Your Insider Guide to the ACT

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All About the ACT

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Overview of the ACT

The ACT, owned and administered by the organization of the same name, is a standardized test that is accepted for undergraduate university admissions by institutions in the United States, Canada, and some other countries. The ACT includes five sections: English, math, reading, science, and writing (the first four sections are required, while the last is optional). Scoring for the ACT is in one-point increments on a scale of 1 to 36 for each section, and the ACT total score is the average of the scores for the four required sections. The ACT writing test is scored separately, from 2-12. The ACT is still primarily a paper-and pencil exam, but the organization has been experimenting with online and computer-adaptive versions of the assessment for the past few years. Each of the four required ACT sections feature multiple choice questions, while the writing test is based on hand-written essays.

ACT Availability and Fees

The ACT is offered either five or seven times per academic year, depending on the country in which the exam is taken. U.S. and Canadian test-takers have their choice of seven test dates, while students sitting for the ACT in other countries are limited to five available dates. The current fee for the ACT is $46.00 without the writing test or $62.50 with the writing test. Students testing outside of the United States, its territories, or Canada must pay an additional international testing fee of $57.50, for a combined cost of either $103.50 (without the writing test) or $120.00 (with the writing test).

The ACT and University Acceptance

Although a number of postsecondary institutions in the United States have become test-optional or test-flexible, the vast majority of universities still require either the ACT or SAT for undergraduate admission. Some schools also require one or more of the SAT subject tests, but these institutions will sometimes allow applicants to submit ACT scores instead. Universities generally approach ACT scores in one of two ways. They either establish minimum ACT prerequisites for admission, or they will consider any applicant regardless of his or her test scores (the latter is far more common than the former). Students targeting schools without minimum ACT requirements should regard the average scores of accepted students as a reflection of the ACT performance those schools are seeking.

Comparing the ACT and the SAT

There is no concrete evidence showing that the ACT is any easier or more difficult than the SAT, but it is possible that an individual student may perform better on one test than the other. Both exams evaluate essentially the same general academic abilities, but the formats and total number of questions are different. Furthermore, each test tends to emphasize some skills more than others (for example, the SAT is more about vocabulary than punctuation or grammar). We advise students to simply try both tests, and choose whichever assessment most closely aligns with their academic strengths. For students who have the time and resources, another option is to officially take and submit scores for both tests (this is not uncommon at highly selective universities).

ACT Score Data

According to ACT, the average composite score for the most recent high school graduating class was about 21, and the median score was slightly below 20. About 22% of all test-takers scored 25 or above, while a score of 30 was in the 94th percentile. The top 1% of all students is represented by ACT scores of 34-36. An ACT score of 20 is roughly equivalent to an SAT composite score of 1020-1050. An ACT score of 25 matches an SAT range of 1200-1230, while a 30 on the ACT is correlated to a 1390-1410 SAT score.

Figuring Out the Perfect Date for your ACT


Finding the right time to take the ACT is critical to the preparation process as it is only offered a handful of times each year. Take a look at this article to get some advice on the right time to take the ACT.

Tips for Effectively Using Your ACT Preparation Time


The ACT is the first standardized test for many students. Take a look at our suggestions for the best methods for the preparation period.