An Overview

The ACT is now universally accepted by all four-year universities, giving you the option of taking it in place of the SAT. The ACT consists of four sections — English, Math, Reading and Science — and an optional essay. It is scored on a scale of 1-36.

The test takes 2 hours and 55 minutes, plus an optional 40 minutes if you decide to write the essay.

Each section can be broken down as follows:

English - 75 questions in 45 minutes

Math - 60 questions in 60 minutes

Reading - 40 questions in 35 minutes

Science - 40 questions in 35 minutes

Optional Essay - 40 minutes

Let’s look more closely at each of the above sections.

ACT English

The English sections consists of 40 usage and mechanics questions and 35 rhetorical skills questions. Usage and mechanics questions focus on sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. Most of the questions follow this format: You are given a passage in which a word, phrase or sentence is underlined. You are given four choices, three options with which to replace the underlined passage, and the fourth option to leave the underlined passage alone.

The rhetorical skills questions assess reading and writing strategy, organization and style. You are given questions on adding, revising and/or deleting sentences, how a sentence fits into the overall structure of a passage, transitional phrases and writing style. Here’s an example of a rhetorical skills question provided by the ACT (This passage was taken from ACT’s publication Preparing for the SAT, downloadable here).



68. At this point, the writer is considering adding the following true statement:

To meet their expectations, Jones crafted her speech, dress, and mannerisms based on cultural notions of motherhood.

Should the writer make this addition here?

F. Yes, because it highlights the contrast between Jones’s personal style and her audiences’.

G. Yes, because it adds details about what types of changes Jones made to create her public persona.

H. No, because it detracts from the focus of the paragraph by introducing unrelated details.

I. No, because it doesn’t indicate the effect Jones’s public persona had on audiences.

(By the way, the correct answer is G).

ACT Math

You are given 60 minutes to complete 60 math questions, but unlike the SAT, you may use your calculator throughout. There are restrictions on which calculators you may bring, so be sure to familiarize yourself with these before test day here.

The ACT contains far more questions on geometry and trigonometry than the SAT, up to one-third of all math questions, but you have to memorize the formulas going in, because unlike the SAT, the ACT does not provide you with the formulas.

ACT Reading

The ACT Reading section contains 4 passages with 10 questions each. You are expected to read the passages and answer the related questions at a rate of 0.875 minutes per question (40 questions in 35 minutes). Speed is crucial. The questions focus more on reading comprehension than analysis. And, the questions are not in chronological order as they are on the SAT, so you need to fish through the entire passage to find specific details.

ACT Science

The ACT Science Reasoning Test has no equivalent on the SAT, though the latter has incorporated two science passages into its reading comprehension section. The ACT Science includes seven passages with 40 questions, all to be completed in 35 minutes. The questions assess skill in analyzing text, graphs and charts in the context of scientific reasoning. Though students often believe you need to know science in order to answer these questions, it’s not true. Rather, this section assesses your reading comprehension of technical information. There are at most 1-2 questions per exam that might require you to know something from your middle-school science days. Of course, competence in science, though not a requirement, doesn’t hurt. And, with Rocket Girls, scientific competence is a given.

ACT Essay

The ACT Essay asks you to analyze three different perspectives on an issue. You are then asked to argue your own position on the issue, and provide your own examples. The new SAT no longer asks for your stance on an issue.

For more information on the ACT, visit ACT’s website here.

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