Is the ACT Hard?

tl;dr: Don't worry if the ACT seems intimidating: it's all about understanding the format and using effective test-taking strategies! Learn the secrets of the exam and use them to your advantage. Take a practice test, figure out which sections you need to improve on, get some study resources, and don't forget to use the process of elimination and skip & come back techniques. Good luck—you got this!

Okay, the big question on your mind, "IS THE ACT HARD, OR NOT?!" 🤔 Fear not; a three-hour test might seem daunting at first, but once you recognize 💡 the ACT's patterns and do real practice questions to test yourself, it won't seem so difficult after all.

In this article, we're going to break down ✂️ the ACT for you, reveal some secrets about the exam, and give you some test-taking strategies. When you get to the end of the article, you'll have a much better understanding 🤓 of the test so that you can take the next step of your ACT study journey!

Test Format

Let's start with the format of the test. 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 (or overall) score will be an average of your scores for the four sections. The essay is scored separately 💯.

This table gives you a breakdown of the number of questions for each section, as well as the time ⏰ you have for each:

Section # of Questions Time Allotment
English 75 MC 45 min
Mathematics 60 MC 60 min
Reading 40 MC 35 min
Science 40 MC 35 min
Essay (optional) 1 essay 40 min

Secrets About the ACT

What's next? We'll talk about how you can use the format of the ACT to your advantage 😏.

I'm sure we all know that 4 of the sections are multiple-choice. But what does that mean for you, as a test-taker? It means that there HAS to be one correct answer ☝️. The ACT isn't like your tests at school that teachers write. It won't have two answer choices that COULD both be correct because how would that be fair 🤷♀️? That means test-taking strategies, like the process of elimination, will be very effective, but we'll get into that later!

Second, the ACT is very consistent and predictable 🔑. You might not realize it at first, but as you do more practice with real ACT tests, you'll begin to see that the structures of many questions are the same, especially in sections like Reading and Science 🧪. So, once you find what kind of question types you're weak at, PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!

How Should I Study?

Alright, it's time to start studying for the ACT. But how do you do that? First and foremost, take a practice test 📝. ACT has released several PDFs of past tests that you can find online. If you have a study book, many of them should have either a diagnostic test and/or practice tests. Take this test under realistic conditions, meaning you should take it in one sitting in a quiet location and time yourself accurately for each section. Timing yourself during practice is crucial because the ACT is super fast-paced !

After you finish your practice test, grade it 🔍. Be honest with yourself; this early on in your study journey, it's okay to make mistakes. That'll help you discover what you're weak at, so you can work on it and avoid making the same mistakes on the actual test 📑. Go back and look over your mistakes. This might be a long process, but it'll make your future studying much easier once you figure out the types of questions you're getting wrong.

Pick up some study resources for each section of the ACT, and be sure to consistently work on practice problems to apply your knowledge 👓!

Test-taking Strategies

Answer Every Question

Every multiple-choice question is 1 point, no matter how hard or easy it is. Plus, you're only graded on the number of questions you answer right and not penalized for any wrong answers 🙈! That gives you an advantage in answering every question. I'm sure you've heard this a million times, but make educated guesses for questions you're not sure about. How should you do that 😳? Well...

Use Process of Elimination

POE is an excellent strategy for taking a multiple-choice test. When you're scanning the answer choices, there might be one, or even two, choices that you KNOW are wrong. Cross those out! ❌ It's much easier to pick between 2-3 answer choices than 4-5. But what if you're REALLY not sure about a question?

Skip & Come Back

You don't have to take the ACT in order! Spend most of your time on questions you CAN do. Mark up questions ✏️ that you want to come back to because there's no time to waste. You can always reconsider skipped questions near the end of the test; you might be able to look at the question from a new perspective 🔬 or make an educated guess if you're out of time.


So, is the ACT hard? Hopefully, you should have a better understanding 👀 of the test. The more familiar you are with the test and the more practice you put in, the less scary the ACT will seem. Good luck with your studying! YOU GOT THIS! 🙌

Check out this page if you're unsure about taking the ACT because of test-optional policies.

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