The Act Exam – Format, Syllabus, Tips & Resources

Wondering if ACT is the right test for you or not? This post covers what exactly this test is, who can write it, types of the exam, exam pattern, syllabus, duration, results and scoring, registration process, application fee, and much more. We have also covered some important tips for your preparation and free resources.

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What Is ACT Exam?

ACT stands for American College Testing. It is a standardized assessment conducted by ACT Inc. It works as a tool for high school students, helping them get ready for college and plan their future careers. The exam consists of multiple-choice questions and an optional writing section, evaluating students’ proficiency in subjects like English, Math, Reading, and Science. Recognized by numerous universities in the USA, the ACT exam is a pivotal factor in college admissions, influencing students’ acceptance into desired institutions and scholarship opportunities.

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Why Take ACT Exam?

Considering the demanding preparation required for the ACT exam, you might wonder if it’s worth the effort. However, the benefits of taking the ACT exam are plenty and can significantly impact your academic and professional future. Here are some of the reasons why taking the ACT exam is a good choice:

  • Compensates for Low GPA: When your high school grades fall short of a college’s admission requirements, a high ACT score can compensate for it. Admissions committees often consider ACT scores as a reliable indicator of your academic abilities, potentially compensating a lower GPA and improving your chances of acceptance into your desired college.
  • Access to Scholarships: One of the most significant advantages of a high ACT score is the opportunity to earn scholarships. Many colleges and organizations offer merit-based scholarships to students with exceptional ACT scores. These scholarships can substantially reduce the financial burden of higher education, making it more accessible and affordable for deserving students.
  • Enhanced College Options: A strong ACT score increases your choices when it comes to selecting colleges and universities. Many prestigious institutions consider ACT scores during the admissions process. By achieving a competitive score, you open doors to a wider range of educational opportunities, letting you pursue your studies at institutions known for their academic excellence and resources.

Eligibility Criteria

The ACT exam offers a flexible eligibility criterion, allowing a wide range of students to participate. Here are the key requirements and guidelines for ACT exam eligibility:

  • Academic Levels:
    • There are no specific academic grade requirements to appear for the ACT exam.
    • Typically, fresh high school graduates take the ACT test to apply for undergraduate courses at universities in the US and other countries.
  • Grade Levels:
    • Students in grades 6 through 9 are eligible to take the ACT test, expanding the opportunities for younger students to assess their academic readiness.
  • Age Restrictions:
    • There are no age restrictions for taking the ACT exam.
    • However, applicants below the age of 13 must contact ACT customer support, as a MyACT account cannot be created unless the applicant is at least 13 years old.
  • Registration Requirements:
    • The ACT exam must be taken at least 2 months before the university application deadline. Results typically take two to eight weeks to be released.
    • To register for the ACT exam, the applicant must have an International Debit or Credit card for payment purposes.
    • A valid passport is required as proof of identification during ACT exam registration.
  • ACT Photo Requirements:
    • The applicant’s photo must adhere to specific guidelines:
      • It should be a single photo with nobody in the background.
      • The image must be clear; blurry or hazy images are not acceptable.
      • The photo should depict the head and shoulders, squarely facing the camera.
      • Portrait mode photos are required, not landscape mode.
      • Dark glasses are not allowed, and there should be no filters, emojis, or lenses in the picture.
      • The maximum file size allowed is 5 MB, and the photo should be 640 x 480 pixels.
      • The face should be aimed directly at the camera.
      • Only JPEG, JPG, PNG, or BMP formats are acceptable for the photo submission.

ACT Syllabus

SectionTopics Covered
ACT EnglishUsage/Mechanics: Punctuation, grammar rules, sentence structure.
Rhetorical Skills: Topic development, logical organization, style and tone in writing.
ACT MathematicsAlgebra/Elementary Algebra: Operations with numbers, fractions, decimals, fundamental algebraic concepts.
Intermediate Algebra/Coordinate Geometry: Algebraic expressions, equations, functions, coordinate geometry.
Plane Geometry/Trigonometry: Geometric properties, proofs, introductory trigonometry.
ACT ReadingSocial Studies: History, psychology, sociology, and related topics.
Natural Sciences: Biology, chemistry, physics, and related areas.
Literary Narrative/Prose Fiction: Passages from novels, short stories, personal essays.
Humanities: Art, music, philosophy, language.
ACT ScienceData Representation: Analysis of graphs and tables.
Research Summaries: Comprehension of experiments and their outcomes.
Conflicting Viewpoints: Comparison of different scientific hypotheses or perspectives.
Optional SectionWriting (Essay): Responding to a provided prompt, articulating and substantiating ideas effectively in written form.

ACT Exam Pattern

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime AllottedTest Format
English7545 minutesMultiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)
Mathematics6060 minutesMultiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)
Reading4035 minutesMultiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)
Science4035 minutesMultiple-Choice Questions (MCQs)
Optional Writing1 Essay Prompt40 minutes (Optional)Essay Writing (Optional)
Total216 (including essay)3 hours and 35 minutes (with Writing)<br>2 hours and 55 minutes (without Writing)

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Results & Scores

  • The ACT exam is scored on a scale of 1 to 36 for each section and the composite score.
  • Average score for English section is 20.2, Mathematics section is 20.5, Reading section is 21.3, Science section and composite section is 20.8.
  • The composite score is the average of the four section scores, rounded to the nearest whole number.
  • ACT provides detailed score reports, including sub-scores for each section, allowing students to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
Score RangeInterpretation
36Perfect Score: Outstanding performance, top 1% of test-takers
32-35Excellent: Strong performance, highly competitive
28-31Good: Above average, competitive for many colleges
22-27Average: Meeting college readiness benchmarks
18-21Below Average: Improvement needed for college readiness
1-17Limited: Significant improvement required for college readiness

How To Register?

Registering for the ACT exam is an easy process. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to register for the ACT exam:

Registration for International Students

  • Exclusively Online: International students are required to register for the ACT exclusively through the official website.

Registration Process

  • Create an ACT Web Account: If you plan to take the test at designated test centers, create an ACT Web account on the official website.
  • Select Test Date and Center: Choose a suitable test date and the designated test center in your region where you want to take the ACT exam.
  • Complete Application Form: Create a student profile by providing your personal information and complete the online application form. Ensure all details are accurate and up-to-date.
  • Submit Necessary Documents: Upload the required documents as specified during the application process. Ensure that all documents are valid and meet the specified criteria.
  • Immediate Confirmation: After submitting your application, you will receive immediate confirmation of your registration. This confirmation indicates that your registration for the ACT exam has been successfully processed.
  • Late Registration (If Applicable): Be mindful of late registration deadlines, which usually fall two to three weeks before the test date. Late registrations involve an additional fee, so it’s advisable to register well before the deadline to avoid additional costs.

ACT Admit Card:

  • Download and Review: Once registered, candidates can download and print their admit cards from the official website. It is important to keep the admit card ready with you when you take the exam.
  • Review Admit Card Details: Upon receiving your admission ticket, carefully review all the information to ensure accuracy. Double-check your personal details, address, and the designated score recipients to avoid any discrepancies.

Exam Fee

Fee DescriptionAmount Payable
ACT with WritingUSD 88
ACT without WritingUSD 63
Test Option ChangeUSD 25
Late RegistrationUSD 36
Standby TestingUSD 63
Change FeeUSD 40
Score reports to 5th and 6th college choicesUSD 16
Additional Score ReportsUSD 16
Test Information Release (During Registration)USD 30
Test Information Release (After Test)USD 40

The ACT Scholarships

Securing a high ACT score not only enhances your chances of college acceptance but also opens the doors to various scholarships, making higher education more accessible. ACT scholarships provide financial support to deserving students, empowering them to pursue their academic goals. Here are some notable ACT scholarships available for international students:

Scholarship NameACT Score RequiredBenefits
Texas Armed Services Scholarship Program23USD 10,000
Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship21USD 30,000
CIA Undergraduate Scholarship21USD 18,000
Matt Logies Memorial Scholarship24USD 5,000

Preparation Tips

Preparation is the key to success in any exam, and the ACT is no exception. Here are valuable tips and strategies to help you excel in your upcoming ACT exam:

  • Create a Study Schedule: Plan a schedule that covers all topics and allows for regular practice. Consistency in your efforts is crucial.
  • Use Official Materials: Utilize official ACT prep materials, including the ACT website, official practice tests, and The Official ACT Prep Guide. These resources closely resemble the actual test and provide authentic practice.
  • Identify Weaknesses: Take practice tests to find out your weaknesses. Focus more on areas where you struggle, but don’t neglect your strengths entirely.
  • Time Management: Practice time management during your study sessions and on practice tests. Each section has a strict time limit; practicing within these is essential.
  • Explore Study Resources: Consider using additional study resources such as prep books, online courses, or tutoring if needed. These resources can provide diverse perspectives and approaches to problem-solving.
  • Practice A Lot: The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with the test format and types of questions. Regular practice builds confidence and familiarity.
  • Review Mistakes: Analyze your mistakes with the help of practice tests. Understand why you got a question wrong and learn from it. Identifying patterns in your mistakes can guide focused study.
  • Simulate Test Conditions: Take full-length practice tests under timed, exam-like conditions. Simulating the actual test day experience helps you get accustomed to the pressure and time constraints.
  • Prioritize a Healthy Lifestyle: Ensure you get adequate sleep, eat well, and exercise. A healthy lifestyle improves cognitive function and focus, enhancing your ability to absorb and retain information.
  • Learn Test-Taking Strategies: Familiarize yourself with strategies for each section, such as the process of elimination for multiple-choice questions and pacing techniques. These strategies can significantly impact your performance.
  • Review and Repeat: After completing your initial study plan, review and repeat the process, focusing on your weaker areas. Continuous review and targeted practice lead to mastery.

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Free Preparation Resources

Preparing for the ACT exam doesn’t have to come with a hefty price tag. Numerous online resources offer valuable study materials, practice tests, and test-taking strategies at no cost. Here’s a roundup of free ACT exam resources to help you excel on test day:


  • Free ACT study guide, full-length practice tests, and test-taking strategies.
  • Personalized score report and tailored resources to address areas of improvement.

2. The Princeton Review

  • Full-length practice test, free online courses on testing strategies.
  • 14-day free trial with self-paced program, including video lessons and practice drills.

3. Kaplan

  • Free ACT classes, events, and half-length practice test using official ACT questions.
  • Daily ACT question emails and short pop quizzes for quick practice sessions.

4. Magoosh

  • Detailed study tips, study schedules, and free ACT practice questions with video explanations.
  • Seven free full-length ACT practice tests with answer keys and explanations.

5. Khan Academy

  • Universal testing strategies applicable to ACT.
  • Resources for strengthening subject areas like reading, writing, and math.

6. Varsity Tutors

  • Free practice tests categorized by subject area.
  • Free ACT prep course with six live sessions and real-time Q&A.

7. Veritas Prep

  • General test prep resources, specific content-based test prep, and free ACT classes.
  • Over three hours of on-demand video lessons and various free test prep materials.

8. The Critical Reader

  • ACT reading materials, reading strategies, and free ACT questions of the day.
  • Free ACT quizzes and reading guides.

9. Erik the Red

  • Extensive resources for ACT Math section, including quizzes and skill-specific practice problems.
  • Free ACT Math guides with essential information and formulas.

10. Union Test Prep

  • Comprehensive ACT study guide, free practice tests, and downloadable ACT flashcards.
  • Breakdown of the ACT exam structure, scoring, and test day expectations.

Utilize these valuable free resources to enhance your ACT exam preparation. From practice tests to targeted study materials, these platforms offer a wealth of knowledge to help you perform your best on the ACT. Good luck with your studies!

Frequently Asked Questions

The ACT exam, conducted by ACT, Inc., is a multiple-choice, pencil-and-paper test designed to assess a high school student’s preparedness for college. It serves as a standardized measure that colleges use to evaluate applicants on a level playing field, providing them with a common data point for comparison.

The level of difficulty of the ACT varies from person to person. For some individuals, the lengthy reading passages and intricate math questions might pose a challenge. However, it’s important to note that the ACT follows a consistent format and structure. With dedicated practice, even those who initially find the test challenging can enhance their performance significantly.

MIT does not have any preference for either the ACT or SAT. Students perform differently on these tests, and MIT accepts scores from both examinations without favouring one over the other. It’s worth considering the timing of the tests as well. The SAT comprises a total of 154 multiple-choice questions to be completed within a three-hour testing window.