What is the ACT?

If you are reading this article, you might be trying to find the answer to at least one of these questions: Do all colleges accept the ACT? Do colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT? Is the ACT harder than the SAT? Should I take the SAT or the ACT? Read on to find the answers and for more details about the ACT.

  1. Do all colleges accept the ACT?  Almost all colleges do. While there is the occasional community college or specialty school that will require the SAT, any traditional four-year university will accept the ACT.
  2. Do colleges prefer the SAT over the ACT?  No. Colleges consider both tests equally and do not have a preference for the SAT over the ACT or vice versa.
  3. Is the ACT harder than the SAT?  It depends. Most students perform similarly on both tests. If you work quickly, know basic trigonometry, are able to focus for long periods of time, and prefer straightforward questions, the ACT might be easier for you. If you have a strong vocabulary and are good at solving tricky questions, the SAT might be easier for you.
  4. Should I take the SAT or the ACT?  The answer.

Now that we have gotten those FAQs out of the way, here are some more facts you should know about the ACT:

The Schedule

The ACT is offered every year in September, October, December, February, April, and June. This schedule offers some advantages over the SAT test schedule (Oct., Nov., Dec., Jan., Mar., May, June). The September ACT test date allows incoming high school seniors to prepare heavily over the summer, before their schedules become burdened by school and homework. The April ACT test date might align with students’ junior year spring break, which is an excellent time for students to study intensively.

Start preparing early and plan on taking the test multiple times. As with the SAT, you can choose to submit only those ACT scores that you would like colleges to see.

The ACT contains 5 sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and Writing.

The 5 Sections of the ACT

English • 75 questions • 45 minutes • The English section contains 5 passages, each of which has 15 questions about proper grammar and usage. 15 small parts of each passage are underlined, and you must answer a question about each underlined section. Most of the questions ask you to choose the best option to replace the underlined part of the passage. In this section, 40 questions will ask about usage and mechanics, which include punctuation, grammar, and proper sentence structure. The other 35 questions in the section ask about rhetorical skills, which include proper strategy, organization, and style.

Mathematics • 60 questions • 60 minutes • Math questions increase in difficulty throughout the section.  The section includes 33 algebra questions, 23 geometry questions, and 4 trigonometry questions.  The trigonometry questions are not difficult and may have even been covered in a geometry or Algebra 2 class.

Reading • 40 questions • 35 minutes • The reading section contains 4 passages of 10 questions each.  There is one passage included from each of the following subjects: fiction, humanities, social studies, and natural sciences.  The ACT crams a large quantity of reading questions into a short section and puts those questions in no logical order. Finding answers can be time-consuming, which is why many students have difficulty finishing the Reading section within the time limit.

Science • 40 questions • 35 minutes • The science section is broken into 7 passages.  There are 3 short passages that consist largely of chart and graph interpretation, 3 medium passages that ask you to compare the results (in chart and graph form) from multiple experiments, and one long passage in which you must analyze written arguments from two different viewpoints. The science section does not test any scientific facts or information. Instead, it asks students to interpret and analyze complex charts and graphs.  For the same reasons as the reading section, the science section can be very difficult for students to finish within the time limit.

Writing • 1 essay • 30 minutes • Students are expected to write a persuasive essay on a given topic that is relevant to the lives of high school students. Scorers expect to see a well-developed argument that analyzes relevant examples and addresses counterexamples. The writing section is technically optional, but any well-regarded four-year college will expect students to complete the writing section.

ACT Question Structure

All multiple-choice questions on the ACT have 4 answer choices, except for those in the math section, which have 5 answer choices. Furthermore, the ACT has no penalty for guessing incorrectly. A wrong answer is counted the same as a blank answer, which means students should never leave any questions blank.

Now that you know about the ACT, decide which test you will take, and start preparing!

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