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The American College Testing (ACT) is a standardized test needed for college admissions in the US. If you intend to apply to a college in the United States, having a good standardized test score, i.e. either an ACT or SAT score, is imperative to a successful application.

Like the SAT, the ACT is based on a multiple-choice format and its purpose is to assess college readiness. It tests skills such as critical reading, writing, english and scientific thinking. It is a computer-based test that lasts 3 hours and 35 minutes including the 40 minute optional essay.

Most students take the ACT in either Grade 11 or early Grade 12, and fortunately for you, there is no limit to the number of times you are permitted to take the test. So, do remember to leave adequate time to retake the test if needed. The tests are usually held multiple times a year, however this year’s testing schedule has been disrupted by COVID-19.

ACT Test Structure

The ACT consists of four compulsory multiple choice sections and one optional essay section.


This section tests your English language skills and you will have 45 minutes to complete 75 questions. The questions will test your mastery of skills such as vocabulary, punctuation, grammar, organization, sentence structure and style. Since you only have 36 seconds per question, prior mastery of language skills and time management in this section is critical.


This section has 40 questions and is 35 minutes long. This section is similar to the evidence-based reading section on the SAT in which you will answer questions based on passages. The purpose of this section is to measure comprehension and reasoning skills. The passages may include extracts from humanities, social studies, fiction or social sciences texts.


This section has 60 questions and is 60 minutes long. The Math section tests content that is normally covered in high school such as Algebra, Coordinate Geometry, Plane Geometry and Trigonometry. Some miscellaneous topics like complex numbers, matrices and logarithms are also tested. You will have access to a calculator.


The Science section of the ACT tests the ability of students to analyse and read science-based passages. The passages could be from Biology, Physics, Chemistry or Earth Science. You will have 35 minutes to answer 40 questions. This section does not directly test scientific knowledge but instead requires you to interpret and synthesize findings from graphs, charts, tables and research summaries.

English (Optional)

This section of the ACT is optional and you will have 40 minutes to plan, write and refine your essay. The prompt for this essay is on contemporary issues and you will be provided with three different perspectives on this issue. You are then asked for your own perspective and analysis on this issue. You will need to support your ideas with logical reasoning and persuasive examples. Although this section is optional, Some colleges and universities require or accept ACT essay scores, so it is recommended to complete this section.

Test Structure Summary

SectionsTimeNo. of QuestionsTime/QuestionContent/Skills Covered
English45 minutes75 questions36 secondsPunctuation, grammar, usage, and sentence structure, organization and style
Mathematics60 minutes60 questions60 secondsPre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, coordinate geometry, plane geometry and trigonometry
Reading35 minutes40 questions52 secondsCritical reading and reasoning
Science35 minutes40 questions52 secondsScience based interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning and problem solving
Essay (Optional)40 minutes1 essayAnalyzing contemporary issues, crafting examples and opinions

How The ACT Is Scored

For the four compulsory sections, the raw score is converted to a scaled score from 1-36. Your overall ACT score is the average of each of the four section scores and will also have a range of 1-36. The scaled scores allow for consideration of the difficulty of each test, as some tests might be harder than others. Therefore, you should also evaluate your score with respect to the percentile you fall under.

The essay score is provided separately. Your is scored by two different graders on a scale of 1-6 across four different domains, for a total score out of 12 in each domain. To obtain the overall essay score, the four domain scores are then averaged into a total score out of 12.

What Is Considered A Good ACT Score?

Standardized test scores are one of the first considerations college admissions committees have, meaning that your application to your dream school stands a far better chance if your scores are in the middle 50% (or higher) of that school’s admitted students’ scores.

Thus, if you intend to apply to a college in the United States, having a good ACT score is crucial for a successful application.

Well, what’s a ‘good score’ then? It really depends on what your goals are. The average ACT score in 2019 was 21 out of 36; but for top ivy league colleges the average is closer to a 33. You should set your ideal score based on your target colleges and the rest of your profile.

ACT Scores At Top Colleges

Here are the average ACT scores attained by successful candidates of the top universities/colleges in the United States.


College NameACT 25th PercentileACT 75th PercentileAcceptance Rate
Stanford University31355%
University of Southern California303317%
Harvard University32355%
Northeastern University313429%
University of Pennsylvania31359%
Cornell University313414%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology33358%
Rice University323515%
Columbia University32357%
Duke University313411%
Brown University31349%
University of California, Berkeley313417%

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