The ACT is a college entrance exam accepted by all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. This test has four sections: English, Math, Reading and Science. The ACT includes an optional 30-minute writing section. The test features 215 multiple-choice questions. The test can be completed in approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes, though it will take an extra half hour if you complete the writing section.
According to the official ACT website, the English section of the ACT focuses on six main elements of effective writing: "punctuation, grammar and usage, sentence structure, strategy, organization and style." You are given 45 minutes to answer 75 questions. The majority of questions measure your understanding of sentence structure, such as how clauses are related, where modifiers should be placed and how sentences should be constructed. Other usage and mechanics questions test your understanding about subject-verb agreement and proper use of punctuation. This section also includes rhetorical questions that measure your ability to organize and develop your writing in an effective manner and style.
As you take the math portion of the ACT, expect to see questions on algebra, geometry and trigonometry. This section gives you 60 minutes to complete 60 questions. You need to know basic formulas to answer these questions. You may use a calculator. The official ACT website states that the algebra questions range from pre-algebra concepts, such as factors, fractions and square roots, up to intermediate algebra concepts, such as matrices, functions and absolute value equations. The geometry questions mainly focus on plane geometry, measuring your understanding of concepts such as perpendicular and parallel lines, properties of circles, parallelograms, trapezoids, triangles and rectangles and distance and midpoints. The trigonometry questions test your skill on concepts such as the trigonometric relations on right triangles. It also tests your ability to graph functions and solve trigonometric problems.
The reading section focuses on four main topics: humanities, natural sciences, prose fiction and social studies. This section allows you 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. As per the official ACT website, test takers read passages and then answer questions pertaining to concepts like main ideas, the sequence of events, cause and effect relationships and the author’s voice. The social studies topics may include passages about subjects including history, political science, education and business. The natural science topics may include subject matter relating to fields such as physics, medicine, ecology, biology and chemistry. The humanities questions come from passages relating to topics such as film, ethics, art, theater and music. For the prose fiction, you will read short stories and excerpts from novels.
The ACT science section questions focus on biology, chemistry, physics and Earth and space sciences content, according to the official ACT website. This section has a 35 minute time limit and includes 40 questions. The official ACT website reports that "advanced knowledge in these subjects is not required," but some general background knowledge of the subjects is necessary. Questions are intended to measure your scientific reasoning skills as you read graphs, scatterplots, diagrams and research summaries and answer related questions.
The ACT's 30-minute writing section is optional, but some schools do require the writing test as part of the admissions process so it's important to check with your desired university before you take the test. According to the official ACT website, the writing section includes "a writing prompt that will define an issue and describe two points of view on that issue." You must respond to a question based on the described issue by adopting a position and writing a grammatically correct, well-supported and logical essay on the subject.
- Princeton Review: ACT Test Information
- ACT, Inc.: What is the ACT?
- ACT, Inc.: Content Covered by the ACT English Test
- ACT, Inc.: Content Covered by the ACT Mathematics Test
- ACT, Inc.: Mathematics Test Description
- ACT, Inc.: Content Covered by the ACT Reading Test
- ACT, Inc.: Content Covered by the ACT Science Test
- ACT, Inc.: Writing Test Description
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