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What's in the ACT? Overview of the ACT Exam

4 min readโ€ขaugust 23, 2021

jessicakqiu

Jessica Q


ACTย ๐ŸŽ’

Bookmarkedย 1.9kย โ€ขย 51ย resources
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What is the ACT? How does it work?

The ACT is split into 4 multiple-choice sections (English, math, reading, and science) and an optional essay section. Each multiple-choice section is scored out of 36, and your composite score will be an average of your scores for each of the four sections. ๐Ÿงฎ The essay section is scored separately.

ACT Test Overview

Hello! ๐Ÿ‘‹ If youโ€™re here, youโ€™re probably wondering what youโ€™ll need to know for the ACT. Breathe and buckle up: weโ€™re going to break it down for you!
Before we start, you may be thinking, โ€œWhatโ€™s the difference between the ACT and SAT?โ€ ๐Ÿค” The SAT gives you more time for each question, but the questions are more abstract and difficult. The ACT is more fast-paced โŒš, but the questions are more straightforward. Evaluate your test-taking style and then decide the best test for you. โœ…ย 
If the ACT is your cup of tea โ˜•, letโ€™s keep going!

Breakdown & Scoring

Section# of QuestionsTime Allotment
English75 MC45 min
Mathematics60 MC60 min
Reading40 MC35 min
Science40 MC35 min
Essay (optional)1 essay40 min

ACT English

The ACT English section will provide 5 passages. ๐Ÿ“š Portions of the passage will be underlined, and itโ€™s your job to figure out if the underlined portion is correct as it is, or if thereโ€™s a better replacement in the answer choices. Other questions may ask you to reorganize paragraphs of the passage or about the main idea. ๐Ÿ’ก
As you can see, you must use your knowledge of grammar and punctuation and apply them in your editing and organization skills. Focus on studying your grammar rules! โœ๏ธ

Resources:

Example Question

The passage will be on the left side and questions on the right. Underlined portions will correspond to the question numbers.
https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-OCHo3kQgpLqZ.png?alt=media&token=cbba9533-e6c4-4112-b4c9-b95acbfe57c3

Image from ACT, Inc.

ACT Mathematics

Good news: Youโ€™re allowed to use a calculator on the ACT Math section! ๐Ÿ™Œ On such a fast-paced section, this will help you save time and check your work.ย 
Although the Math section does cover a multitude of topics ๐Ÿ“ˆ, most of the information covered shouldโ€™ve been taught in school, including pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, and geometry.ย  Make sure you brush up on old math topics and do lots of practice! ๐Ÿ“

Resources:

Example Question

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-v0WDt2mVx2UH.png?alt=media&token=b4f39874-2e11-46ef-a30c-85d2520d9ffa

Image from ACT, Inc.

ACT Reading

Okay, youโ€™ve just finished your mid-test break. Whatโ€™s next? Letโ€™s hop ๐Ÿ‡ into the ACT Reading section! ๐Ÿš€
Youโ€™ll be reading 4 passages, each paired with 10 MCQ. Some questions will ask you about specific details explained in the passage, while others will ask you to think about the main idea discussed or infer ๐Ÿค“ based on the information given.
Youโ€™ll have access to the passages the entire time youโ€™re answering questions, so make sure to refer back ๐Ÿ“‘ to them as often as you need to. And remember, unless theyโ€™re asking you to infer, all the information you need will be in the passage!

Resources:

Example Question

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-h1PhcNihGfTz.png?alt=media&token=e2a39ee6-f0e8-4775-b29c-d342db29f3a1

Image from ACT, Inc.

Science

Congrats! Youโ€™ve made it through three sections. Weโ€™re going to dive right into the ACT Science section. ๐Ÿงช
At first glance, the Science section may look daunting, with diagrams ๐Ÿ“Š and terms that you may be unfamiliar with. Donโ€™t worry! Just like with reading, most of the information you need to answer the questions will be in the passage. There will be around 3-4 questions thatโ€™ll require simple science knowledge. ๐Ÿงฌ
Youโ€™ll be given 7 passages thatโ€™ll include both text and graphs/diagrams. The passages can be sorted into 3 categories: reading graphs/diagrams, interpreting a scientific experiment, and comprehending different viewpoints on a topic. ๐Ÿ”‘

Resources:

Example Question

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-PZtQqNNIMJbc.png?alt=media&token=fdc704de-a94f-4df8-8157-2817d58dcc5d

Image from ACT, Inc.

ACT Essay

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-vEhN8OVilxgf.png?alt=media&token=6ff02a6c-86e6-40a7-a5f0-30e8cf530650

Image from ACT, Inc.

Weโ€™re at the home stretch! Itโ€™s time to cover the optional ACT essay. ๐Ÿ‘“
Youโ€™ll be given a prompt covering a societal issue, with a short background description. The prompt will also include 3 perspectives. ๐Ÿ”ฌ You can choose to fully agree with a given perspective, partially agree, or even form your own opinion.
Make sure you manage your time โฐ to write a well-developed essay in 40 minutes!

Resources:

Example Question

https://firebasestorage.googleapis.com/v0/b/fiveable-92889.appspot.com/o/images%2F-oKAWdkQ9kirP.png?alt=media&token=e1742872-c2db-4853-b537-604380be9c40

Image from ACT, Inc.

Closing

If youโ€™ve made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. ๐Ÿฅ‚ You should have a better sense of the breakdown of the different ACT sections, as well as a better idea on what content will be covered. ๐Ÿงฉ
One of the biggest challenges that students struggle with is the timing. โณ The ACT is fast! Be sure to take lots of practice tests while simulating a realistic testing environment.
Good luck on your studying, and check out Fiveable for study resources, such as this list of some of the best ACT prep resources, for your next step on your ACT journey! You got this! ๐Ÿ‘

Resources:

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