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Dig deeper into the ACT

What is the ACT?

An acronym for the “American College Test,” the ACT is a standardized test made up entirely of multiple-choice questions. American colleges and universities use this exam to aid in making admissions decisions; the scores also often help schools decide in which course in a given subject incoming students should begin their collegiate studies. High school students usually study for and sit for the ACT during their junior or senior year to fulfill a common requirement of their college application process. This does not mean that the ACT can only be taken by these students, however; adults and younger students may also take the test. Whether you need top ACT tutors in AtlantaACT tutors in Houston, or top ACT tutors in San Francisco, working with a pro may take your studies to the next level.

How do I study for the ACT?

In addition to an ACT tutor, Varsity Tutors’ free ACT flashcards can help you review the material you find to be toughest easily and efficiently. Flashcards are not only broken down by section, but they are also arranged by concept tested in a given question. This allowed you to figure out where your studying time could be most effectively used and to focus on a given concept until you feel that you understand it completely. For example, instead of drilling every ACT English concept, many of which you already understand, you can go through ACT English flashcards that focus solely on questions that test agreement errors, verb voice, or separating, combining, and reordering sentences. Varsity Tutors’ free ACT flashcards are also available through our free iPhone app, so you easily study on the go. Don’t just skim over content you already know—focus on the topics that can most benefit your review. In addition to the ACT Flashcards and ACT tutoring, you may also want to consider taking some of our ACT practice tests. You may also want to check out our free ACT prep book as well to help with your self-paced study.

How does the ACT differ from the SAT? What are the differences between the ACT and the SAT?

The SAT and the ACT both serve as standardized exams that are commonly included as required portions of college applications; however, there is one major difference between them. Whereas the ACT tests material students are expected to have already learned, the SAT tests students’ aptitude for success in college-level studies, and therefore measures test-takers’ verbal and reasoning abilities. The ACT consists of four required sections and and an optional writing sections, but the SAT consists of three sections: a non-optional Writing section that measures students’ grammatical knowledge and editing abilities; a Mathematics section, and a Critical Reading section; furthermore, the ACT and SAT are scored on different scales. An ACT score, whether a composite score or a section score, is a whole number taken out of thirty-six possible points, whereas the SAT provides its composite scores on a scale of 400 to 1600 points.

What content is tested on the ACT? What do I need to know to succeed when taking the ACT?

The ACT’s four required sections test English, Math, Reading, and Science. The ACT Plus Writing version of the exam includes a fifth section, an essay section in which students produce a long-form written response to a given prompt. If you have mastered the topics covered in regular high school math courses, have a good grasp of standard written English grammar, are confident in your ability to write clearly and effectively, and are confident in your ability to understand and analyze quickly prose ranging from novel excerpts to descriptions of scientific phenomena and experiments, you should feel prepared for the ACT. If you are unsure of your abilities in any of these areas or just want to make sure you are as prepared as you believe yourself to be, Varsity Tutors offers a plethora of high-quality free ACT resources that can help you make the most of your limited review time.

In which order are the sections of the ACT presented?

Whether you elect to take the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing, the section order remains the same: English, followed by Math, followed by Reading, followed by Science. The ACT Plus Writing concludes with its Writing section. Varsity Tutors’ free ACT resources allow you to review the content on which you most need to focus regardless of the order in which the test is given; there’s no reason for you to study the sections in the order in which they are presented during the actual test if you think your review could be more effective by going over them in a different order.

Do I get to take a break when taking the ACT?

When taking the ACT, a break is included between the Math section and the Reading sections, or in the middle of the test, after two sections have been completed and there are two left to go. When taking the ACT Plus Writing, a second break is included between the Science and Writing sections.

How long does the ACT last?

The ACT lasts for approximately four hours and fifteen minutes. The ACT Plus Writing lasts for approximately five hours. These times include the mandatory breaks test-takers are given.

How much does taking the ACT cost?

Currently, registering for the ACT costs $46, and registering for the ACT Plus Writing costs $62.50. (The higher price of the ACT Plus Writing’s registration reflects the fact that it includes a hand-written essay that must be grade by a team of qualified readers). Registering for the ACT or the ACT Plus Writing allows test-takers to send their scores to as many as four different colleges and universities as part of the test’s application fee. If you are a high school junior or a high school senior and can demonstrate that you have financial need, fee waivers are available; furthermore, some states include the ACT as part of required educational testing, making it free to students taking it for this reason.

On Test Day

What do I need to bring to the ACT on test day?

  • Several No. 2 pencils, ready to use

  • A calculator of a type permitted by the ACT

  • Acceptable identification

  • Your test center ticket

You will not be allowed to sit for the test if you do not provide acceptable identification or attempt to bring a prohibited type of calculator into the testing area.

Are calculators allowed to be used when taking the ACT?

Yes; however, it must be one of a limited number of approved types. You won’t be able to sit for the exam if you attempt to bring a calculator of an unapproved type.

What types of calculators can be used when taking the ACT?

You may use a four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator while taking the ACT; however, it may not have any of the following capabilities:

  • built-in computer algebra systems

  • tablet or laptop computers (i.e. PDAs)

  • electronic pen-input devices or writing pads

  • calculators with any kind of built-in communication device (e.g. calculators on cell phones or smartphones)

  • calculators with a typewriter keypad in QWERTY format (letters keys not in this format are permitted)

The following types of calculators are permitted only with these modifications:
  • Calculators with paper tape are permitted if you remove the tape.

  • Calculators that emit noise are permitted if you mute the noise completely.

  • Calculators with infrared data ports are permitted if you cover the infrared data port completely with duct tape or electrician’s tape.

  • Calculators that have power cords are permitted if you remove all such cords.

Can guessing on the ACT hurt my score?

No! The ACT doesn’t penalize you for guessing because only the questions you answer correctly determine your final score. So, if you aren’t sure how to answer a question, guess, as doing so can only help your score.

After Test Day

You made it! Now what’s next?

How soon after testing can I see my ACT scores?

Your scores for the multiple-choice English, Math, Reading, and Science sections should be available to view online within two-and-a-half-weeks after you take the ACT. Writing scores take longer to process and are usually added up to two weeks later, or four-and-a-half weeks after your test date. ACT scores can only be accessed online.

Can I ask for my ACT to be rescored if I think it wasn’t scored correctly?

Up to three months after you receive your scores, if you believe that your test wasn’t scored correctly, you may request to have it hand-scored instead of graded by machine.

Can I stop my ACT score from being sent to colleges?

You may only prevent your ACT scores from being sent to colleges before you see them—that is, before they have been released. The deadline for canceling college reports or making changes to them is noon (central time) on the Thursday following the regularly-scheduled Saturday test date.

Can I retake the ACT?

Yes. Many students take the test once as juniors, then again as seniors to see if they can improve their scores before including scores with college applications. You may take the ACT up to twelve times total. 

If I have taken the ACT multiple times, can I send certain test scores to one college and other test scores to another college?

Yes, as long as you are sending your scores for an entire test. You can send your scores from one test date to a college while omitting the scores you received from testing a different test date, but you must send all of the subscores together. For example, you cannot send only your English, Reading, and Math scores to a given college without also sending your Science score. These scores are all sent together for a given test date.

Should I retake the ACT?

Many students who choose to retake the ACT end up improving their scores. Specifically, 57% end up increasing their composite score, 21% receive the exact same composite score, and 22% end up decreasing their composite score. You can try additional review or ACT tutoring before retaking the test to help your score. Notably, the ACT lets you send schools scores from one test date without including other scores earned on different test dates, so should you retake the ACT and improve your score, schools never need to see your lower, original scores.

Scott Certified Tutor

Rutgers College, Bachelors, Political Science and Government. Florida Coastal School of Law, PHD, Law.

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University of Mississippi, Bachelor of Science, Psychology.

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Xavier University, Bachelor in Business Administration, Accounting. Ohio University-Main Campus, Masters in Education, Mathem...

Free ACT Practice Tests

Our completely free ACT practice tests are the perfect way to brush up your skills. Take one of our many ACT practice tests for a run-through of commonly asked questions. You will receive incredibly detailed scoring results at the end of your ACT practice test to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Pick one of our ACT practice tests now and begin!

ACT English Practice Tests

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Free ACT Diagnostic Tests

Explore the Varsity Learning Tools free diagnostic tests for ACT to determine which academic concepts you understand and which ones require your ongoing attention. Each ACT problem is tagged down to the core, underlying concept that is being tested. The ACT diagnostic test results highlight how you performed on each area of the test. You can then utilize the results to create a personalized study plan that is based on your particular area of need.

ACT English Diagnostic Tests

ACT Math Diagnostic Tests

ACT Reading Diagnostic Tests

ACT Science Diagnostic Tests

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