ACT Study Guide


ACT Study Guide

Related Topics: Science Test Math Writing

Pages:10 (3062 words)


Topic:College Admission

Document Type:Study Guide


What is the ACT?

It is not easy to score top marks on the American College Testing (ACT). One needs not only to dedicate a significant amount of time studying it but also rely on efficient study approaches. Thus, what must one do for acing the ACT and getting admitted into the college/university of one’s dreams? This article will take you on a systematic journey of precisely how to pass the ACT with flying colors, beginning with the techniques you must adopt during preparations, right up to test-time tips for maximizing your score.

Within the context of this paper, to sail through the ACT would mean to score more than 30. Achieving this score makes an applicant competitive for admittance to a majority of colleges in the US as previous results reveal that scoring above 30 means scoring better than ninety-five percent of ACT test-takers. To achieve this result, an applicant must answer most of the questions since he can miss only a minimal number of questions within each section. An important point to bear in mind is: it takes a minimum of 34 points to be able to up one’s chances for entry into the nation’s most selective universities/colleges. Based on institutional goals, you must first gauge not only your target points but also what an excellent score would be for you. Irrespective of your score target, if you stick to the guidelines provided within this article, you will undoubtedly ready yourself to attain your goal.

Parts of ACT Test

Parts of ACT Test

English Test

This 45-minute section comprises of 75 questions, encompassing a total of five passages or essays, each of which has an associated set of questions with multiple choices. 

• Specific questions deal with underlined passage parts, offering various alternatives to that part. The examinee has to choose the answer most relevant to the context. 

• Other questions relate to a passage section, an underlined part, or the overall passage. The examinee gets to select the alternative that ideally answers the question. 

• Several questions provide the choice of “NO CHANGE.” 

The ACT English test requires examinees to demonstrate their skills in text editing and revision from the writer’s perspective. Short essays and texts from diverse genres offer different rhetorical situations. The passages within the test are selected for aptness when it comes to the evaluation of linguistic and writing skills, and reflecting the experiences and interests of examinees. 

For this test, a total of 4 scores will be reported: one overall test score for 75 questions, and 3 reporting categories’ scores grounded in specific capability and knowledge. The approximate test percentage dedicated to individual reporting categories is:

Production of Writing (29–32%)

This category necessitates the application of one’s understanding of a literary text’s focus and intent. 

• Topic Development: Display mastery over, and a grasp of, rhetorical literature elements. Recognize text portions’ purpose, i.e., whether it fulfills its desired aim, and assess content relevance concerning its focus. 

• Unity, Cohesion, and Organization: Adopt multiple approaches for making sure a piece of writing is well-organized, with a smooth flow and sound intro and conclusion paragraphs.

Knowledge of Language (13–19%)

Such questions call for a demonstration of proper language use by ensuring concise and precise word choices and maintenance of tone and style consistency.

Conventions of Standard English (51–56%)

Such questions call for the application of one’s understanding of Standard English grammatical conventions, mechanics, and use within the context of editing and revising texts. 

• Sentence Formation and Structure: Employ one’s understanding of textual sentence formation and structure to revise and improve upon a piece of writing. 

• Punctuation: Identify common issues with punctuations in Standard English and revise appropriately for improving the piece of writing. 

• Usage: Identify common issues with usage of Standard English within a given essay/passage, and improve it by revising appropriately.

Mathematics Test 

The hour-long math test consists of 60 questions and aims at evaluating essential mathematical ability (up to grade 12 level). 

The majority of questions are self-contained, with some potentially belonging to a group of multiple items (for instance, each on a single chart or graph).

The test material focuses on key content areas that are necessary for succeeding at entry-level college mathematics courses. Computational ability and familiarity with basic formulae are considered to be the background for these problems; however, it is not necessary to memorize extensive computations and complex equations.

For this test, a total of 9 scores, which are as follows, are reported: one overall test score for the sixty questions and 8 reporting category scores grounded in specific mathematical capability and knowledge. The approximate test percentage dedicated to individual reporting categories is:

Preparing for Higher Mathematics (57–60%) 

This category encompasses the recent math 12th graders are learning, commencing from basic algebra for equation expression and solution. Five subcategories are included within this category:

• Quantity and Number (7–10%): Prove one’s familiarity with complex and real number systems, and reason with several forms of numerical quantities, including vectors, matrices, and rational and integer exponent expressions. 

• Algebra (12–15%): Model, solve, and graph various kinds of expressions. Further, understand and apply different forms of equations (e.g., linear, radical, exponential, and polynomial relationships). Solve equation systems, even if represented by simple matrix equations, as well as employ results in solving real-world problems. 

• Functions (12–15%): Prove one’s familiarity with function: including defining, representing, applying, and function notations. Apply functions like linear, polynomial, radical, logarithmic, and piecewise. Translate and change functions, besides interpreting and applying key graph features. 

• Geometry (12–15%): Use your understanding of solids and shapes, concerning topics like similarity relationships, congruence, and volume and surface area measurement. Utilize one’s knowledge of composite objects, in addition to solving for missing values for figures like triangles and circles. Apply conic section equations and trigonometric ratios.

• Probability and Statistics (8–12%): Describe distribution spread and center. Use and analyze techniques of data collection. Interpret and model bivariate data relations. Calculate probabilities through the identification of associated sample spaces.

Integrating Essential Skills (40–43%) 

The focus of this category is the measurement of the extent to which an examinee can combine and apply his/her capabilities and understandings for solving trickier problems. The section’s questions require addressing concepts like percentages and rates, median and average, proportional relationships, numerical expression in diverse ways, and volume, area, and surface area. Solve non-regular problems involving a combination of skills within chains of steps; understand relationships; demonstrate fluency, and apply skills within different contexts.


This category encompasses every question involving model production, interpretation, comprehension, improvement, and evaluation. Individual items are counted under other relevant reporting categories as well. This category represents a general measure of the efficacy with which one employs modeling capabilities across different math topics.

Reading Test 

This 35-minute test encompasses 40 questions targeted at measuring your skills at careful reading, logical reasoning about texts with the aid of evidence, and integration of information from different sources. 

Test questions concentrate on mutually supportive abilities, which readers should put into effect when studying written content across diverse subject areas. In particular, questions will involve determination of critical ideas; identification and interpretation of significant details; understanding event succession; comparisons; comprehension of cause and effect relationships; generalizations; integration of data from various works; determination of the meanings of context-reliant terms/phrases and sentences; analysis of narrator/author approach and voice; and analysis of evidences and claims within arguments.

This test has a total of 4 sections, of which 3 comprise single long prose passages, and one comprises a couple of shorter ones. These passages are representative of the types and levels of text 1st-year college-goers typically have to study. 

Individual passages start with headings identifying the kind of reading (for instance, “Natural Science”), author name, and passage source, in addition to crucial background details for facilitating passage comprehension. Individual sections encompass a group of questions with multiple answer choices. Such items aren’t intended to test for vocabulary, memorization of facts not included in the text, or formal logic rules. Within the section with shorter passages, a few questions pertain to both passages. 

A total of 5 reading test scores are reported: an overall test score for the 40 questions, 3 skills/knowledge-based reporting category scores, and one Understanding Complex Texts (UCT) indicator. Approximate test percentage dedicated to individual reporting categories is:

Key Ideas and Details (55–60%) 

The category calls for careful reading of texts for determining key themes and concepts. Precisely summarize concepts and details. Understand associations and logically infer and conclude (this includes comprehending sequential, cause-effect, and comparative relationships. 

Craft and Structure (25–30%) 

Such questions require determination of meanings of terms and phrases, rhetorical analysis of authors' word choices, text structure analysis; analysis of characters' perspective; and comprehension of author standpoint and intent. Rhetorically interpret author decisions and distinguish between different data sources and viewpoints.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (13–18%) 

This category calls for a grasp of author arguments, differentiation between views and facts, and the application of evidence for connecting between diverse, related texts. Specific questions call for an analysis of authors' argument construction and evaluation of evidence and reasoning from different sources.

Science Test 

The 35-minute science test comprises of 40 questions aimed at measuring the interpretation, assessment, analysis, problem resolution, and reasoning abilities necessary for natural science study. Numerous genuine scientific situations are presented in the test, each of which is followed by several multiple-choice questions.

The test content covers the following sciences: physics, chemistry, biology, and space/earth sciences (including astronomy, meteorology, and geology). While there is no need for the examinee to possess advanced knowledge of these sciences, general background and introductory scientific knowledge might be necessary for getting the answers to some questions right. It concentrates on multidimensional evaluation using questions evaluating for scientific content together with scientific practice and capabilities. 

The questions call for identification and understanding of fundamental scientific concepts and features, critical analysis of the link between provided information and developed theories or conclusions made, and generalization from information for predicting, concluding, and acquiring novel knowledge. (Note: The use of calculators is prohibited in this science test.) Scientific test information may appear in any of the following formats:

• Data Representation (30–40%): Tabular and graphic content is presented akin to the material presented by scientific texts and journals. Related questions assess skills like understanding relationships between information provided in graphs and tables, tabular information translation into graphs, and interpolation/extrapolation.

• Research Summaries (45–55%): Related experiments are described, with questions revolving around experimental design and result interpretation. 

• Conflicting Viewpoints (15–20%): At least two explanations are provided for a single scientific phenomenon, both inconsistent with each other on account of being based on partial information or differing principles. Questions revolve around understanding, analyzing, and comparing alternative theories or perspectives.

Four science test scores are reported: an overall test score for 40 questions and 3 reporting categories’ scores grounded in scientific capability and knowledge. The approximate test percentage dedicated to individual reporting categories is:

Interpretation of Data (45–55%)

This category calls for manipulation and analysis of scientific information provided within scientific diagrams, tables, and graphs (for instance, recognition of information trends, translation of tabular information into graphs, mathematical reasoning, and interpolation/extrapolation).

Scientific Investigation (20–30%)

This category calls for an understanding of experimental processes, instruments, and plans (for instance, identification of variables and controls) and comparison, extension, and modification of experiments (for instance, additional trial outcome prediction). 

Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results (25–35%) 

These questions call for gauging scientific data validity and formulation of forecasts and conclusions based on that data (for instance, ascertaining which explanation given for any given scientific phenomenon has the backing of novel findings).

Writing Test

ACT writing test applicants have to appear for the optional writing test following completion of the 4 multiple-choice tests. Writing test results won’t have any impact on the composite score or multiple-choice test results.

The 40-minute writing test takes the form of an essay test, evaluating applicant writing skills — in particular, high-school and entry-level collegiate composition English course writing skills. 

The test involves a single writing prompt describing a multifaceted issue and offering three distinct standpoints on it. You will be required to go through the prompt, followed by composing an essay wherein you explain your view on the topic. The essay has to scrutinize the link between your standpoint and at least one other standpoint. You can make a standpoint already provided within the prompt your own, or present a whole new view. The standpoint adopted won’t have any impact on test scores. 

Five writing test scores are reported: one subject-level 2-12 scale writing score, and 4 analytical scoring rubric-based domain scores. The first score represents domain scores’ rounded average, the domains being:

Ideas and Analysis

This domain’s scores display examinee capability of generating productive thought and undertaking critical engagement with diverse views on the issue. A skilled writer effectively grasps the issue, text intent, and audience, formulating ideas applicable to the context. 

Development and Support 

This domain’s scores indicate the examinee's capability of discussing ideas, reasoning, and strengthening an argument. A proficient writer will be able to examine and expound on ideas, use examples to illustrate, and deliberate on implications. They aid readers in comprehending their take on the issue. 


This domain’s scores reveal the examinee capability of clearly and purposefully organizing ideas. Organizational decisions prove central to efficient writing. A capable writer will organize the essay such that relationships between ideas are demonstrated, and readers are guided smoothly across the discussion. 

Language Use and Conventions 

This domain’s scores indicate the examinee capability of using the written language for clearly articulating arguments. A competent writer will employ mechanics, word usage, syntax, and grammatical conventions. They are cognizant of audiences and adapt their writing tone and style for ensuring effective communication.

How to Ace the ACT

The efficient study is just as important as the number of study hours when it comes to sailing through the ACT. Irrespective of whether one uses test preparation material enrolls in ACT preparation classes or goes to a tutor, and the following practices must be incorporated into ACT study.

i. Utilize Actual, or at least Reasonable, Practice Questions

The ideal study questions are those most closely resembling actual ACT questions. The ACT has a distinctive format, completely unlike school tests students are accustomed to. Hence, to pass the ACT with flying colors, the ideal approach is confidently answering all varieties of questions that will potentially be asked in the test.

A major shortcoming of several ACT preparation books is: the practice questions included in them are either too easy or too difficult when compared to ACT questions. Furthermore, some books’ questions are in a format different from the ACT format.

Hence, what are the ideal ACT practice sources? Certainly, you must take advantage of officially released ACTs. 

Additionally, ACT’s website possesses practice questions as well as a web-based ACT preparation program. 

ii. Concentrate on Your Shortcomings and Consider Your Mistakes

Your study time will be ideally utilized if you concentrate on the questions you are missing and try improving on your weaknesses. You will not be able to witness any significant improvements in your score if you merely practice tons of questions without trying to understand why your answers are wrong.

There should be no room for accommodating errors if one wishes to achieve a top score. You need to understand how to accurately answer all kinds of questions and complete all sections within the time prescribed. For all practice questions/tests, mark all questions which you are even a little (say, 20 percent) uncertain.

While reviewing, carefully scrutinize all questions wrong or guessed answers. Ensure you grasp how to accurately answer questions and identify areas where you went wrong or misunderstood the question.

Record all questions above with notes on areas for improvement. Ask yourself the reason for wrong answers, being clear when recording them.


For acing the ACT, it is vital to have thorough content knowledge. The ACT examines one on several concepts associated with writing, reading, mathematics, and science. By determining the kinds of questions, one incorrectly answers, one can determine the topic areas one must study better.

For instance, in Math, you might note that you are unable to answer coordinate geometry questions. In English, you might be struggling with punctuation questions.

After diagnosing content deficits, work on them. Study articles linked to all kinds of questions. When you have familiarized yourself with this content, practice several associated practice questions, understanding how to answer them accurately.


Despite understanding ACT content as well as how to tackle questions, you might find it difficult to complete sections within the time allotted. If you complete sections with over five minutes remaining but make silly mistakes, you are rushing. If you incessantly struggle with completing sections within the time allotted, you must improve your time management skills.

For those who rush, slow your pace and be more careful when reading questions. If you struggle with completing questions within the time allotted, observe time devoted to each question in practice. Moreover, you can improve your speed with content knowledge.

Also, you can improve your time management ability by implementing quality exam-taking approaches. For the Writing and Reading sections, you must ascertain the best way to read passages and maximize scores. Drill the strategy in your ACT preparation and become comfortable with it. In the case of the Math section, learn all required formulae by heart.


Certain students miss questions despite having no content-related or time management issues. This often occurs due to an inadequate understanding of the ACT strategy.

Those who miss questions by becoming victims of commonly-used ACT tricks must work on their ACT strategy. If, for instance, you are familiar with ACT English grammar rules, yet miss questions due to failure to read the entire sentence, you must hone your ACT strategy.

A strategy error will occur if you grasp the test content but must better understand questions or improve your strategy.


Acing the ACT is tricky, though possible, using a sound study approach and diligence. If you require assistance with organization, test-taking approaches, or motivation, you may find it beneficial to approach a tutor or enroll in PrepScholar and other web-based programs or an in-person class.

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