ACT Test Content

The ACT is divided into four individual subject examinations, each one covering a separate subject area. The material in each exam breaks down as follows:

English – Students are tested on standards of written English-which covers punctuation, sentence structure and grammar rules-and rhetorical skills, which refer to the strategy and overall communication style of a passage. The exam consists of several prose passages, which are followed by several questions on the passage or selected parts. The test is designed to check understanding of standards and their usage, so spelling, vocabulary and rote knowledge of rules are not tested.

Mathematics – Students are tested on mathematical concepts and practices that federal and state standards mandate be learned by 11th grade. The test is designed to check for mathematical reasoning and basic computational skills, so no complex formulas or elaborate computations will be included in the exam. Calculators are allowed, although there are restrictions.


Reading – Students are tested on direct reading comprehension and inference based on the material presented. Similar to the English exam, the test consists of several prose passages from multiple disciplines, which are followed by several questions on the passage or selected parts. Since reading skills such as determining the main idea and understanding causal relationships are being tested, rote fact checking is not included in the exam.

What to expect on the ACT Test

Science – Students are tested on interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. Although science standards differ widely from state to state, it is presumed that the test takers will have had courses in biology, Earth sciences and the physical sciences by the 11th grade. The test consists of several data sets presented as data representation (graphs, charts, etc.), research summaries or expressions of conflicting hypotheses, which are followed by several questions after each set. Calculators are not allowed during the science exam.

ACT Questions and Time Allowed

Individual test times will depend on several factors-the student’s reading speed, level of comfort with the material, preparation time-but the allotted time is the same. Including break time between tests, students can count on the allotted time being approximately four hours and fifteen minutes. Students who begin testing on the standard ACT exam series at 8 AM can expect to be finished with the exam by 12:15 PM. If the student has signed up for the ACT Plus Writing exam series, an additional break and exam time of thirty minutes is included, and the total time period is approximately five hours, meaning students can expect to be finished with the exam series by 1 PM.

As for the number of questions, the total breaks down as follows: The English exam has 75 questions, all of which are based on passages in the test booklet. The ACT math test has 60 questions; this exam is the only one of the series that has stand-alone questions, meaning students do not have to analyze a passage or prose sample in order to answer the questions. Both of the reading and science exams have 40 questions, and like the English exam, both tests use passages or data sets to provide the basis for the questions of the test. The ACT series in total has 215 questions. If students sign up for the ACT Plus Writing exam series, they will also have one essay prompt to address in addition to the 215 multiple-choice questions.