What Is on the ACT Test? – A Comprehensive Guide

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Close up of a hand using a pencil.

What Is On The ACT Test? – A Comprehensive Guide

The ACT test, also known as the American College Testing, is a crucial standardized examination in the United States that plays a pivotal role in the college admissions process. In this article, we will delve into what is on the ACT, outlining the four core sections it covers, discussing the optional writing test, explaining the scoring system, and offering essential tips for effective test preparation.

Understanding the ACT Test

The ACT test is an important assessment tool that high school students take to measure their readiness for college. It plays a crucial role in the college admissions process, as colleges and universities use the scores from the ACT test to make admissions decisions and determine eligibility for merit-based scholarships and grants.

Test score sheet with answers

Before delving into what is on the ACT, understanding the ACT test is crucial to ensure that you approach your preparation with clarity and purpose.

The Purpose of the ACT Test

The purpose of the ACT test is to evaluate a student’s knowledge and skills in key academic areas. It serves as a standardized measure of a student’s readiness for college-level coursework.

So, what is on the ACT test? The test covers essential subjects such as English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, which are fundamental for success in higher education. By assessing a student’s performance in these areas, the ACT test helps colleges and universities gauge their preparedness for the academic challenges that lie ahead.

Moreover, the ACT test provides colleges with a standardized metric to compare students from different educational backgrounds. It allows admissions officers to evaluate applicants on a level playing field, regardless of the variations in their high school curricula.

This standardized approach ensures fairness and equity in the admissions process, enabling colleges to make informed decisions based on objective criteria.

The Structure of the ACT Test

 The ACT test consists of four main sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each section is designed to assess specific skills and knowledge areas that are essential for college success.

The test is administered in a multiple-choice format, where students must select the correct answer from a set of options.

The English section evaluates a student’s understanding of grammar, usage, and rhetoric. It measures their ability to communicate ideas in written form effectively. This section includes questions on sentence structure, punctuation, and rhetorical skills, among others.

The Mathematics section assesses a student’s mathematical reasoning and problem-solving abilities. It covers various topics such as algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics. This section requires students to apply mathematical concepts to solve real-world problems and analyze data.

The Reading section measures a student’s comprehension skills and ability to analyze written passages. It includes questions that test their understanding of the main ideas, supporting details, and the author’s tone and purpose. This section evaluates critical reading skills, which are vital for success in college-level courses.

The Science section evaluates a student’s ability to interpret and analyze scientific information. It assesses their understanding of scientific concepts, experimental design, and data interpretation. This section does not require prior knowledge of specific scientific topics but instead focuses on scientific reasoning and problem-solving skills.

In addition to the four main sections, there is an optional writing test section. This section provides students with an opportunity to showcase their writing skills by responding to a prompt.

While all colleges do not require the writing test, some institutions may consider it in their admissions process.

Once students complete the ACT test, their scores are reported individually for each section. These scores are then combined to produce a composite score, which ranges from 1 to 36. The composite score provides colleges with a comprehensive overview of a student’s overall performance on the test.

The ACT test serves as a valuable tool for both students and colleges. It allows students to demonstrate their academic readiness for college and provides colleges with a standardized measure to evaluate applicants.

By understanding what is on the ACT test, its purpose, and its structure, students can better prepare themselves for success and increase their chances of gaining admission to their desired colleges and universities.

Delving into the ACT Test Sections

The ACT, a comprehensive standardized test, comprises four primary sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. These sections are carefully structured to evaluate various skills and knowledge areas. To gain a better understanding of what is on the ACT, let’s delve into each section in detail.

The English Section

The English section of the ACT consists of 75 questions that test your knowledge of English grammar, punctuation, syntax, and vocabulary.

This section is designed to gauge your understanding of the conventions of standard written English. These questions are divided into two types – those that test your understanding of sentence structure and others that gauge your rhetorical skills.

Having a strong grasp of the English language and grammar is essential not only for the ACT but also for success in college and professional life. The ability to communicate effectively through writing is a valuable skill that will serve you well in various academic and professional settings.

The Mathematics Section

The Mathematics section of the ACT includes 60 questions that test your mathematical skills typically acquired in courses taken up to the beginning of Grade 12.

man is studying for his exam, solving math problems to practice.

The questions cover a broad range of topics, including arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. A solid understanding of these topics will significantly boost your performance in this section.

Mathematics is a fundamental subject that is used in various fields, including science, engineering, finance, and computer science. Developing strong mathematical skills not only helps you excel in the ACT but also equips you with problem-solving abilities that are valuable in many aspects of life.

The Reading Section

The Reading section of the ACT is designed to measure your reading comprehension. It includes 40 questions that must be answered within 35 minutes.

The questions are based on four types of reading passages: prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. Your ability to accurately understand, interpret, and analyze these texts is crucial for a high score.

Reading comprehension is a vital skill that goes beyond the ACT. It is an essential component of academic success as well as everyday life. Being able to comprehend and analyze written information allows you to make informed decisions, engage critically with various texts, and expand your knowledge in different subject areas.

The Science Section

The Science section of the ACT comprises 40 questions and aims to measure your interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills in the realm of natural science.

The questions pertain to biology, chemistry, earth/space sciences, and physics. No specific external knowledge of these subjects is required. Rather it tests your abilities to interpret data and scientific studies.

Science literacy is becoming increasingly important in today’s world. The ability to understand and evaluate scientific information is crucial for making informed decisions about issues such as health, the environment, and technology.

The Science section of the ACT not only assesses your scientific knowledge but also your critical thinking skills, which are valuable in a wide range of academic and professional fields.

Preparing for the ACT involves developing a strong foundation in English, mathematics, reading, and science. It requires practice, dedication, and a willingness to learn. By familiarizing yourself with the content and format of each section, you can approach the test with confidence and maximize your chances of achieving a high score.

The Optional Writing Test

When discussing what is on the ACT, the Optional Writing test is an important component of the exam. It provides an opportunity for students to showcase their written skills in response to a complex issue. This section of the test requires critical thinking and effective communication.

What to Expect in the Writing Test

When you take the Writing test, you will be presented with a short prompt that describes an issue. Three different perspectives will accompany this prompt on the issue.

Your task is to carefully analyze these perspectives, offer your own unique perspective, and explain the relationships between your viewpoint and those given.

This section of the test is designed to assess your ability to think critically and construct a well-reasoned argument. It requires you to consider multiple viewpoints and present a thoughtful analysis of the issue at hand.

Furthermore, the Writing test evaluates your ability to organize your thoughts and ideas effectively. It is essential to structure your essay in a logical and coherent manner, ensuring that your arguments flow smoothly from one point to another.

View of a student writing in an exam sheet.

In addition, the test assesses your proficiency in using language to convey your ideas. It is important to use appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar to communicate your thoughts effectively. A strong command of language will enhance the clarity and persuasiveness of your essay.

Scoring for the Writing Test

It’s important to note that the scores for the Writing test are reported separately and are not a part of your ACT composite score. This means that your performance in the Writing test does not directly impact your overall ACT score.

Your essay will be evaluated by two graders, who will independently score it from 1 to 6 based on four specific areas. These areas include:

  1. Ideas and Analysis: This aspect focuses on the clarity and coherence of your arguments. It evaluates the depth of your analysis and the effectiveness of your reasoning.
  2. Development and Support: This area assesses the extent to which you provide evidence and examples to support your arguments. It also evaluates the relevance and quality of the evidence you present.
  3. Organization: This criterion examines the structure and organization of your essay. It evaluates how well you organize your thoughts and ideas, ensuring a logical progression of arguments.
  4. Language Use: This aspect evaluates your command of language. It assesses your ability to use appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, and grammar to convey your ideas effectively.

After the two graders have independently scored your essay, their scores are then combined to give a final writing score out of 12. This score reflects the overall quality of your essay and your ability to communicate your thoughts effectively.

Preparing for the Writing test is crucial to achieving a high score. It is recommended to practice writing essays on various topics, analyzing different perspectives, and honing your ability to construct a well-structured argument. With sufficient preparation and practice, you can excel in the Writing test and showcase your writing skills to colleges and universities.

ACT Test Scoring System

Understanding what is on the ACT encompasses not only the content but also the way your performance is assessed. The ACT test scoring system plays a pivotal role in converting your efforts into the scores that colleges scrutinize as part of the admissions process.

Understanding Your Composite Score

Your ACT composite score is a crucial number and is a significant part of your college application. It’s an average of your scores on the four multiple-choice tests (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science), rounded to the nearest whole number. Your ACT composite score will be between 1 and 36.

When it comes to college admissions, the ACT composite score holds great importance. It serves as a standardized measure of your academic abilities and is used by colleges and universities to evaluate your readiness for higher education.

The composite score provides admissions officers with a quick snapshot of your overall performance on the ACT, allowing them to compare you to other applicants and make informed decisions.

Having a good ACT score can open doors to various opportunities, including scholarships, honors programs, and admission to competitive institutions. It is essential to understand how the scoring system works to maximize your chances of achieving a high composite score.

a female student reading a letter

How the Section Scores Contribute to Your Composite Score

Each of the four main sections of the ACT contributes equally to your composite ACT score. For each section, raw scores (the number of correct answers) are converted into scaled scores ranging between 1 and 36.

The total of these scaled scores is then divided by four to compute your composite score. Remember, though, that the optional Writing test score does not contribute to the composite score.

Let’s delve deeper into the scoring process for each section. In the English section, your raw score is converted into a scaled score using a predetermined conversion chart.

This scaled score reflects your performance relative to other test-takers. The same process applies to the Mathematics, Reading, and Science sections, ensuring fairness and consistency in the scoring system.

It’s important to note that the ACT is not a test where you can lose points for incorrect answers. Instead, you earn points for correct answers, and there is no penalty for guessing.

This means that it’s always beneficial to answer every question, even if you’re unsure of the correct response. By doing so, you increase your chances of earning more points and improving your section scores.

Once you have your scaled scores for each section, they are combined to calculate your composite score. This process involves summing the scaled scores and dividing the total by four. The resulting number represents your overall performance on the ACT and is the score that colleges will consider during the admissions process.

While the composite score is crucial, it’s also essential to pay attention to your section scores. These scores provide valuable insights into your strengths and weaknesses in specific subject areas. Understanding your section scores can help you identify areas for improvement and develop a targeted study plan to enhance your performance.

Remember, achieving a high composite score requires consistent effort and preparation. It’s advisable to familiarize yourself with what is on the ACT test, practice with sample questions, and consider seeking guidance from test prep resources or professionals.

With dedication and strategic preparation, you can maximize your ACT scores and increase your chances of admission to your dream college.

Preparing for the ACT Test

A solid study plan is instrumental in achieving a high ACT score. When you’re preparing for the ACT test, it’s essential to follow a well-structured preparation strategy.

Study Tips for the ACT Test

To grasp what is on the ACT, it’s crucial to commence your preparation well in advance, ideally a few months before the actual test date. This early start provides the necessary time to cover all the essential material, engage in practice, and cultivate confidence for the upcoming examination.

Consistent review is key. Regularly revisit the concepts you’ve learned to reinforce your understanding. This ongoing revision helps prevent forgetfulness and strengthens your grasp of the subject matter.

Taking practice tests is another fundamental aspect of ACT preparation. These tests serve multiple purposes. They familiarize you with the test format and timing, allowing you to gauge how you perform under test conditions.

Most importantly, they help you identify areas where you may be struggling. These areas of weakness become focal points for your study, enabling you to target your efforts effectively.

Moreover, the ACT is not just about subject matter knowledge. It also tests your test-taking skills. Time management is crucial because the ACT is a timed exam. Practice tests can help you refine your ability to work efficiently within time constraints.

A post it note with the word manage your time.

Additionally, pay close attention to following instructions accurately. Skipping a question or misinterpreting instructions can lead to unnecessary errors.

Resources for ACT Test Preparation

Fortunately, there are abundant resources available to aid you in your ACT preparation journey. ACT practice books and online courses are excellent tools. They often provide a structured study plan and a variety of practice questions to help you familiarize yourself with the test format.

Official ACT practice tests are particularly valuable. These tests are created by the same organization that designs the real ACT, so they closely mimic the actual test, providing you with the most accurate representation of what to expect on test day.

Online platforms like Khan Academy offer free lessons covering all ACT sections. These resources can be incredibly beneficial, especially for those who prefer a more interactive and self-paced learning experience. You can choose resources that align with your learning style and needs, ensuring a personalized and effective preparation process.

In conclusion, acing the ACT requires a well-structured study plan, consistent review, effective use of practice tests, and hone your test-taking skills. Utilizing various resources, including official practice materials and online courses, can make a significant difference in your ACT preparation, ultimately increasing your chances of achieving a high score.

AdmissionSight provides expert guidance and resources to help students understand what is on the ACT and prepare for the test effectively.

Our team’s comprehensive approach ensures that students are well-prepared to tackle each section effectively, ultimately increasing their chances of achieving impressive scores and opening the doors to their dream colleges. Trusting in AdmissionSight’s guidance is a step toward a brighter academic future, equipped with the understanding of what it takes to succeed on the ACT and beyond.


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