ACT (test)

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ACT logo.svg
Type Paper-based standardized test
Developer / administrator ACT (nonprofit)
Knowledge / skills tested English, mathematics, reading, science, writing (optional).
Purpose Undergraduate admissions (mostly in the US and Canadian universities or colleges).
Year started 1959 (1959)
Duration English: 45 minutes,
Mathematics: 60 minutes,
Reading: 35 minutes,
Science: 35 minutes,
Optional writing test: 40 minutes.
Total: 3 hours and 35 minutes (excluding breaks).[1]
Score / grade range Composite score: 1 to 36,
Subscore (for each of the four subject areas): 1 to 36.
(All in 1-point increments.)[2]
Offered US and Canada: 6 times a year.[3]
Other countries: 5 times a year.[4]
Countries / regions Worldwide[5][6]
Languages English
Annual no. of test takers Increase Over 1.84 million high school graduates in the class of 2014[7]
Prerequisites / eligibility criteria No official prerequisite. Intended for high school students. Fluency in English assumed.
Fee Without writing: US$ 42.50,
With writing: US$ 58.50.
Outside the US or Canada: US$ 37[8] in addition to above.[9]
(Fee waivers available for 11th or 12th grade students who are US citizens / permanent residents, and have demonstrated financial need.[10])
Scores / grades used by Colleges or universities offering undergraduate programs (mostly in the US and Canada).
Showing a picture of PLAN test booklets, a special version of the ACT for high school sophomores.

The ACT (/ s t/; originally an abbreviation of American College Testing)[11] college readiness assessment is a standardized test for high school achievement and college admissions in the United States produced by ACT, a nonprofit of the same name.[11] It was first administered in November 1959 by Everett Franklin Lindquist as a competitor to the College Board's Scholastic Aptitude Test, now the SAT.[12] The ACT originally consisted of four tests: English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Natural Sciences. In 1989, the Social Studies test was changed into a Reading section (which included a Social Studies subsection) and the Natural Sciences test was renamed the Science Reasoning test, with more emphasis on problem solving skills.[13] In February 2005, an optional Writing test was added to the ACT, mirroring changes to the SAT that took place later in March of the same year. In the spring of 2015, the ACT will start to be offered as a computer-based test that will incorporate some optional Constructed Response Questions; the test content, composite score, and multiple choice format will not be affected by these changes. The test will continue to be offered in the paper format for schools that are not ready to transition to computer testing.[14]

The ACT has seen a gradual increase in the number of test takers since its inception, and in 2011 the ACT surpassed the SAT for the first time in total test takers; that year, 1,666,017 students took the ACT and 1,664,479 students took the SAT.[15] All four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. accept the ACT,[16] but different institutions place different emphases on standardized tests such as the ACT, compared to other factors of evaluation such as class rank, GPA, and extracurricular activities. The main four tests are scored individually on a scale of 1–36, and a Composite score is provided which is the whole number average of the four scores.


ACT, Inc. says that the ACT assessment measures high school students' general educational development and their capability to complete college-level work with the multiple choice tests covering four skill areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science. The optional Writing Test measures skill in planning and writing a short essay.[17] Specifically, ACT states that its scores provide an indicator of "college readiness," and that scores in each of the subtests correspond to skills in entry-level college courses in English, algebra, social science, humanities, and biology.[18] According to a research study conducted by ACT, Inc., in 2003, a relationship was found between a student's ACT composite score and the possibility of him or her earning a college degree.[19]

To develop the test, ACT incorporates the objectives for instruction for middle and high schools throughout the United States, reviews approved textbooks for subjects taught in Grades 7–12, and surveys educators on which knowledge skills are relevant to success in postsecondary education. ACT publishes a technical manual that summarizes studies conducted of its validity in predicting freshman GPA, equating different high school GPAs, and measuring educational achievement.[20]

Colleges use the ACT and the SAT because there are substantial differences in funding, curricula, grading, and difficulty among U.S. secondary schools due to American federalism, local control, and the prevalence of private, distance, home schooled students, and a lack of a rigorous college entrance examination system like those used in some other countries. ACT/SAT scores are used to supplement the secondary school record and help admission officers put local data—such as course work, grades, and class rank—in a national perspective.[citation needed]

The majority of colleges do not indicate a preference for the SAT or ACT exams and accept both, being treated equally by most admissions officers.[21] According to "Uni in the USA," colleges that also require students to take the SAT Subject Tests do so regardless of whether the candidate took the SAT or ACT;[21] however, some colleges accept the ACT in place of the SAT subject tests[22] and some accept the optional ACT Writing section in place of a SAT Subject Test.[23]

Most colleges use ACT scores as only one factor in their admission process. A sampling of ACT admissions scores shows that the 75th percentile composite score was 24.1 at public four-year institutions and 25.3 at private four-year institutions. It is recommended that students check with their prospective institutions directly to understand ACT admissions requirements.

In addition, some states have used the ACT to assess the performance of schools, and require all high school students to take the ACT, regardless of whether they are college bound. Colorado and Illinois have incorporated the ACT as part of their mandatory testing program since 2001. Michigan has required the ACT since 2007, Kentucky and Tennessee require all high school juniors to take the ACT and Wyoming requires all high school juniors to take either the ACT or the ACT WorkKeys.[24]

While the exact manner in which ACT scores will help to determine admission of a student at American institutions of higher learning is generally a matter decided by the individual institution, some foreign countries have made ACT (and SAT) scores a legal criterion in deciding whether holders of American high school diplomas will be admitted at their public universities.

This map of the United States shows the states in which (blue color) more seniors in the class of 2006 took the SAT than the ACT, and the states in which (red color) more seniors took the ACT than the SAT.
This map of the United States shows the states in which (blue color) more seniors in the class of 2016 took the SAT than the ACT, and the states in which (red color) more seniors took the ACT than the SAT.
Education in the United States
Nuvola apps bookcase.svg Education portal
Flag of the United States.svg United States portal

The ACT is more widely used in the Midwestern, Rocky Mountain, and Southern United States, whereas the SAT is more popular on the East and West coasts. Recently, however, the ACT is being used more on the East Coast.[25] Use of the ACT by colleges has risen as a result of various criticisms of the effectiveness and fairness of the SAT.


The required portion of the ACT is divided into four multiple choice subject tests: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. Subject test scores range from 1 to 36; all scores are integers. The English, mathematics, and reading tests also have subscores ranging from 1 to 18 (the subject score is not the sum of the subscores). The composite score is the average of all four tests. In addition, students taking the optional writing test receive a writing score ranging from 1 to 36 (This is a change from the previous 2–12 score range). The writing score does not affect the composite score. The ACT has eliminated the combined English/writing score, and has added two new combined scores: The ELA will be an average of the English, Reading and Writing scores. The STEM will be an average of the Math and Science scores.[26][27] All of the changes that have been listed for the writing score and the new ELA and STEM scores are effective starting on the September 2015 test.[28]

On the ACT, each question correctly answered is worth one raw point. There is no penalty for marking incorrect answers on the multiple-choice part of the test. Therefore, a student can answer all questions without suffering a decrease in their score for questions they answer incorrectly. This is parallel to several AP Tests eliminating the penalties for incorrect answers. To improve the result, students can retake the test: 55% of students who retake the ACT improve their scores, 22% score the same, and 23% see their scores decrease.[29]


The first section 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 and options to correct the underlined portions on the other side of the page. More specifically, questions focus on usage and mechanics – issues such as commas, apostrophes, (misplaced/dangling) modifiers, 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).


The second section is the 60-minute, 60-question mathematics test with 14 covering pre-algebra, 10 elementary algebra, 9 intermediate algebra, 14 plane geometry, 9 coordinate geometry, and 4 elementary trigonometry questions.[30] Calculators are permitted in this section only. The calculator requirements are stricter than the SAT's in that computer algebra systems (such as the TI-89) are not allowed; however, the ACT permits calculators with paper tapes, that make noise (but must be disabled), or that have power cords with certain "modifications" (i.e., disabling the mentioned features), which the SAT does not allow.[31] Standard graphing calculators, such as the TI-83 and TI-84 family, are allowed. Also, this is the only section that has five instead of four answer choices.


The reading section consists of four ten-question passages, from the realm of prose fiction, social science, humanities, and natural science. The student gets 35 minutes to take this test.

Science reasoning[edit]

The science reasoning test is a 35-minute, 40-question test. There are seven passages each followed by five to seven questions. The passages have three different formats: Data Representation, Research Summary, and Conflicting Viewpoints. While the format used to be very predictable (i.e. there were always three Data Representation passages with 5 questions following each, 3 Research Summary passages with six questions each, and one Conflicting Viewpoints passage with 7 questions),[32] when the number of passages was reduced from 7 to 6, more variability in the number of each passage type started to appear. But so far, there is still always only one Conflicting Viewpoints passage. These changes are very recent and so the only reference to them so far is in the recently released practice test on the ACT website.[33]


The optional writing section, which is always administered at the end of the test, is 40 minutes long (increasing from the original 30 minute time limit on the September 2015 test). Essays must be in response to a given prompt. The prompts are about broad social issues (changing from the old prompts which were directly applicable to teenagers) and students must analyze three different perspectives given, and show how their opinion relates to these perspectives. The essay does not affect the composite score or the English section score. It is only given as a separate writing score and is included in the ELA score. No particular essay structure is required. Two trained readers assign each essay subscores between 1 and 6 in four different categories: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, Language Use and Conventions. Scores of 0 are reserved for essays that are blank, off-topic, non-English, not written with a no. 2 pencil, or considered illegible after several attempts at reading. The subscores from the two different readers are summed to produce final domain scores from 2 to 12 (or 0) in each of the four categories. If the two readers' subscores differ by more than one point, then a senior third reader makes the final decision on the score. The four domain scores are combined through a process that has not been described to create a writing section score between 1 and 36. Note that the domain scores are not added to create the writing section score.[27][34]

Although the writing section is optional, many colleges do require an essay score and will factor it into the admissions decision (but fewer than half of all colleges have this requirement).[35]


A chart of average ACT scores since 1970.
Historical average ACT scores of college-bound seniors.
This map shows the mean ACT composite scores of students within the United States in 2014

For the original standardization groups, the mean composite score on the ACT was 18, and the standard deviation 6.[citation needed] These statistics vary from year to year for current populations of ACT takers.

The chart below summarizes each section and the average test score based on graduating high school seniors in 2014.[7][36]

Section Number of questions Time (minutes) Score Range Average score (2015) College Readiness Benchmark Content
English 75 45 1–36 20.4 18 Usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills
Mathematics 60 60 1–36 20.8 22 Pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, geometry, elementary trigonometry, reasoning, and problem-solving
Reading 40 35 1–36 21.4 22 Reading comprehension
Science 40 35 1–36 20.9 23 Interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving
Optional Writing Test (not included in composite score) 1 essay prompt 40 1–12 6.9 Writing skills
Composite 1–36 21.0 Average (mean) of all section scores except Writing

Highest score[edit]

Percent of test takers achieving a 36 on the ACT from 1997 to 2011.

The table below summarizes how many students achieved a composite score of 36 on the ACT between the years of 1997 and 2014.[37]

Year Number of students who achieved a 36 Number of students overall  % of students who achieved a 36
2014 1,407 1,845,787 0.07622
2013 1,162 1,799,243 0.06458
2012 781 1,666,017 0.04687
2011 704 1,623,112 0.04337
2010 588 1,568,835 0.03748
2009 638 1,480,469 0.04309
2008 428 1,421,941 0.03010
2007 314 1,300,599 0.02414
2006 216 1,206,455 0.01790
2005 193 1,186,251 0.01627
2004 224 1,171,460 0.01912
2003 195 1,175,059 0.01659
2002 134 1,116,082 0.01201
2001 89 1,069,772 0.00832
2000 131 1,065,138 0.01230
1999 85 1,019,053 0.00834
1998 71 995,039 0.00714
1997 74 959,301 0.00771

College admissions[edit]

The ACT Assessment Student Report, at, provides the typical ACT Composite averages for college and universities admission policies. They caution that, "because admission policies vary across colleges, the score ranges should be considered rough guidelines." Following is a list of the average composite scores that typically are accepted at colleges or universities.[38]

  • Highly selective (majority of accepted freshmen in top 10% of high school graduating class): scores 27–30
  • Selective (majority of accepted freshmen in top 25% of high school graduating class): scores 25–27
  • Traditional (majority of accepted freshmen in top 50% of high school graduating class): scores 22–24
  • Liberal (some freshmen from lower half of high school graduating class): scores 18–21
  • Open (all high school graduates accepted, to limit of capacity): scores 17–20

Test availability[edit]

The ACT is offered four to six times a year, depending on the state, in the United States, in September, October, December, February, April, and June and is always on a Saturday except for those with credible religious obligations (who would take the test the following day, Sunday). The test can also be taken in other countries; however, availability is much less than in the United States.

"The ACT is designed, administered, and scored in such a way that there is no advantage to testing on one particular date or another."[39]

Candidates may choose either the ACT assessment ($42.50), or the ACT assessment plus writing ($58.50).[40]

Students with verifiable disabilities, including physical and learning disabilities, are eligible to take the test with accommodations. The standard time increase for students requiring additional time due to disabilities is 50%.[41] Originally the score sheet was labeled that additional time was granted due to a learning disability, however this was dropped because it was deemed illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act and could be seen as an unfair mark of disability.

Scores are sent to the student, his or her high school, and up to four colleges.[42]

Test section durations[edit]

Time is a major factor to consider in testing.

The ACT is generally regarded as being composed of somewhat easier questions (versus the SAT)[citation needed], but the time allotted to complete each section increases the overall difficulty (equalizing it to the SAT). The ACT allots:

  • 45 minutes for a 75-question English section
  • 60 minutes for a 60-question Mathematics section
  • 35 minutes for a 40-question Reading section
  • 35 minutes for a 40-question Science section

Comparatively, the SAT is structured such that the test taker is allowed at least one minute per question, on generally shorter sections (25 or fewer questions).

Score cumulative percentages and comparison with SAT[edit]

Forty-five percent—1,480,469 students—of the 2009 high school graduating class took the ACT.[43][44] The average composite score was a 21.1 in 2009.[43] Of 2009 test-takers, 668,165 (or 45%) were males, 808,097 (or 55%) were females, and 4,207 (or 0.3%) did not report a gender.[43] Nationwide, 638 students who reported that they would graduate in 2009 received the highest ACT composite score of 36.[43]

2005 distribution of ACT scores

The following is based on an official ACT ACT-SAT concordance chart.[45][46] ACT percentiles are calculated on the basis of the percent of test takers scoring the same score or a lower one, not (as is the case for many other assessments) only the percent scoring lower.

SAT (with writing test addition) ACT composite score The percentile of students at or below this score for the ACT (not SAT)
2380–2400 36 99.96%
2290–2370 35 99.7%
2220–2280 34 99%
2140–2210 33 99%
2080–2130 32 98%
2020–2070 31 97%
1980–2010 30 95%
1920–1970 29 93%
1860–1910 28 91%
1800–1850 27 88%
1740–1790 26 85%
1680–1730 25 80%
1620–1670 24 75%
1560–1610 23 69%
1510–1550 22 62%
1450–1500 21 55%
1390–1440 20 48%
1330–1380 19 41%
1270–1320 18 34%
1210–1260 17 28%
1140–1200 16 21%
1060–1130 15 16%
990–1050 14 11%
910–980 13 6%
820–900 12 3%
750–810 11 1%
Subtest Score The percentile of students at or below this score
E 36 99%
E 35 99%
E 34 99%
E 33 97%
E 32 96%
E 31 94%
E 30 93%
E 29 91%
E 28 88%
E 27 85%
E 26 82%
E 25 78%
E 24 73%
E 23 68%
E 22 63%
E 21 57%
E 20 50%
E 19 43%
E 18 38%
E 17 33%
E 16 29%
E 15 24%
E 14 18%
E 13 14%
E 12 11%
E 11 9%
M 36 99%
M 35 99%
M 34 99%
M 33 98%
M 32 97%
M 31 96%
M 30 94%
M 29 93%
M 28 91%
M 27 88%
M 26 84%
M 25 79%
M 24 74%
M 23 67%
M 22 61%
M 21 57%
M 20 52%
M 19 47%
M 18 41%
M 17 34%
M 16 26%
M 15 14%
M 14 6%
M 13 2%
M 12 1%
M 11 1%
R 36 99%
R 35 99%
R 34 99%
R 33 97%
R 32 95%
R 31 93%
R 30 91%
R 29 87%
R 28 85%
R 27 82%
R 26 78%
R 25 75%
R 24 71%
R 23 66%
R 22 60%
R 21 54%
R 20 48%
R 19 42%
R 18 39%
R 17 30%
R 16 25%
R 15 19%
R 14 15%
R 13 10%
R 12 6%
R 11 3%
S 36 99%
S 35 99%
S 34 99%
S 33 99%
S 32 98%
S 31 97%
S 30 96%
S 29 95%
S 28 93%
S 27 91%
S 26 87%
S 25 83%
S 24 77%
S 23 70%
S 22 62%
S 21 56%
S 20 47%
S 19 38%
S 18 34%
S 17 21%
S 16 19%
S 15 15%
S 14 11%
S 13 8%
S 12 5%
S 11 3%



Use by high IQ societies[edit]

American Mensa is a high IQ society that allows use of the ACT for membership admission if the test was taken prior to September 1989. A composite score of 29 or above is required.[48] The Triple Nine Society also accepts the old ACT test for admission, with a qualifying score of 32; after September 1989 the qualifying score is 34.[49] The Epimetheus Society accepts the ACT as well, accepting scores of 35 or higher, regardless of when the test was administered.[50]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Test Descriptions – ACT Student". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Understand Your Scores – Sample Student Report – ACT Student". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Registration – Test Dates in the U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada – ACT Student". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "Registration – Test Dates in Other Countries – ACT Student". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "Test Center Locations, Dates, and Codes". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Test Center Codes – International – ACT Student". ACT Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "ACT Profile Report – National, Graduating Class 2014" (PDF). ACT, Inc. Retrieved November 1, 2014. 
  8. ^ "The ACT Test - Getting Ready for Test Day". 
  9. ^ "Registration – Current ACT Fees and Services – ACT Student". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions – Am I eligible for a fee waiver? – ACT Student". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  11. ^ a b "About ACT: History". Archived from the original on 8 October 2006. Retrieved October 25, 2006. Name changed in 1996.
  12. ^ "ACT Assessment", Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2007. Archived 2009-10-31 at WebCite October 31, 2009.
  13. ^ "A (Mostly) Brief History Of The SAT And ACT Tests". Erik the Red. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  14. ^ ACT Official Website[permanent dead link][not in citation given],(URL accessed June 1, 2013).
  15. ^ Pope, Justin (24 September 2012). "SAT scores edge down; ACT now more popular exam". Associated Press. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  16. ^ Marklein, Mary Beth (March 19, 2007). "All four-year U.S. colleges now accept ACT test". USA Today. Retrieved March 18, 2007. 
  17. ^ The Test Archived August 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.. (URL accessed June 5, 2007).
  18. ^ "The ACT Test - Measure High School Student Readiness for College" (PDF). 
  19. ^ Radunzal, J., Noble, J. (2003, April). "Tracking 2003 act-tested high school graduates: College readiness, enrollment, and long-term success." Retrieved from:
  20. ^ Microsoft Word – ACT Technical Manual.doc[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ a b "Entrance Exam For College – College Entrance Exams – University In The USA". Uni in the USA. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  22. ^ "ACT? SAT? Subject Tests? No Tests? Holy Moly! Who Is Requiring What These Days?". Huffington Post. 11 August 2014. 
  23. ^ "SAT vs. ACT – Test Prep Tutoring & Classes – NYC, NY". CATES Tutoring and Educational Services. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Newsroom - Press Kit, Digital Media Library, and Press Releases". 
  25. ^ Honawar, Vaishali; Alyson Klein (August 30, 2006). "ACT Scores Improve; More on East Coast Taking the SAT's Rival" (fee required). Education Week. 26 (1): 16. ISSN 0277-4232. Retrieved July 6, 2007. Beginning in 2013 all freshman entering high school in the state of Ohio must take the test in order to graduate. 
  26. ^ "What's Next for the ACT - Test Updates and Enhancements". 
  27. ^ a b
  28. ^ "Newsroom - Press Kit, Digital Media Library, and Press Releases". 
  29. ^ "The ACT Test - Getting Ready for Test Day". 
  30. ^ Geoff Martz; Kim Magloire; Theodore Silver. (2007). "Chapter 10". Cracking The ACT (2007 ed.). The Princeton Review. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-375-76585-8. 
  31. ^ "ACT FAQ: Can I use a calculator?". ACT Inc. Archived from the original on 20 August 2007. Retrieved September 8, 2007. 
  32. ^ Geoff Martz; Kim Magloire; Theodore Silver. (2007). "Chapter 20". Cracking The ACT (2007 ed.). The Princeton Review. p. 307. ISBN 978-0-375-76585-8. 
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ Cavner, Brian. "Comparison Between the SAT and ACT: Requirements differences between the two college admissions standardized tests". Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved February 3, 2008. 
  36. ^ "ACT Test Prep:Description of the ACT Assessment". ACT Inc. Archived from the original on 30 June 2007. Retrieved June 29, 2007. 
  37. ^ "The ACT Test® Data". ACT Inc. Retrieved September 15, 2011. 
  38. ^ American College Test INC. (ACT). Research and Policy Issues-Information Brief 2002–1. (n.d.). "Interpreting act assessment scores: College admissions." Retrieved October 8, 2012, from
  39. ^ American College Test INC. (ACT), Research and Policy Issues-Information Brief (2001). "Facts about scoring the act assessment". Retrieved October 8, 2012, from
  40. ^ "Current ACT Fees and Services". Retrieved 16 March 2015. 
  41. ^ "ACT Services for Students with Disabilities". ACT Inc. Archived from the original on 22 August 2007. Retrieved September 8, 2007. 
  42. ^ "ACT Score Information: ACT Score Report Descriptions". ACT Inc. Archived from the original on 11 July 2007. Retrieved June 29, 2007. 
  43. ^ a b c d "ACT Profile Report – National, Graduating Class 2009" (PDF). ACT Inc. Retrieved October 15, 2009. 
  44. ^ "ACT National and State Scores for 2009: Average ACT Scores by State". ACT Inc. Retrieved October 15, 2009. 
  45. ^ [1].(URL accessed January 30, 2012).
  46. ^ "percentile rankings for 2009–2012 ACT". ACT, Inc. Retrieved 13 October 2014. 
  47. ^ a b Univ. of California Eligibility by Examination Alone
  48. ^ "Qualifying test scores - American Mensa, Ltd.". 
  49. ^
  50. ^ "Epimetheus Society". 

External links[edit]