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The ACT Test: How To Prepare

What is the ACT?

ACT is a set of national admissions tests accepted by every College in the US.

ACT is a great guide for Colleges on how well students are progressing in high school and therefore how ready they are for college.

What’s involved?

You will sit mandatory ACT tests in 4 core subjects:

  • English (45 minutes - 75 questions)
  • Math (60 minutes - 60 questions)
  • Reading (35 minutes - 40 questions)
  • Science (35 minutes - 40 questions)

This is 2 hours 55 minutes in total.

There is also an optional writing test for 40 minutes. You will be given a topic and asked to write an answer about your position on it.

Before deciding whether to take the optional writing test, check if the Colleges you’re thinking of applying to require the test. If you’re not sure which Colleges you may study at, take the test anyway to be on the safe side.

For each of the 4 mandatory tests, you will be asked multiple choice questions.

These will be based on the skills and knowledge you have already learnt in high school. This is fantastic as it means you can showcase all the hard work and study you’ve put into your school classes.

How do I take an ACT test?

You will need to register online at and create an ACT student web account to apply for the test.

There are thousands of test centers across the country in every state as well as overseas, many of them being high schools. In 2016/17 there are 6 test dates available.

The good news is you can resit the test at a future date (up to 12 times), if you want to try and increase your scores.  

Can I practice beforehand?

Yes, you can and in fact we highly recommend you do. There are lots of free online and downloadable app practice tests available as well as paid for ones. You may also find your high school has past test papers you can access.

Spend as much time as you can preparing for the ACT test and take as many different practice papers as time permits.

The more time and effort you put into this, the more skills and experience you will build up on the types of questions and answers needed.

When taking practice papers always keep to the time limits set for the tests. This should mean you’ll find the real test date easier to manage, giving you confidence to overcome any nerves, as you’ll know exactly what to expect and when.

Can you explain my scores?

For each of the 4 mandatory ACT tests you will receive a score from 1 to 36. You will also receive an overall ACT score from 1 to 36 which is an average of your 4 main scores.

To help you understand your score better you’ll be given national score rankings so you can see where you are in comparison to other students in your state and across the country. If you took the optional writing test, you’ll also receive a score for this from 1 to 36 along with comments on your essay.

A STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) score combining your math and science scores and an ELA score combining your English, reading and writing scores will also be available. 

You can assess your scores online through your ACT student web account or you can wait for them to be sent in the post. In addition, you can select which 4 colleges are automatically sent your ACT scores.

And finally...

Although there is a fee for your ACT test you may be eligible for fee waivers. Your high school will be able to advise you further on this.

The ACT test is your opportunity to shine and show colleges just how amazing you are and why they need you as a student.

Still undecided about taking either the ACT or the SAT? Find out more about the SAT in our comprehensive guide.