"I enjoyed this course because no matter what pace you learn at, this course will cater to your needs. If I had more free time would have loved to meet with you more to learn more." Junior, Trinity Day School 

What does the ACT test?   

While the SAT is constructed to test not only your knowledge and application of basic skills, but also the limits of your mental processing -- and as such is a test that for many kids is a unique curricular experience -- the ACT is designed a lot like the multiple-choice tests you actually have in school.  That is, rather than try to 'trick' you, and spin your mind in the wrong direction, the ACT asks you in a much more straightforward manner how well you've learned to apply your skills (Reading, Math, Writing and Science), in situations very much like the situations you've actually experienced  on school tests.  

The required portion of the ACT is divided into four multiple choice subject tests: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science.  Test scores range from 1 to 36 -- in contrast to the SATs scale from 0 - 800.  Each subject area has its own 'subscore', as well, ranging from 1 - 18. The "composite score" is the average of all four tests. Students taking the optional writing test receive a writing score ranging from 2 to 12, as well as a "combined English/writing score" ranging from 1 to 36. The writing score does not affect the overall composite score.

On the ACT, each question correctly answered is worth one raw point. Unlike the SAT, there is no penalty for marking incorrect answers on the multiple-choice part of the test. 


The first section of the ACT is the 45-minute English test covering usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills. The 75-question test consists of five passages with various sections underlined on one side of the page.  The answer choices are options to correct the underlined portions.  Questions focus on usage and mechanics - issues such as commas, apostrophes, (misplaced/dangling) modifiers, the colons, and fragments and run-ons - as well as on rhetorical skills - style (clarity and brevity), strategy, transitions, and organization (sentences in a paragraph and paragraphs in a passage).  

Content and comprehension are never directly tested in this section.


The second section of the ACT is the 60-minute, 60-question math test, broken down as follows:

      14 Pre-algebra 

      10 Algebra I 

      9 Algebra II

      14 plane geometry 

      9 coordinate geometry

      4 Trigonomety 

Calculators are permitted, but the restrictions are tigher on "computer algebra systems" such as the later TIs.


Unlike the SAT, the reading passages of the ACT are quite explicitly thematic -- but LIKE the SAT, the ACT never asks you to interpret anything.  It's all about summarizing what you read, albeit with fewer "traps" designed into the answer choices.  The 36-minute, 40-question reading section measures reading comprehension in four passages taken and edited from books and magazines:  One represents prose fiction, another social science, a third representing humanities, and the last natural science.  

Science reasoning

The science reasoning test is a 35-minute, 40-question test. There are seven passages each followed by five to seven questions. There are three Data Representation passages with 5 questions following each passage, 3 Research Summary passage with 6 questions each, and one Conflicting Viewpoints passage with 7 questions.

The Science section requires you to read and interpret data, to understand and use graphs and charts.  It does NOT require you to remember any facts or concepts not contained in full in the questions.  In other words, you just have to know how to DO science, and NOT remember what you're afraid you've forgotten since 9th grade Biology.


The optional writing section, which is always administered at the end of the test, is a 30 minute essay/response to a prompt, usually about a social issue (hypothetically) of interest to high school students. Rather than affecting your overall score, opting to write an essay generates a separate English/writing score. Two trained readers assign each essay a score between 1 and 6.  A score of 0 is reserved for essays that are blank, off-topic, non-English, not written with no. 2 pencil, or considered illegible after several attempts at reading. Everything else produces a final score from 2 to 12 (or 0). If the two readers' scores differ by more than one point, then a senior, third reader decides.

Although the writing section is optional, several schools do require an essay score and will factor it into the admissions decision.

To put this all in perspective...

I've had a number of student who have struggled on the SAT, but have done quite well with the ACT.  

Then again, I've had a number of students who've done quite well on the SAT, and not so well on the ACT.

And I've had a number of students who have done well on both of them.

The best way to find out if this test is for you is to take a practice test.  ACT.org is a great place to start.