An Overview of the ACT


The ACT is one of the two major tests used by colleges and universities during their admissions processes. Though many high schools treat the ACT as if it is interchangeable with the SAT, the two tests are in reality very different from one another, and most students are better served taking one rather than the other based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. Inspirica’s approach to the ACT starts with recognizing that fact, and our Agnostic Diagnostic will help you determine whether the ACT is the test that’s right for you.


The ACT is comprised of four multiple-choice sections followed by one free-response essay. In order, the sections are as follows:

  • English
    • 75 questions divided among five passages
    • 45 minutes
  • Math:
    • 60 questions
    • 60 minutes
  • Reading
    • 40 questions divided among four passages
    • 35 minutes
  • Science:
    • 40 questions divided among six or seven passages
    • 35 minutes
  • Writing/Essay (optional): 40 minutes

In comparison to the SAT, the defining feature of the ACT is its frenetic pace. This is best seen in the Reading and Science sections, where students are expected to read multiple dense passages and answer comprehension questions about each while moving at a pace that gives them less than a minute to work on each question. If this sounds challenging, that’s because it is! Fortunately, our ACT programs focus just as heavily on mastering timing strategies as they do on learning content, so you’ll go into test day fully prepared for the series of wind sprints that is the ACT.


You’ll receive a raw score for each of the four multiple-choice sections on the ACT that is equal to the number of questions you answered correctly in that section; no penalty is applied for incorrect answers.

Then, using a process called equating, the ACT will produce a scaled score from 1 to 36 for each section; this scaled score takes into account the difficulty level of the section that you completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed over the previous five years, which allows colleges to be sure that your English score of 31 means the same thing as your older brother’s 31.

Finally, your four scaled scores will be averaged to produce an overall composite score from 1 to 36; this score is the best single measure of your performance on the test, and it’s the score that colleges will primarily look at when reviewing your application. You’ll also receive a separate score from 2 to 12 for your essay; however, this score does not affect your composite score in any way, and many schools no longer even require the submission of an ACT Writing score with your application. Although the ACT does provide a searchable database of schools and their policies on the Writing Test, it is always best to check each schools’ admissions department website for their official policy.

The ACT itself does not superscore, or combine individual section scores from multiple test dates to obtain your maximum composite score; if you wish to send scores from multiple test dates to colleges, you must send the entire score report from each test date. You can, however, pick and choose which test dates you want to send to schools. Many schools will perform their own version of superscoring by combining the highest score for each section from the score reports that you submit in order to get a picture of your “best” performance on the ACT. For the most accurate information about how an individual school handles superscoring, be sure to contact that school’s admissions department directly

Registration and Test Dates

The ACT is administered roughly once every two months year-round, and there is no limit to the number of times a student can take the test. Because of that, it’s generally to your advantage to test more than once. Part of beating any test is giving yourself as many opportunities as necessary to succeed and taking the test multiple times can be a great way to maximize your improvement.

To register for the ACT, go to the ACT website and follow the corresponding instructions. Testing is administered at official test centers, which are typically high schools approved by the ACT. You can search for the test center closest to you using the ACT’s test center locator, found here. If you currently receive accommodations in school due to a professionally diagnosed and documented disability, be sure to review the ACT’s policies on their website in detail before registering for your test dates.

Inspirica’s Approach

The ACT is perhaps the standardized test that best embodies the saying the structure of the test is part of the challenge of the test, combining questions about a wide range of content with a rigorous pace. Homework in our ACT programs includes drills centered on specific content areas, practice with individual question-types, and perhaps most importantly, timed test sections. This will ensure that you’re addressing every element needed to be successful on the test, from content to timing to overall strategy, and your tutor will review each assignment with you question by question to maximize what you get out of it.

There are certain aspects of taking the ACT that are impossible to replicate through homework alone, which is why regular practice tests are a staple of our work . Your tutor will help you set up a schedule of periodic practice tests that will give you the opportunity to practice the techniques you’ve learned while familiarizing you with the experience of taking the full test straight through. Your tutor will then review the results with you in detail, using them to revise your practice plan; you’ll be able to see the product of your hard work and determine what part of the test to attack next.

For ACT programs, you’ll take previously released official tests using the Test Innovators platform, which tracks your work in real time on a question-by-question basis, allowing you and your tutor to deconstruct your results in order to pinpoint exactly why and how your right answers were right and your wrong answers wrong.

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To learn more, schedule a free phone consultation with our Program Coordinators today!