The ACT Test Structure

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  • 0:01 ACT Structure
  • 1:07 Multiple Choice
  • 3:34 Question Types
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Get a bird's-eye view of the ACT test structure, including the timing and question types for each section (including the essay) and how the test is arranged.

ACT Structure

One of the most intimidating parts of standardized testing is just figuring out the test itself - if you're feeling hopelessly lost in all the technicalities, you're not alone! But now for the good news: if you just sit down and actually go over it all from the beginning, the ACT isn't that hard to figure out. It's got a few oddball quirks, but nothing you can't handle. So let's get into it.

The ACT is a standardized test taken by high school students applying to college. It has five sections in total: four required multiple-choice sections and one optional essay. Each of these sections tests a different subject area.

Accounting for administrative time, breaks, and normal delays, the entire test takes about 4 hours and 15 minutes if you take only the multiple-choice sections. If you take the essay as well, it's closer to 5 hours. It's a marathon - but at least it's a pretty predictable marathon!

In this lesson, we'll go over the big picture of the test structure and what that means for your score. By the time you're done, you'll have a solid idea of what you'll be facing on test day.

Multiple Choice

First, we'll dig in to the multiple choice. On the multiple choice part of the test, you'll get the following four sections, in this order:

English: 75 questions in 45 minutes

The English test covers grammar and rhetoric. Grammar is the basic nuts-and-bolts stuff; rhetoric is all about sentence structure, organization, and effective word choice. In this section, you'll work on five passages; attached to each passage are 15 grammar and rhetoric questions. The questions aren't arranged in order of difficulty; they just follow the order of the text in the passage.

Math: 60 questions in 60 minutes

The Math test covers standard high school math topics, including pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. In general, the questions start off easier and get harder toward the end.

Reading: 40 questions in 35 minutes

The Reading test has four passages: one each in Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Prose Fiction. Each passage is several paragraphs long and followed by 10 questions. The questions aren't arranged in order of difficulty; they just follow the order of the passage.

Science: 40 questions in 35 minutes

The Science test has three types of passages. Data representation and research summaries passages present some information about a scientific topic or experiment and ask you questions about it. Conflicting viewpoints passages give you several opinions about a topic and ask you to evaluate them. The questions aren't arranged in order of difficulty.

On the ACT, you do all the questions in each section at once and then move on to the rest of the test. So first you'll spend 45 minutes on all the English questions together, and then you're done with the English and you'll move on to the Math. There's no switching back and forth between subject areas.

The Essay

Now let's talk about the essay. The essay is technically optional, but most students applying to colleges choose to take it, since many colleges require it for admission. If you choose to take the essay, it will be the last section, after the Science test.

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