The ACT and the ACT Plus Writing tests assess an individual’s readiness for college. The ACT was first administered in 1959, and is offered today in all 50 U.S. states. Unlike other standardized tests offered to high school students, the ACT is curriculum based. This provides students with subject-specific interests valuable career and educational planning. There are some differences between the ACT and ACT Plus Writing. Which test you should take depends mainly on where you are applying to college, as some schools require the ACT Plus Writing, while others do not.

Test Times

The ACT test takes approximately three hours to complete. The test consists of 215 multiple-choice questions in English, math, reading and science. Each subject test is timed and broken down as follows: English, 45 minutes; math, 60 minutes; reading, 35 minutes; and science, 35 minutes. The ACT Plus Writing test is allowed an additional 30 minutes, excluding time for instruction. Writing prompts differ in subject matter but analyze the student’s critical and analytical writing ability. Students taking the ACT Plus Writing test typically take their test in separate rooms than students taking the basic ACT test.


The basic registration fee for the ACT standard test is $33, as of 2011. The fee covers the standard test, grading and mailing score results to up to four college choices. The ACT Plus Writing test fee is $48, which covers the additional costs of administering and grading the test.

Test Dates and Registration

Both the ACT standard test and the ACT Plus Writing are offered in all 50 U.S. states in September, October, December, February, April and June. The ACT Plus Writing test is also available at all international test centers during their regularly scheduled times for ACT testing, except in February. Students can register for the test online if they are over 13 years old and plan to pay the registration fee with a credit card. Students younger than 13, or those who plan to pay with a check or money order, must mail in an ACT registration packet.

Scoring and Multiple Attempts

The ACT is scored 1 to 36, with the latter being best. Since entrance into college is competitive, students with a score of less than 12 may choose to retake the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing. According to the AverageACTScore website, 99 percent of students score at least a 12, making any score in that range less desirable to U.S. colleges; 55 percent of students who choose to retake the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing increase their scores.