The ACT is a 2-hour-and-30-minute (3 hour and 25 minutes for the ACT plus Writing test) standardized test that assesses students'? level of academic development for admissions for four-year colleges and universities. Schools of higher education around the United States use the ACT, like the SAT, as a common standard by which to gauge the preparation of applicants. The exam asks students to demonstrate their level of accomplishment in English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. In many cases, especially at more competitive schools, admissions policies also require an additional Writing module.

ACT Links

> Applying to College
> Registering for the ACT
> ACT Fees
> What is on the ACT?
> ACT Plus Writing
> ACT vs. SAT
> How do I prep for the ACT?
> On Test Day
> ACT Test Accommodations
> ACT Make-up Exams
> How is the ACT scored?
> When do I get ACT scores?
> What do ACT results mean?
> ACT Practice Exams
> ACT Contact/Resources

2016-17 ACT Dates

September 10, 2016

October 22, 2016

December 10, 2016

Feb. 11, 2017 (no NY sites)

April 8, 2017

June 10, 2017

All test dates are Saturdays. Sunday testing due to documented religious observance is on the day following each.

ACT Date and
Location Details

Applying to College

Traditionally, students will take the ACT during either the late spring of their Junior year or the fall/winter of their Senior year. Deadlines for college applications vary significantly in type and timing. Early Decision and Early Action applications usually fall in October or November of the year prior to intended matriculation. While in some cases final test scores can be forwarded to school admissions offices after applications have been submitted, generally, students applying early will want to have their testing completely finished and scores reported by early October.

Regular application dates generally fall between December and February. In this case, students should try to wrap up their standardized testing in November or early December, at the latest.

Both the ACT and SAT allow students to retake tests and report only their optimal scores, but each test administrator also has a limited calendar of test days. In the case of the ACT, there are only six annual test dates. Therefore, students should plan ahead. If you expect to sit for the ACT multiple times (up to 12 total), it is often good strategy to establish a baseline score for yourself early in the spring of your Junior year (preferably, as early as January) and then plan from there.

That all being said, the ACT (or the rival SAT) is merely one small component in the process of applying to four-year undergraduate programs. In most cases, applicants are also responsible for a diverse array of application materials. These may include application forms, personal statements, short-answer supplements, high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, portfolios of creative work, and auditions, among other things. It is an elaborate elaborate business. Students must consider the standardized test component in this broad context.

All the same, these standardized tests tend to dominate many discussions of college-admissions simply because they are more within the immediate control of students than are the students' long-term records of academic success; standardized tests happen in a day, academic records are the products of many years of consistent effort. Further, standardized tests can, along with strong supplementary materials and a record of improved academic performance over the later high school years, help redeem a high school career that might not have started on the best footing.

Still, standardized tests are not a magic bullet, and we cannot stress enough the preeminent importance of the total application package that students prepare. What is more, despite the increased influence of aggregators like the Common Application, virtually all colleges' admissions procedures are different to some degree. Beyond a general awareness therefore of the story they are telling with their entire application package, students should also be mindful of the particularity of each school's process and be careful to tailor each application individually. You should be sure to make direct contact with every college or university to which you are applying.

In light of all this complexity, we strongly advise that students draw heavily on the help offered by their schools' guidance offices. Otherwise, in the absence of a strong college guidance program at your school, you would be wise to have at least one session of consultation with an independent college counselor or one of many non-profit college counseling services.

Registering for the ACT

Online registration
is far and away the best and most efficient method to sign up for the ACT. As a first-time user, you will be asked to create an account profile. You will later be able to use this profile to sign up for additional test dates, check scores, and manage the list of schools that will receive your score report. This method will give you immediate confirmation of your test center, date, and time, and will allow you to print out the admission ticket that you must bring with you on test day.

Students who are under 13 or who cannot pay by credit card must register by mail. You can either obtain a mail-in registration packet at your school's guidance office or request one here.

At the time of initial registration, you will need your high school's national ID code. It can be found here.

Students who are requesting extra time or other accommodations are advised to create a profile and register as usual for a testing date and time. You will be required to submit your admission ticket along with your separate application for accommodation. See the section below for further details on this application and the requirements for supporting documentation.

For those who require non-Saturday testing or other alternate time and place arrangements (for instance, if there is no testing site within 50 miles of your home), you can consult the requirements for Arranged Testing.

Finally, if you should happen to miss late registration for your optimal test date, you may be able to arrange stand-by testing for an additional fee but with no guarantee that you will be able to sit for the test.

ACT Fees

The basic registration fee for the ACT ($42.50 without the Writing section; $58.50 with Writing) covers your testing and scoring services as well as costs for sending score reports to four colleges or universities.
From there additional fees will be added for the following services:

  • Fifth and sixth college reports (scheduled before the day of the test; additional costs are associated with requesting further reports after the test day): $12.00 each.

  • Telephone re-registrations: $15.00

  • Late registration: $27.50

  • Stand-by testing: $51.00 (refunded if you are not seated)

  • International testing: $41.00 (Note: ACT plus Writing is not available)

  • Test-date change: $24.00 (this may be in addition to late-registration fees)

  • Test-center change: $25.00

  • Test Information Release (TIR) service (sends students all questions and answer sheets): $20.00

Back to ACT Topics

What is on the ACT?

The basic ACT (without the Writing option) consists of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The full testing time for the basic ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes, but students should expect to spend 3 hours and 30 minutes for test administration: this time includes logistics and one break during the test. Students will face the sections in sequence and each section will be timed independently. Students may not return to a previous section or go ahead to subsequent sections during the test.

English Section -- 75 Questions -- 45 Minutes

The English section includes questions covering Usage/Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills. The first includes questions that address punctuation (13%), grammar and usage (16%), and sentence structure (24%). The second poses questions testing students' command of strategy (16%), organization (15%), and style (16%).

These questions all follow the same essential structure: phrases within a multi-paragraph passage are underlined, and test-takers are required to choose among answer choices that revise, replace, reorder, or remove the underlined information. Often a "no change" option is also given. These questions demand that students consider the context of the underlined portion as well as their understanding of the rules of English composition.

Mathematics Section -- 60 Questions -- 60 Minutes

The Mathematics section poses questions covering the expected mathematical competency of a student at the end of 11th grade. These questions demand both command of the curriculum and the ability to extend mathematical reasoning and apply familiar concepts under new conditions.

The Mathematics section includes six content areas: Pre-Algebra (23%), Elementary Algebra (17%), Intermediate Algebra (15%), Coordinate Geometry (15%), Plane Geometry (23%), and Trigonometry (7%).

Students are responsible for basic formulas. Approved calculators are allowed. Consult this list here to determined if your calculator is approved.

Reading Section -- 40 Questions -- 35 Minutes

The Reading section gauges students' reading comprehension. The section comprises four sub-sections, each presenting one long or two shorter passages that reflect the level of complexity and depth of typical first-year college coursework. These will involve readings from a range of disciplines: Social Studies (25%), Natural Sciences (25%), Prose Fiction (25%), and Humanities (25%).

The questions addressing these passages will test students' reasoning skills in deciphering main ideas, interpreting details, sequencing events, discerning cause and effect relationships, determining meaning from context, drawing generalizations from specific cases, and analyzing authorial voice and tone.

Science Section -- 40 Questions -- 35 Minutes

The Science section does not require command of specific scientific facts or theories. Instead, the section measures students' ability to apply the tools of scientific thought: analysis and interpretation of data sets, evaluation of hypotheses, reasoning, and problem solving.

The questions will present test-takers with basic data in one of three ways:

  • Data sets (graphs, tables, or other schematics) (38%)

  • Research summary (45%)

  • Conflicting viewpoints on a single phenomenon (17%)

Test-takers then answer questions which require that they:

  • discern basic patterns in the data

  • critically evaluate conclusions drawn from the data

  • draw sound conclusions, reach generalizations, or make predictions.

Back to ACT Topics

ACT Plus Writing

The ACT plus Writing meets some colleges' and universities' desire to see an objective evaluation of students' writing ability. At the end of the basic exam period, students who have registered for the ACT plus Writing will continue on to an additional 30-minute section. This section demands that students apply the skills they would typically acquire in their high school writing or first-year college composition courses.

The section consists of a single prompt. Students are given a statement and two alternate points of view on the statement's claim. A question will then direct them to respond to these points of view either by defending or refuting one of them or by presenting their own positions on the issue. They will be expected to muster evidence drawn from their experience or education in defense of their claims. The point of view that they adopt will not be evaluated. Rather, test graders will consider the students' demonstration of rhetorical and organizational ability.


This is a classic debate. While historically the SAT was the test of choice around the Coasts and the ACT dominated in the Midwest, we've now arrived at the point where every four-year school around the country has adopted both tests (and all swear up and down that they are agnostic on the question of which they prefer). So, students are posed with the dilemma: which test will help them put their best feet forward in the competitive application environment. Many. Many. Many. Many people have weighed in on this. Here are the basic points to consider:

  • Content: The most basic difference is this: the ACT is a curriculum-based test. The SAT is an "aptitude" test. From this basic difference there are a few consequences.

A) The SAT is a test-takers test. Since it doesn't base its questions as much on the student's knowledge base coming into the test, it creates difficulty by being tricky. The SAT poses questions that have twists and turns and traps. If reading and analytic skills are not your forte, the SAT may not be the test for you. The ACT is more straightforward. On the other hand, if your strength has not been doing all your homework diligently or taking copious notes, but you still make it happen at test time, then the SAT could play to your strengths.

B) The SAT demands vocabulary. The ACT requires some Trigonometry. If either of these facts give you chills, you might consider steering toward the more comfortable test.

  • Time: The ACT is 2 hours and 55 minutes long (assuming you aren't taking the optional Writing section). The SAT takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. Will the extra time be an issue for you?

  • Writing: Not all colleges and universities require the ACT plus Writing. The SAT includes a mandatory writing section. If your target schools don't require the optional Writing module on the ACT and standardized essay writing fills you with dread, then that's a plus in the ACT column.

In the end, it's a matter of feel and expectation. The best thing you can do to answer this question is take a practice test of each type under comparable conditions (timed, in one sitting, when you're similarly well-rested and fed) and see how you do. Beyond the score, which felt better? Which made your eyes glaze over more? You are the only judge who matters here. Of course, Partners with Parents has tutors who are well-versed in both and can help guide you.

How do I prepare for the ACT?

As with any standardized, timed test, the first step in ACT Prep is to develop familiarity. You want to know the times, the question types, and the content. So, start with a practice test. Your high school guidance office can provide you with an information booklet that includes a full sample test. You can also download it as a PDF here. Take it under conditions that approximate test-day circumstances as you can manage: sleep well the night before; do it in the morning; do it in one sitting with appropriate times and breaks. An untimed practice test really isn't going to tell you much.

If you do not score as high as you'd like or simply want more practice, there are many options available to you. First, ACT, Inc. itself publishes a collection of practice tests in their Official ACT� Prep Guide. Unlike books published by third parties, who often create questions that make mistakes on format, content, or question writing, the ACT book is made by the official test-makers. These sample tests best reflect the test you will be facing on test day.

From there, though, many other publishers do offer further practice materials. Despite the occasional lapses mentioned above, these can make useful contributions to a self-administered test preparation regimen. But in the event that work on your own doesn't produce the results you're looking for, or if you know that you're just not going to be able to do it that way, Partners With Parents works with some of the best ACT tutors, who will design a program to help you meet your goals by the time the test date rolls around. E-mail us or call us at (212) 928-5016/5014.

On Test Day

You are expected to report to your ACT test center at 8:00 am sharp. Try to be early to allow for unforeseen problems.

You must bring the following:

We also advise that you bring an approved calculator and snacks or water (to have during the break, outside the test room).

Also, we urge you to make sure that you get a good night's sleep before the test, eat a good breakfast, wear comfortable clothes, and allow yourself a little time before the test begins to take a breath and relax.

ACT Testing With Accommodations

Students with a documented learning difference or other disability that regularly requires accommodation have a variety of options available for ACT testing.

  • Center Testing #1: This is the option for students whose accommodation does not included extra time. Students must make prior arrangements with the ACT, but they report as usual to their test center on their assigned test day. Accommodations might include the following: large-type test materials, wheelchair accessibility, marking answers in the test book, access to snacks for those with diabetes, as well as assistance for those with hearing impairments (a seat near enough to read the proctor's lips, printed instructions and visual timing cues, or sign-language interpreter).

  • Center Test #2: For this option, students in need will be provided with 50% additional time at a testing center.

  • In some cases, a Special Testing date and place can be arranged with any of the above accommodations, as well as additional options.

In any case, the need must be properly documented after the student has registered for a regular testing time. The details of documentation can be found here.

ACT Make-Up Exams

In short, there are no ACT make-ups. If you're late or miss a test date for any reason, you'll just have to register for the next exam. Naturally, the ACT cares deeply about the "validity and integrity" of the exams they create, so once the seal on the test booklet is broken, if something goes awry and you can't complete the test, you'll also just have to register for the next date. If this is a concern because you need to get it out of the way in the spring of junior year or you have a specific deadline for applications, then it would be wise to pick an initial testing date that leaves you a few options should everything not go as planned.

If you miss your test date but know you still need to take the ACT, it does behoove you to call (319) 337-1270 or log onto your ACT account and make the appropriate changes to your registration. Although a "change fee" of $23 applies, you do avoid the full cost of registering for a new exam date. As you might expect, if you do not want to reschedule for another exam date all of the original fees except for a few optional services are nonrefundable.

How is the ACT scored?

Unlike the SAT, the ACT includes no guessing penalty. That is, test-takers are not penalized for incorrect answers. As a result, students should be sure to do their best to answer as many questions as possible, even if they are running low on time.

Your raw score is the total number of correct answers. The raw score is then normalized to generate a scaled score that is comparable across every different test form. The scaled score for each section (English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science) falls on a range between 1 (low) and 36 (high). Those scores are then averaged to generate an overall Composite Score. This is the headline number, like the 2400 on the SAT, but schools will see all of your section scores as well.

In addition to these numbers, your score report will also indicate a range of subscores within each test section. For instance, the English section will have a subscore for Usage/Mechanics as well as one for Rhetorical skills. These are less for the benefit for colleges than they are for you as you continue your preparation. You might find good guidance in a low subscore, an indication of where you need the most concentrated review.

Finally, your score report will include a percentage-based "National Rank." This will tell you where, as of that testing, you stand relative to your peers.

When do I get the ACT results?

ACT scores are available for free online (log in using your account profile) two and a half weeks after your test date.

As for school reporting, that takes substantially longer. Your selected colleges will receive scores 3-8 weeks after you sit for the exam. If you did the Writing section as well, do not expect schools to receive anything before 5 weeks.

What do the ACT results mean?

As with most standardized tests, a student's ACT results have a limited descriptive value. While they do give a window into some important skills that students will draw upon when in the competitive environment of college, they also, to some degree, simply document a student's ability to take tests. Test-taking is a skill unto itself.

That being said, since the ACT bases its questions more on curricular content, your score can indicate areas in which you might want to do some focused review before college. While the SAT often only indicates talent at taking the SAT, the ACT does correlate a bit more to mastery of core academic content. Your deficits here may indicate a lack of preparation at your school. Whatever the case, you can and should treat any unsatisfactory score as a matter that it is to some degree within your own power to remedy.

ACT Practice Exams


ACT Contact Info/Resources

For further information on the ACT and the policies of ACT, Inc., visit the website or contact the main office at (319) 337-1270 (Monday through Friday, between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm, Central Time).

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