How long is the ACT? Plus other key ACT test day info

Tyler York
How long is the ACT

Your ACT exam is fast approaching. Naturally, you may find yourself making additional preparations for what may be one of the most important exams of your life. You’ve carefully planned out your schedule, created a study guide, and submitted all the necessary requirements upon registration — what’s next?

All there’s left to do is to familiarize yourself not only with the ACT sections, but also with how the entire ACT is administered. How long is the ACT? What is the exam structure? We’re here to help.

Here’s what you need to know about the ACT exam structure, the time allotted for each test section, and bonus guides to help you with your ACT test prep!

ACT Exam Summary and Structure

The ACT consists of four areas, namely:

  • English (75 questions; 45 minutes) — During the english test, you will be asked to modify situational passages based on various topics.
  • Mathematics (60 questions; 60 minutes) — This area measures your arithmetic skills from math subjects taken through grade 11. The section contains content on geometry; algebra; statistics and probability; modeling; geometry; functions; number and quantity; trigonometry; and integration of essential skills. 
  • Reading (40 questions; 35 minutes) — The reading test measures your logical capabilities in terms of analyzing long texts. This includes determining general statements, interpreting context clues, proving claims, and presenting an argument — all by using the information within multiple passages.
  • Science (40 questions; 35 minutes) — This part focuses on certain skills you are expected to have acquired for the natural sciences, such as data analysis, interpretation, problem solving, reasoning, and evaluation. There will also be items on biology, chemistry, physics, meteorology, astronomy, and geology.
  • Writing (Prompted Essay; 40 minutes) — This is an optional essay test where you will be given a prompt about an issue, along with three different perspectives to substantiate it. Your task will be to read the prompt and perspectives, then come up with your own perspective. The perspective you’ll create must tie closely with the other three provided — it can either support the existing perspectives or be an entirely new one.

The exam’s total time for the exam is 3 hours and 35 minutes. Notice how there’s less time than there are questions in most of the ACT test areas? This only means that you’ll need to make the most out of your time per section — each section will be timed separately.

Whether you’re taking the ACT online or in person, the test will be structured similar to how we listed the areas above.

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

In-Person vs. Online ACT

If you’ll take the ACT online, you must be located abroad or in a district or U.S. state where the online ACT option is offered. If you’re not in either, then you’re expected to take the ACT in person.

While the online and in-person ACT are similarly structured, there are a few advantages to taking it virtually than on paper. These include:

  • Being able to type your answers for the writing section instead of hand-writing them;
  • More scheduling options;
  • Specialized digital tools (i.e., highlighter, magnifier, timer, line reader); and
  • Being able to take the exam in the comfort of your own home!

However, this is not to say the in-person ACT is disadvantageous for students. Some students still prefer taking the test on paper simply because this method is more familiar to them. Moreover, in-person ACT administration is what has been done for the longest time, so the processes involved in it are more standardized.

Whatever modality you’ll find yourself taking the ACT in, the test will basically be the same — it’s how you prepare for it that matters.

ACT Score Delivery

As to how long it would take before your scores are released, you would have to wait for at least 2 business days if you took the ACT online, and 10 business days if you took it on paper.

How Long Should You Study for the ACT?

Be it for the ACT or other exams, every student is different when it comes to the length of time it will take them to master concepts. Some are content with weeks of studying; others need a lot more time than that.

While study time varies from person to person, it will all depend on important factors such as target scores and familiarity with test material. Of course, if you’re already comfortable with the test material and you’re hitting your target scores, it wouldn’t make sense to immerse yourself in more intense studying. If you’re still far from achieving these, however, you may need more study time or an adjustment to your study plan.

Here are some tips to help you figure out how long you should study for the ACT:

  1. Set a target score. First, you need to determine the baseline for your scores that will be good enough to get you admitted to your preferred schools. There are free ACT score calculators online that you can use to determine yours. Another way would be to search for the 75th and 25th percentile scores for the school/s you prefer — this gives you an idea of the school’s median score. Always aim for the 75th percentile which is the higher end of the common applicant score range!
  1. Simulate the ACT. While it may be difficult at the beginning, taking a practice ACT will help you identify your starting point and how far you still are from hitting your target score. This also enables you to gauge how long you’d be able to answer questions, considering the highly limited time given for each test section.
  1. Determine how many study hours you’ll need. As complex as it may sound, your ACT study hours may actually depend on the number of composite ACT points you want to improve. These come in ranges — for example, you need to improve on 0 to 1 point. This means that you have to allot an estimated 10 hours for studying. Having 6 to 9 composite points for improvement translates to over 150 study hours.
  1. Consider other factors that might affect your studying time. Other factors to consider are the effectiveness of your study plan, attention span, and the quality of your practice materials. If there is little improvement despite you putting in a lot of effort in studying, then it might be time to switch up your studying strategy a bit. 
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Achievable’s ACT prep course

The Achievable Method

If you’re looking for effective study tools to help you with your ACT prep, consider Achievable’s ACT prep course. What sets our course apart from other materials is that it uses “adaptive learning”, which means you’d feel as though you’re studying with us. How exactly does this work? Our system learns about you and automatically personalizes the study program based on your strengths and weaknesses. 

Moreover, we’ve also found a way to determine the most ideal time for reviewing: through spaced repetition.

We know how overwhelming it can be for students to remember concepts for long periods of time, particularly while preparing for the ACT. This algorithm we’ve created can accurately predict when you’re most likely to forget the concepts you’ve previously learned, then schedule a review a little beforehand. This boosts information recall and ensures that you’re studying efficiently. 

A bonus: you get to refresh your memory and track your progress at the same time! You can also leave the analysis part to us — using the data we’ve recorded from your progress, we’ll then create a model of your understanding and mastery of the material.

Beating Time Pressure 

With the right ACT prep tools and strategy, you can beat time pressure both while preparing for the ACT and when you’re actually taking it. Consider the suggestions we’ve listed above, pace yourself when studying, and use a test prep course that offers a more personalized path towards your goals. Good luck!

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Achievable's ACT course includes endless math quizzes, hand-crafted practice exams, and our easy-to-understand online textbook (including the Writing section) with proven strategies to hit your target score.
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