The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in: English, Mathematics, Reading and Science.
The ACT Plus Writing includes the four subject area tests plus a 30-minute Writing Test.
ACT results are accepted by all 4-year colleges and universities in the U.S. The ACT includes 215 multiple-choice questions and takes approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete, including a short break (or just over four hours if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing). Actual testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (plus 30 minutes if you are taking the ACT Plus Writing).
The ACT is administered on six test dates within the United States, U.S. territories, Puerto Rico, and Canada—September, October, December, February, April, and June. In other locations, the ACT is administered on all of the above dates except September.
The basic registration fee includes score reports for up to four college choices, if you list valid codes when you register.
The ACT tests are prepared according to the:
- Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education (1999).
- Code of Professional Responsibilities in Educational Measurement, National Council on Measurement in Education (1995).
- Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education, Joint Committee on Testing Practices (2004).
People of all ages and grade levels are eligible to take the ACT. This includes students in grades 6, 7, 8, and 9 and high school graduates. Of course you'll need to register and pay the test fees.
What accommodations are available for students with disabilities?
ACT is committed to serving students with disabilities by providing reasonable accommodations appropriate to the student's diagnosis. For detailed information, see Services for Students with Disabilities.
ACT has established policies regarding documentation of an applicant's disability and the process for requesting test accommodations. For details, see ACT Policy for Documentation to Support Requests for Test Accommodations on the ACT.
Why take the ACT?
- The ACT is accepted by all 4-year colleges and universities in the United States.
- The ACT multiple-choice tests are based on what you're learning. The ACT is not an aptitude or an IQ test. The test questions on the ACT are directly related to what you have learned in your high school courses in English, mathematics, reading, and science. Every day you attend class you are preparing for the ACT. The harder you work in school, the more prepared you will be for the test.
- There are many ways to prepare for the ACT. Taking challenging courses in high school is the best way to prepare, but ACT also offers a number of test preparation options including free online practice tests, testing tips for each subject area tested, and the free student booklet Preparing for the ACT. This booklet includes complete practice tests (with a sample writing prompt and example essays). ACT Online Prep™, the only online test preparation program developed by ACT, is another tool to help you be ready for test day.
- The ACT helps you plan for your future. In addition to the tests, the ACT also provides you with a unique Interest Inventory and a Student Profile Section. By responding to these sections, which ask about your interests, courses, and educational preferences, you provide a profile of your work in high school and your career choices to colleges.
- The ACT helps colleges find you. By taking the ACT, you make yourself visible to colleges and scholarship agencies, so it's another way to help you get ready for life after high school.
- Your ACT score is based only on what you know. The ACT is the only college admission test based on the number of correct answers—you are not penalized for guessing.
- You choose which scores you send to colleges. When you register for the ACT, you can choose up to four colleges to which ACT will send your scores as part of the basic fee for your test option. If you take the test more than once, you choose which test date results the colleges will receive. ACT sends scores only for the test date you select.
- Optional Writing Test. Because not all colleges require a writing test for admission, ACT offers you the choice of whether or not you want to spend the extra time and money taking the Writing Test. Writing is a important skill for college and work, but schools use different methods to measure your writing skills. Find out what colleges have told us about their policies here.
The ACT is an achievement test, measuring what a student has learned in school. The SAT is more of an aptitude test, testing reasoning and verbal abilities.
The ACT has up to 5 components: English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test. The SAT has only 3 components: Critical Reasoning, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.
The College Board introduced a new version of the SAT in 2005, with a mandatory writing test. ACT continues to offer its well-established test, plus an optional writing test. You take the ACT Writing Test only if required by the college(s) you're applying to.
The SAT has a correction for guessing. That is, they take off for wrong answers. The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing.
The ACT has an Interest Inventory that allows students to evaluate their interests in various career options.
When should I test?
Pick a test date that is at least two months ahead of the application deadlines of all the colleges and scholarship agencies you might want to apply to. Scores for the ACT (No Writing) are normally reported within 3–8 weeks after the test date. If you take the ACT Plus Writing, scores will be reported only after all of your scores are available, including Writing, normally within 5–8 weeks after the test date.
Advantages to testing in your junior year:
- You've probably completed the coursework corresponding to the test material.
- You'll have your test scores and other information in time to help you plan your senior year. (For example, you may decide to take an additional class in an area in which your test score was low.)
- Colleges will know of your interests and have your scores in time to contact you during the summer before your senior year, when many of them are sending information about admissions, course placement, scholarships, and special programs to prospective students.
- You'll have information about yourself and the schools you're considering prior to your campus visits, making your visits more focused.
- You'll have the opportunity to retest if you feel your scores don't accurately reflect your abilities in the areas tested.
Many students test twice, once as a junior and again as a senior. You should definitely consider retesting if you had any problems during testing, such as misunderstanding the directions, running out of time, or not feeling well.
You may also want to consider retesting if you don't believe that your scores accurately represent your abilities, especially if you see a discrepancy between your ACT scores and your high school grades, or if you have completed coursework or an intensive review in the subject areas included in the ACT since you tested.
If you test more than once, you determine which set of scores are sent to colleges or scholarship programs. ACT reports scores from only one test date per report.
You may take the ACT no more than 12 times total. This restriction applies even if your scores from a test date are cancelled by you or by ACT. ACT reserves the right to cancel your registration, rescind your admission ticket, or take any other steps necessary to enforce this policy. If you violate this restriction, your scores will not be reported or will be cancelled and your fees will not be refunded.
In calculating the 12-test total, ACT makes exceptions for State Testing required by your District or your state's Department of Education and tests taken as a young examinee through an academic talent search organization. Other exceptions will be considered only if you submit the request via our Retest Exception Request Form no later than two weeks before the regular registration deadline for the test date you would like to be your 13th test date.
Exceptions are within ACT's sole discretion. ACT will respond to your request within seven working days from date of receipt. (Please note: Exception requests will not be considered for students who have not already tested ten times).
You may not receive scores from more than one test date during a scheduled national or international administration (Saturday, non-Saturday, or rescheduled test date arranged by ACT). If you are admitted and allowed to test a second time, we will report only the scores from the first test. The second or third set of scores will be cancelled without refund.
You may not receive scores from more than one test date per state administration (initial or makeup) if your school participates in ACT State Testing. If you are allowed to test more than once, we will report only the scores from the first test. The second set of scores will be cancelled.
If you want to retest through another testing program other than National or International (for example, Special or Arranged Testing, Project Testing, Residual Testing), you must wait a minimum of 60 days between retests. If you are allowed to retest within 60 days of your last administration, your second set of scores will be cancelled without refund.
Originally, "ACT" stood for "American College Testing." In 1996, however, the official name of the organization was shortened to simply "ACT." This change in the official company name was made to better reflect the broad array of programs and services we now offer beyond college entrance testing.
The "ACT test" is administered by ACT, which is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides a broad array of assessment, research, information, and program management solutions in the areas of education and workforce development.
Each year, ACT serves millions of people in high schools, colleges, professional associations, businesses, and government agencies—nationally and internationally. Our Mission is simply helping people achieve education and workplace success
For more: ACT International; Student Information and Educator Information
Frequently Asked Questions: ACT FAQs
Test Dates: U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada and other countries
Registration fees: ACT Fees and Services