How to Ace the ACT

Prepare Yourself to Ace the ACT

To do your best on the ACT, you should prepare by focusing on three key things: the content of the exam, the timing and structure of the test, and what to expect when you arrive to take the test.

ACT Sections and Timing

The ACT has four sections: math, English, reading and science. All sections contain multiple-choice questions. You may also choose to take an optional writing test.

Section Time AllowedNumber of Questions
Reading 35 minutes 40
Science 35 minutes 40
Math 60 minutes 60
English 45 minutes 75
Writing (optional) 40 minutes 1 essay prompt

ACT Content

Math Section

The purpose of the math section is to measure your ability to practically apply your math skills. Test-takers are allowed to use calculators, but they are not required. The test focuses on six areas of mathematics:

Area Percentage of Total Questions
Pre-Algebra 20 - 25%
Elementary Algebra 15 - 20%
Intermediate Algebra 15 - 20%
Coordinate Geometry 15 - 20%
Plane Geometry 20 - 25%
Trigonometry 5 - 10%

To brush up on the skills you'll need to ace the math section, check out Study.com's online ACT Math Prep course. Each chapter focuses on the specific subject matter of the math section and is taught via short video lessons and practice quizzes to gauge your progress.

Reading Section

The reading section of the ACT has four parts, each representing 25% of your total score for the section. In each part, you will read college-level passages of prose and answer questions that measure your ability to use reasoning skills to identify implicit and explicit meaning. Each of the four parts of the reading section features a written passage focused on a certain academic discipline:

  • Humanities
  • Literary Narrative or Prose Fiction
  • Social Studies
  • Natural Sciences

Study.com's ACT Reading Prep and Practice course features five chapters created by educators in the field to prepare you to excel on this section of the ACT.

Science Section

The science section of the ACT focuses on natural sciences and measures what you've learned in your biology, earth science and physical science classes. In this section, you will review different types of information and critically analyze them to answer questions. The types of information include summaries of research, differing hypotheses for a single problem, and data such as tables or graphs.

To review and improve the skills and knowledge measured on the science section, check out our online ACT Science Prep and Practice course. This course has 17 lessons that cover both the science skills and the science subjects included on the ACT science section.

English Section

The English section of the ACT measures your writing skills. It contains five written passages and multiple choice questions relating to them. This section includes questions in two different categories: rhetorical skills and mechanics. The test is broken down as follows:

CategoryPortion Percentage of Total Questions
Rhetorical Skills Style 15 - 20%
Strategy 15 - 20%
Organization 10 - 15%
Mechanics Punctuation 10 - 15%
Sentence Structure 20 - 25%
Grammar and Usage 15 - 20%

This ACT English Prep and Practice course delves into the rhetorical and mechanical skills included on the English section of the ACT. Review these concepts, and take short quizzes and practice tests to prepare for test day.

Writing Section

If you choose to take the optional writing section of the ACT, you will compose one essay. The prompt for the essay will present a subject and several conflicting perspectives regarding it. Within your essay, you will examine each perspective then present and explain your perspective in relation to those provided in the prompt.

To refresh your writing skills and ensure that you effectively plan and write a sparkling ACT essay, check out the ACT Writing Practice course. Like all Study.com ACT prep courses, you can review the lessons and take quizzes online at your convenience.

ACT Test-Day Tips

To arrive relaxed and ready to take the ACT, keep these things in mind:

  • The only writing instruments you may use are No. 2 pencils.
  • You'll need to bring both your registration ticket and a photo I.D.
  • Don't wear a watch that makes any noises, or bring any electronic devices with you when you take the test.
  • Bring an approved calculator with you for the math test.
  • You will not be allowed to bring any food, tobacco or beverages into the test room.
  • You need to arrive by the designated reporting time, so be familiar with the location of the test and how to get there.
  • You will be allowed one short break after two sections of the ACT. If you take the writing test, you'll get another short break before beginning that section.

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