Students with mixed feelings might be taking the ACT exams in large numbers this year. Colleges want to see how well you performed on your standardized tests. However, you know that there will be a lot of studying and preparation involved. Not to fret, getting a great ACT score is possible, even if you dread the idea of taking the test. If you’re looking for some inspiration and helpful tips to make the process better, look no further.

What is tested on the ACT?

The ACT is a college entrance exam that many colleges and universities in the United States use as part of the college admissions process.  The ACT is a computer-based test. It is divided into four sections: English, Reading, Math, and Science, with an optional Writing Test. Some schools may require the Writing Test. The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long. If you choose to take the ACT with Essay, it will be 3 hours and 35 minutes long. The ACT test has a total of 215 multiple-choice questions.

ACT Exam Format:

The following table gives you a good idea about the flow of the examination on the test day:

ACT Section# of QuestionsDurationSyllabusQuestion Type
English7545 minutesGrammar & usage,/mechanics, and rhetorical skillsMultiple choice
Math6060 minutesAlgebra, geometry, elementary trigonometry, reasoning, and problem-solvingMultiple choice
Reading4035 minutesReading ComprehensionMultiple choice
Science4035 minutesInterpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solvingMultiple choice
Optional Writing Test1 essay prompt30 minutesWriting SkillsWritten

ACT Test Sections:

English Section Includes:

There are 75 multiple-choice questions in this section, which consists of 5 passages. In terms of detail or overall ideas/big picture, the questions pertain to a particular paragraph or the entire passage. ACT English consists of two sections, Usage and Mechanics and the second is Rhetorical Skills. Grammar and punctuation skills are necessary for Understanding Usage and Mechanics. In rhetorical skills, you demonstrate your understanding of the passage as a whole and your ability to maximize its structure and style.

Subsection 1: Distribution of questions in Usage/Mechanics: 40 Questions

  • Punctuation (10-15%)
  • Grammar and usage (15-20%)
  • Sentence structure (20-25%)

Subsection 2: Distribution of questions in Rhetorical Skills: 35 Questions

  • Organization (10-15%)
  • Strategy (15-20%)
  • Style (15-20%)

Math Section Include:

The ACT Math section is categorized into several topics. The distribution of questions topic-wise is as follows:

  • Pre-Algebra: comprises 20-25% of the total questions. It includes number problems, multiples/factors/primes, divisibility, percentages, fractions, square roots, ratios, mean/median/mode, probability, place values, absolute values, exponents, series, and simple descriptive statistics.
  • Elementary Algebra: comprises 15-20% of the total questions. It includes substitution, simplifying expressions, solving linear equations, inequalities, multiplying binomials, and solving quadratic equations.
  • Intermediate Algebra: comprises 15-20% of the total questions. It includes solving systems of equations, functions, matrices, logarithms, inequalities, sequences and patterns, and complex numbers.
  • Coordinate Geometry: comprises 15-20% of the total questions. It includes number lines, graphing inequalities, distance and mid-points, slope calculation, parallel/perpendicular lines, line equation, and conic sections.
  • Plane Geometry: comprises 20-25% of the total questions. It includes lines and angles, triangles, polygons, circles, 3-D geometry, volume, properties of circles, triangles, and parallelograms.
  • Trigonometry: comprises 5-10% of the total questions. It includes solving triangles, trigonometric identities and graphs, graphing trigonometric functions, and solving trigonometric equations.

Reading Section Include:

The ACT Reading section divides the content into three major content buckets: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, and Integration of Knowledge and Ideas. This section contains 4 passages for a total of 40 multiple-choice questions. The passages will represent four broad areas: social science, humanities, natural science, and literary fiction.

Distribution of questions in Rhetorical Skills

  • Integration of Knowledge (13-18%)
  • Craft and Structure (25-30%)
  • Key Ideas and Details (55-60%)

Skills Tested on ACT Reading

  • Know main ideas
  • Find details within a passage and interpret them
  • Understand the sequence of events and flow of ideas
  • Interpret cause-effect relationships
  • Determine the synonyms, phrases, and statements in the context
  • Draw generalizations
  • Make judgments
  • Study the author’s or narrator’s tone and purpose

Science Section Include:

Seven passages and 40 multiple-choice questions are included in this section. Most of the passages come with charts, graphs, and tables. Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Earth Sciences are the subjects tested. In addition to testing your scientific knowledge, it also tests your scientific skills. According to the ACT, the Science Test assesses skills such as interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving.

The distribution of questions in the Science section:

  • Data Representation (30-40% of Questions)
  • Research Summaries (45-55% of Questions)
  • Conflicting Viewpoints (15-20% of Questions)

Writing (Optional) Section Include:

In the ACT, essay coherence is emphasized. Writing a coherent essay that incorporates different lines of reasoning will earn you a high grade. Because of the time constraint, a polished first draft is expected rather than a perfect written sample.

Understanding the syllabus can help you prepare for tests and avoid nasty surprises on test days. Moreover, it will help you in preparing an optimal study plan based on your strengths and weaknesses in different subject areas.

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