to enter your name (as on your ID), email address, country, address, date of birth, and mobile number with the country code.
what is act #1 - signing screen
  1. After creating and signing in to the MyACT account, students need to enter their high school information, like the country where their high school is, the name of their high school, and their high school graduation year.
  1. Once you finish providing all the information, you will land on the ACT dashboard page. Now, you need to click on “Register for the ACT.”
what is act #2 - registration screen

At this point, you need to specify the following:

  • Where will you be testing; in the U.S. or outside the U.S.?
  • Do you need any accommodation for any disability or need any English learner support?
  • Do you plan to take the ACT with a writing section or not?
  • Would you like to take the test on paper or digitally?
what is act #3 - welcome screen

4. After specifying all the above points, you will be asked to enter your zip code to find the nearest testing centers.

what is act #4 - zip code screen

You can check the nearest test center either by test date or by test center.

what is act #5 - date and time schedule screen

5. After selecting your test center, you will get to review your selection along with the price. To move further, click on “Proceed to Checkout.”

what is act #6 - checkout screen

6.  ACT Inc., the organization that administers the ACT offers multiple self-paced courses, live online courses, ACT prep guides, ACT subject guides, and official ACT tutoring to help students in their preparation.

If you want, you can pick any such additional courses from here and click on “Save & Continue.”

what is act #7 - registration process 1

7. Now, you will be asked to add your photo and other personal information, like your gender, first language, etc.

what is act #8 - registration process 2

At this point, students can select “Yes” to be a part of ACT’s free voluntary program EOS (Educational Opportunity Service). This program helps students connect with colleges or educational opportunities that match their interests based on the information provided in the MyACT account.

To move onto the next step, students need to click on “Save & Continue.”

what is act #9 - privacy policy

8. You will need to put out your score preferences and then click on “Save & Continue.”

You can add up to 6 recipients to receive your scores, out of which, the first 4 will be free.

what is act #10 - registration process 3

9. Here, you will get the option to choose whether you want your parent or guardian to receive your score or not.

If you want your parents or guardians to also receive your ACT score, then you can add their information at this step and click on “Save & Continue. To move further.

what is act #11 - registration process 4

10. This will be the final step. You must review the terms and conditions and enter your credit card information to make the final payment.

what is act #12 - registration process 5

There’s one more way of registering, which is by mail. You need to request a registration packet from ACT Inc., and once it arrives, you need to fill out the necessary information, make the payment, and return it to ACT Inc. Your registration will be done.

Students who are younger than 13 or who do not have a credit card or any voucher to pay the fee may request only one registration packet. 

You must keep in mind that the mail should be sent via U.S. mail, FedEx, or similar service. The delivery takes 7 to 10 working days.

NOTE: If you are registering by mail, you still need to check the test centers listening online as registration packets do not include the code listings.

Where to take the ACT?

The ACT exam usually takes place on Saturdays. While registering for the ACT exam, you can choose the center closest to you and take it from there.

If you are unable to take the ACT exam on Saturday because of some religious reasons, you can select any non-Saturday test center while registering.

The ACT exam is administered at different test centers. It is not guaranteed that a seat will be available on the exam date of your choice. So, it is best to confirm the availability in advance.

Most of you might be aware that post the COVID-19 pandemic, almost everything is going digital, including the ACT exam. Yes, you read that right!! From the spring of 2024, the ACT exam has gone digital too, while retaining the pen and paper version.

Now, students can choose whether they want to take the exam online or using pen and paper.

NOTE: Students who are taking the exam outside of the U.S. or U.S. territories do not get the option of taking the exam using pen and paper.

What is digital ACT?

The ACT exam has gone digital along with the normal pen and paper version, giving students a chance to choose how they want to take the exam.

All students will get the chance to take the ACT exam digitally from the spring of 2024.

You can check our blog to have a better understanding of digital ACT.

How is ACT different from SAT?

One of the major differences between ACT and SAT is that ACT gives students the option to take the test online or offline, unlike SAT, which is completely digital now.

ACT also allows students to purchase a test answer key which is TIR (Test Information Release), to help them prepare better for the future if they retake the exam. 

ACT has science as one of its sections, which helps in assessing the students’ knowledge in the field. This helps students take any STEM-related course in college.

Apart from this, ACT also has an optional writing section, which helps students showcase their writing skills in their college applications.

Structure, testing time, and score range are also different for both exams.

ACT has 4 compulsory sections (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science) and 1 optional section (Writing), whereas SAT has only 2 sections (Math & Reading and Writing).

Testing time of the ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes and an additional 40 minutes for the optional writing section, whereas testing time of the SAT is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

Total score range for ACT is 1 to 36. Each section has a score range of 1 to 36 and the total score is the average of all four sections, whereas the total score range for SAT is 400 to 1600. In SAT, each section has a score range of 200 to 800.

ACT also provides support for non-native English speakers, known as English Learner (EL) support, so that such students will not feel discriminated against and feel equal to native English speakers. These supports include

  1. Word-to-word bilingual dictionaries. Such dictionaries will not provide definitions of words to students. They just provide the same word in the student’s native language. No prior request is needed for this. Students will get this on their exam day.
  2. Instructions for the exam in a student’s native language. No prior request is needed for this.
  3. Arranging the exam in small groups or within the same environment. For this, students need to make an advance request, which should be at least 4 weeks before the exam.

To be eligible for English Learner (EL) support, the student must be enrolled in any school in the U.S. or within the U.S. territory.


ACT  (American College Testing) is a standardized test widely recognized and used for college admissions in the United States. It is designed to check a student’s knowledge in subjects like, English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, which is essential for college.                  

There is no age limit to take the ACT exam. Only students under 13 years old need their parents or legal guardian to fill out a “Parental Consent form” for the creation of the account.

Registration for the exam can be done through the ACT’s official website. Initially, the ACT exam was not digital. But from the spring of 2024, the ACT has allowed students to choose between taking the exam digitally or with pen and paper.

Unlike SAT, ACT also allows students to purchase a test answer key, provides English Learner (EL) support to non-native English speakers, and helps students take any STEM-related course in college.

Understanding the basics of the ACT exam is the first and most important step in the preparation of the exam and towards entering your dream college.

What is the ACT exam used for?

It is a standardized test widely recognized and used for college admissions in the United States.

ACT checks how well the student holds the knowledge of the high school curriculum especially in subjects like English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science

Who is eligible for the ACT exam?

There are no eligibility criteria for the ACT exam. However, the ACT exam is intended for high school students.

Students under 13 years old need help from their parents or legal guardians in

What subjects are required for the ACT?

ACT has 4 compulsory sections and 1 optional section.

1. These sections are:
2. English (Compulsory section)
3. Mathematics (Compulsory section)
4. Reading (Compulsory section)
5. Science (Compulsory section)

Knowledge of these sections is a must for the ACT exam.

Is there any negative marking in ACT?

No, there is no negative marking in ACT.


Written by

Shifa Ali

Reviewed by

Prerit Jain

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