The ACT (formerly known as American College Testing) is an exam created by ACT, Incorporated to measure a student's academic achievement in high school. It is used by college and university admissions departments to compare students across schools and regions by using a single, standardized test. The ACT focuses on the skills and reasoning across the core academic subjects.

ACT Basics

The ACT is offered six times per academic year. Currently the test is offered in September, October, December, February, April and June in the United States. International testing dates do not include the February option.

The mandatory portion of the ACT is two hours and 55 minutes long. The Writing Test is an optional essay; it will add an extra 40 minutes to the total testing time.

The standard ACT (without essay) costs $42.50; the ACT with optional Writing Test costs $58.50. Low-income students can contact their high school guidance counselors to apply for a fee waiver.

The ACT is offered in many locations across the country and around the world. Testing centers are typically located in high schools, though not every center offers the ACT on all possible test dates. To find a convenient testing center, search online by location.

An ACT Student Web account is required to register for the ACT online. Online registration requires the ability to pay by credit card and to upload a photo that meets strict standards - a passport-type photo will work well. It's also possible (and in some cases required) to register for the ACT by mail.

What Is On the ACT

The standard ACT consists of four sections:

  • The English Test
  • The Mathematics Test
  • The Reading Test (includes Social Studies, Science and Humanities passages)
  • The Science Test

There's also an optional Writing Test. In this single essay, students state and support their position on a given issue.

How the ACT Is Scored

Each standard ACT subject test (English, Mathematics, Reading and Science) is scored on a scale of 1-36. There is also an ACT composite score for the whole exam, which is the average of the four test scores. Composite scores are rounded up or down to the nearest whole number.

The optional Writing Test score ranges from 1-36 points. Sub-scores in four writing domains (skills) are also provided; these range from 2-12 points. The Writing Test is not averaged into the composite score.

There are no penalties for leaving a question blank or for answering incorrectly. Students are encouraged to guess rather than leaving any answer bubbles blank.

Retaking the ACT

The ACT does not average test scores; scores from each retake are kept as separate records. The ACT allows students to choose their best overall score by test date to send to colleges; however, it's not possible to mix and match scores from subject tests taken on different dates. The first four score college reports are free; there's a fee for additional reports.


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