1. Education
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

ACT Test 101

ACT Test Basics


'Three students sitting at desk with worksheets, overhead view'
Ableimages/ Photodisc/ Getty Images

What Is the ACT Test?

The ACT test, started by the American College Testing Program (hence the acronym), is a standardized pencil-and-paper test used as a college entrance exam. Colleges and universities use your ACT score, along with your GPA, extracurricular activities, and high school involvement to determine if they’d like you to grace their campus as a freshman. You can take the test a zillion times if you’d like during your junior and senior years, but testing restrictions exist to keep you from having an unfair advantage over students who can’t do the same.

Why Take the ACT Test?

  • Money, money, money. Broke as a joke? The ACT test can garner you some serious coin for the college of your choice if you can earn an impressive score. And by impressive, I do not mean a 21.
  • Your scores follow you around. I’m not kidding. When you apply for your first entry-level job, your ACT score is going to be on your resume, because truthfully, your pizza delivery gig can’t showcase your reasoning ability like a 33 on the ACT can.
  • It can balance a low GPA. So maybe you hated World History, flunked it on purpose, and ruined that 4.0. That doesn’t mean you aren’t smart. Scoring high on the ACT can show off your brains when your GPA doesn’t.

What’s On the ACT Test?

Never fear. You’ll not be required to rewrite the entire periodic table of elements, although Science is one of the subjects you’ll see. This test, although long, (3 hours and 45 minutes) basically measures reasoning and the stuff you learned in high school. Here’s the breakdown:

ACT Test Sections

How Does the ACT Test Scoring Work?

You may have heard previous students from your school bragging about their 34’s on the ACT. And if you did, then you should definitely be impressed with their test-taking skills because that is a high score!

Your overall score and each individual test score (English, Mathematics, Reading, Science) range from 1 (low) to 36 (high). The overall score is the average of your four test scores, rounded to the nearest number. Fractions less than one-half are rounded down; fractions one-half or higher are rounded up.

So, if you get a 23 in English, a 32 in Math, a 21 in Reading, and a 25 in Science, your overall score would be a 25. That’s pretty good, considering the national average is right around a 20.

What's a Good ACT Score?

How Can You Prepare For This ACT Test?

Don’t panic. That was a lot of information to digest all at once. You can actually prepare for the ACT and get a brag-worthy score if you choose one of the following options (or all of them if you’re the go-getter type).

  • ACT Test Prep Tips: Two words: Read them.
  • Tutors: Believe it or not, there are people who specialize in test-prep, and they advertise all over the place. Some are affiliated with companies like Kaplan, but others you can find on your local Craig’s List, or in your guidance counselor’s office. Go with the person who has actually taken the test and can show you their scores. If they didn’t score well, keep looking!
  • Classes: You can find them all over the Web and in your hometown. The best come from reputable sources with proven track records: ACT Test Prep, (from the writers of the ACT), Kaplan, The Princeton Review, and Sylvan are a few places to get you started.
  • Books: Most of the test prep books in your local Barnes and Noble are sufficient to give you a feel for completing the tests. For an even cheaper approach, jump on eBay and score yourself a good deal. Just be sure to get the latest version!
  • Internet: If you don’t want to shell out the cash for a book, try an online source like Barronstestprep.com. It’s considerably less expensive overall, and you get immediate feedback and instantaneous scoring, so it’s easy to tell where you need the most help. Or, try pages like mine where the ACT test tips and practice questions are completely free!
  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Test Prep
  4. ACT
  5. Facts About the ACT Test and Reasons to Take It

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.