A strong score on the American College Test (ACT) can improve your chance of acceptance to your target colleges and universities, and can improve your odds of receiving scholarships. Mastering the ACT involves understanding exam content and strategy, and practicing pacing strategies is a fundamental step.
The ACT has four multiple choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Some students will get a fifth section at the end of the exam in one of the four subjects. This section DOES NOT count in your score. ACT uses this section to gather data on potential new questions.
There is also an optional Writing test. At the time of publishing this blog, the SAT has discontinued their optional essay component, but ACT has not. Very few students choose to take the Writing subtest, as most colleges and universities do not consider Writing scores. Should you choose to take the Writing test, you will be given a five minute break after the Science subtest and the Writing component will be an additional 40 minutes.
The total ACT testing time (standard time) is 2 hours and 55 minutes. See the table below for ACT time allotment per subject:
Some students qualify for special ACT accommodations due to learning differences or health considerations. One of the most common accommodations is called “extended time”. While there are several variations of extended time ACT accommodations, the most frequently granted is 50% additional time. For students who qualify, the timing is as follows:
It’s important to use your break time wisely as part of your overall ACT strategy. Take the opportunity to clear your mind and energize yourself for your remaining subtests. Do something to get your blood pumping a little; walk briskly down the hall, wash your hands in cold water, stretch, etc. Remember to refuel as well; be sure to have a snack and/or strong mints with you for your break.
The ACT is a time-pressured test, so pacing strategies are very important. Remember that you cannot move between subtests; you cannot move ahead if you finish a subject early, and you cannot go back to a prior subtest after the alloted testing time for that subtest has ended.
Here is one pacing tip for each ACT subtest:
The ACT English subtest has 75 questions divided into five passages with corresponding questions. This gives you nine minutes per passage. When practicing, briskly read the passage before answering the questions so that you have a grasp of the “big picture” before answering the questions.
The ACT Math subtest has 60 questions, beginning with easier questions that get progressively harder. When practicing, work to improve your speed on easier problems so that you have more time to complete the harder problems that appear later in the exam.
The Reading subtest has 40 questions divided into four passages, and is designed to test your comprehension. You have less than nine minutes to complete each passage, so speed is important. Skip any questions that require extra thought time, and return to them after you’ve finished the rest of the questions.
The Science subtest has 40 questions divided into six passages, and often feels like the most time-pressured for students. It is best to go directly to the questions first, rather than reading the passage first. The questions will often provide clues on where to find the answers in the passage, so reading the questions first can save you time.
Now that you understand the timing of the ACT and a pacing strategy for each subject, it’s time to start practicing in preparation for the official exam. Good luck!