The ACT Unravelled


The ACT has four parts measuring understanding and ability in English, mathematics, reading comprehension, and science reasoning. Composite scores are reported on a scale of 1 to 36.

Unlike the SAT, the ACT includes a writing test that is optional, so check with the colleges on your application list to see if they require the writing portion. The ACT is not an IQ test, nor does it measure aptitude skills, like reasoning, as much as the SAT. Since the ACT is more of an achievement test, you will want to review your coursework using a study guide and may want to utilize study groups or tutoring.

Remember, there is no penalty for guessing and you are scored on the number of right answers. Pay attention to your PLAN scores and develop a process of elimination strategy for narrowing down answers to improve your odds.

Content of the ACT Test

English: 75 items; 45 minutes. Covers grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, style, and organization.

Mathematics: 60 items; 60 minutes. Covers pre-algebra, algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane trigonometry, and trigonometry. Calculators (including four-function, scientific or graphing calculators) are allowed, but not required.

Reading Comprehension: 40 items; 35 minutes. Selected reading passages include history, political science, fine arts, biology, and fiction.

Science: 40 items; 35 minutes. Covers analysis, evaluation, reasoning, interpretations, and problem solving. No calculators are allowed.

Optional ACT Writing Test

In the spring of 2005, the ACT added a writing component. This 30-minute optional test complements the English section and provides a prompt to which the test-taker must respond in writing.

According to the ACT, “The test measures skills that students use when writing a college-level paper. Essays are scored by a rubric that looks at the ability to focus on the subject, write coherently and logically, the development of ideas, and the use of proper sentence structure and reasoning.”

Colleges and universities make their own decisions about whether to require the results from the writing test for admission and/or course placement. Based on the requirements set by the institutions, students can decide if they need to take the writing test. Less than one fourth of all colleges and universities in the U.S. require the writing test, though some prefer it.

To find out which colleges and universities require or prefer the writing test, visit

You may take the ACT as many times as you wish; most students take the test more than once. To allow time for retesting, we encourage you to begin testing in the late winter or early spring of your junior year.

For more information, practice test questions, or to register for the ACT, go to

Why should I take the ACT?

Along with your high school transcript, extra- and co-curricular achievements, letters of recommendation, and admissions essays, the ACT is an important part of your college application. It can tip the scale for college admissions officers if they are looking at other candidates with similar academic and extra-curricular achievements as you, but you have a better ACT score.

2008 ACT Dates:

ACT Test Date
Registration Deadline Late Registration (fee applies)
September 13 August 12 August 13 - 22
October 25 September 19 September 20 - October 3
December 13 November 7 November 8 - 20

Remember, if you are not satisfied with your first ACT scores, you can take the ACT again in the first semester of your senior year, prior to your college application deadlines.

How Do I Register for the ACT and What Fees Apply?

ACT test registration materials are available in your high school guidance, college counseling office, or online at

Whether you register by mail or online, it is wise to read the registration material carefully, since other fees may apply under various conditions.

The basic ACT test fees for 2008 are $31.00 without the writing test and $46.00 including the writing test. These charges cover the administration of the test and your score report, and allow you to send your scores to as many as four colleges as long as you provide the school codes at registration.

When you register for the exams, you will find information about test sites and how to sign up for a particular location.


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