what is the act test

The first question parents and students ask as they begin thinking about the ACT is, “Just what is the ACT test?” This page will help you answer that question.

What is the ACT test?

The ACT is a nonprofit organization that creates and administers the ACT test, which is a “college admissions and placement test.” The ACT test is taken by more than 1.6 million high school students every year.

Why is the ACT such an important test?

When people ask, “What is the ACT test?” they are usually wondering about why it is such an important test. The ACT is an important test in the college admissions process for at least two reasons:

1. The ACT is standardized across the country and world


One answer to the question, “What is the ACT test?” is that it is a standardized test, which means that it is one test given to all test takers in the exact same manner. Because the ACT is standardized, colleges can use ACT scores to compare students from all over the country and world in a manner that is fair. Colleges know exactly what the ACT tests and how the ACT tests it, so colleges can trust that the ACT takes place in a predictable, controlled environment.

In contrast, a student’s grades in high school, GPA, and class rank are heavily dependent upon the school the student goes to. Just because a student received good grades in high school does not necessarily mean that he or she is ready for college—it is possible that the student simply had easy teachers, had an easy curriculum, or any number of other factors that colleges cannot control.

Generally speaking, colleges place more value upon a student’s ACT scores because they know what the score means.

2. The ACT is an indicator of college readiness

Although there are many criticisms directed towards the ACT (some of them justified), the ACT is a definite indicator of a student’s college readiness, whereas, again, just because a student performed well in high school does not necessarily mean he or she is ready for the rigor of college.

Doing well on the ACT requires a certain level of academic ability, and a certain work ethic to prepare effectively for it, so that a student’s ACT score can give colleges a good sense of whether this student is ready or not for the rigor of college classes.

A low ACT score likely means that the student’s reading level and problem solving abilities are not very high, or that the student did not take preparing for the ACT seriously. The ACT actually does give colleges a better picture of a student’s college readiness than some would like to admit.

How does ACT scoring work?

ACT score

Many people who ask, “What is the ACT test?” want to know how ACT scoring works and what ACT scores mean.

ACT scores range from 1 to 36. The average ACT score is about a 21. Getting a little more than 50% on the ACT will result in a score of about 21, and getting about 75% of the questions right will result in a score of about 26. Depending on which college you want to attend, you may need to aim for a certain ACT score.

For more information about ACT scoring, visit one of these pages:

What is a Good ACT Score: Average ACT Scores for Colleges

ACT Score Chart: Raw Score, Scale Score, and Percentile


What is the ACT Test Format?

There are four sections on the ACT: English, Math, Reading, and Science. There is also an optional writing test.

The English test is a 45 minute test that contains 75 questions (5 passages).

The Math test is a 60 minute test that contains 60 questions (that go generally from easier to harder).

The Reading test is a 35 minute test that contains 40 questions (4 passages).

The Science test is a 35 minute test that contains 40 questions (7 passages).

The Writing test is optional and takes 30 minutes.

For more information about “What is the ACT test format?” visit this page:

ACT Format: The Sections and Timing of the ACT Test

For more information about “What is the ACT test’s true length?” visit this page:

How Long is the ACT Test?

When can I take the ACT?

Calendar
The ACT is administered six times each year: September, October, December, February, April, and June. The December, April, and June dates are slightly different because you can request a Test Information Release (TIR) form to check over your answers. This is an extremely helpful feature because it will allow you to determine the types of questions you missed, so you can work to fix the areas you struggled with.

You may send your ACT score to up to four colleges when you take the test, although this may not be a good idea if you want to only send your best score to colleges. Generally speaking, it is better to submit scores yourself.

To learn more about the ACT test dates, visit this page:

ACT Testing Dates 2013-2014

Next Steps

Now that you can answer the question, “What is the ACT test?” feel free to explore the rest of Best ACT Prep for more information about the ACT.