What you need to know about the ACT

Student taking the American College Testing Test.

The ACT test is a national college admissions test and, like the SAT exam, is accepted by all 4-year colleges and universities in the United States. The ACT test comprises subject area achievement tests in four areas: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. As an achievement test, it measures what you have learned in school. In this way, every time you attend class, you are preparing for the ACT test. This test has an optional Writing section. Students planning to take the test for a specific college should check to see if the Writing section is required for the schools of their choice. Keep in mind that you cannot take the Writing test separately, at a later date. You’ll have to repeat the entire test to get a writing test score if you find out you need it later, so it’s probably a good idea to just go ahead and take it with the other tests.


Your ACT test score can range between 1 and 36 in each of the four mandatory testing areas. These four scores are averaged together for a composite ACT test score. When people ask you for your ACT test results, they are usually referring to this composite amount and the national average is about 21.

If you choose to take the optional writing test, you will be given an essay prompt with 40 minutes to compose your essay response. This score appears as a writing test subscore of between 2 and 12. The ACT test, like the latest version of the SAT exam, imposes no penalty for guessing.

As of the fall of 2016, the ACT test score report will contain a number of informative changes. Added are figures that tell how many correct answers the student got out of the highest number possible. Also, your subscores on each test will be placed on a number line that contains a bar labeled ACT Readiness Range. This way, you will be able to tell where your subscore falls in terms of scores that show readiness for college-level study.

Also included in the new score report is an estimated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) benchmark rating. This is shown to help students plan college and career paths. This benchmark is a result of your combined scores on the Math and Science portions of the ACT test.

Even more career-planning information is given to the student in the new report, by the way of Career Connector summaries and Interest-Major Fit data. These scores are established through student responses about interests and experience that are given during registration.

What are the costs?

The ACT test costs $39.50 (no-writing option) and includes a report for you, your high school, and up to four colleges. You will be entering codes for each of these schools when you register. The ACT Plus Writing costs $56.50. The $17.00 writing test fee is refundable should you decide not to take the optional essay prior to the start of your test date. There are late, change, and non-refundable fees so check the official ACT website for more information.

What should I bring?

Bring a four-function, scientific or graphing calculator to the testing room for your own use—but only for the Math section of the test. Sharing calculators is not allowed. Some calculators are prohibited. Bring an ID photo and your printed pre-registration ticket, too. You may bring your own sharpened, soft lead No. 2 pencils with good erasers, but other kinds of writing instruments (such as mechanical pens, ink pens, and highlight pens) are not allowed. Bringing a watch or timer so you can keep track of time is also recommended. If you registered for the ACT Plus Writing, your essay must also be completed in pencil. Snacks, if desired, can be eaten outside of the testing room during the break. For more testing guidelines and information such as ID requirements and approved writing instruments, check out page 9 of this booklet from the official ACT test website.

What kind of job can I get?

Think of taking the ACT test as an important step toward your life goal of securing your chosen job. If you score well on test day, your chances of becoming well-trained for that job in college increase. There is no end to the employment opportunities that will be open to you with a specialized college education. Employers look for people with the best, most complete training. Having a degree from a college, with a strong program in your chosen field, will be a huge asset.

Am I eligible?

Students of every age and grade level are eligible to take the ACT test. Many students take the test in April of their junior year, but if you want extra time to retake the test, it is best to take it earlier.

Why does it matter?

Your ACT test scores matter because they are part of the total package that decides whether or not you are admitted to the college of your choosing. A good test score can mean the difference between getting into the school you want and settling for a lesser one.

What salary can I expect?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has established that the median yearly income for those with a Bachelor’s degree is 63% higher than those with only a high school diploma.

When is it available?

The ACT test is offered nationally, six times a year: September, October, December, February, April, and June. Individual states or areas may have certain dates eliminated from the available test dates. There are strict deadlines for registering and this must be done about 5 weeks in advance of the actual test date. You can incur late or change fees, so plan your testing schedule well in advance. Approved testing centers, nearest to your place, are listed by state—most states having at least a few geographic areas to accommodate proximities. Special exceptions are offered for students who have disabilities, students who are homebound, or students who have religious date conflicts. For more information on registration guidelines, availability, and testing centers, check out this booklet from the ACT test website.

Time Allowed

The total time to test on the four core subjects is 3 hours. The total time to test on the four core subjects plus the option writing portion is 3 hours and 40 minutes. A short break is given after the first two subject tests on either option.

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