The ACT Test
About the ACT Test
The ACT® test motivates students to perform to their best ability. Test scores reflect what students have learned throughout high school and provide colleges and universities with excellent information for recruiting, advising, placement, and retention.
Many times, students who are not considering higher education rethink their plans when they see their ACT test results. This is especially true for underrepresented students. To support college and career planning, the ACT also offers a career exploration component to help students identify career options.
Who Typically Takes the ACT
The ACT test is designed for the 10th, 11th, and/or 12th grade levels to provide schools and districts with the data necessary to position students for success after high school.
Did You Know?
- More than 1.78 million graduates—52 percent of the US high school graduating class—took the ACT test in 2019.
- ACT test scores are accepted by all four-year US colleges and universities, including highly selective institutions.
- The ACT is not an aptitude or an IQ test. Questions are directly related to what students have learned in high school courses.
- The ACT is administered both nationally and internationally each year, with additional state and district test dates.
- The ACT is approved for use in state models for federal and state accountability.
ACT College and Career Readiness Standards
The standards are empirically derived descriptions of the essential skills and knowledge students need to become ready for college and career, giving clear meaning to test scores and serving as a link between what students have learned and what they are ready to learn next.
When students take the ACT test, high school educators and counselors receive valuable information for guidance and curriculum development. K-12 professionals use ACT reports to:
- Guide students toward college and career readiness
- Assist students with college and career planning
- Evaluate the effectiveness of instruction
- Plan changes and improvements in curriculum
The ACT Test User Handbook
This handbook offers educators the most comprehensive information for K-12 professionals about the ACT test. In addition to detailed information about updates to the test, accommodations, and reports, the handbook offers helpful tips about:
- Preparing for and Taking the ACT
- ACT Reports and Services
- Uses of ACT Data
Looking for information to help a student?
The ACT Test for Students has detailed information about the ACT test, testing locations, dates, scores and more.
What the ACT Measures
The ACT contains four multiple-choice tests—English, mathematics, reading, and science—and an optional writing test. These tests are designed to measure skills that are most important for success in postsecondary education and that are acquired in secondary education. The score range for each of the four multiple-choice tests is 1–36. The Composite score is the average of the four test scores rounded to the nearest whole number.
The ACT English test puts an examinee in the position of a writer who makes decisions to revise and edit a text. Short texts and essays in different genres provide a variety of rhetorical situations. Passages are chosen for their appropriateness in assessing writing and language skills and to reflect students’ interests and experiences.
The ACT mathematics test assesses the skills students typically acquire in courses taken through grade 11. The material covered on the test emphasizes the major content areas that are prerequisites to successful performance in entry-level courses in college mathematics. Knowledge of basic formulas and computational skills are assumed as background for the problems, but recall of complex formulas and extensive computation are not required.
The ACT reading test measures the ability to read closely, reason logically about texts using evidence, and integrate information from multiple sources. The test questions focus on the mutually supportive skills that readers must bring to bear in studying written materials across a range of subject areas. Specifically, questions will ask you to determine main ideas; locate and interpret significant details; understand sequences of events; make comparisons; comprehend cause-effect relationships; determine the meaning of context-dependent words, phrases, and statements; draw generalizations; analyze the author’s or narrator’s voice and method; analyze claims and evidence in arguments; and integrate information from multiple texts.
The ACT science test measures the interpretation, analysis, evaluation, reasoning, and problem-solving skills required in the natural sciences. The test presents several authentic scientific scenarios, each followed by a number of multiple-choice test questions. The content of the test includes biology, chemistry, Earth/space sciences (e.g., geology, astronomy, and meteorology), and physics. The questions require you to recognize and understand the basic features of, and concepts related to, the provided information; to examine critically the relationship between the information provided and the conclusions drawn or hypotheses developed; and to generalize from given information to gain new information, draw conclusions, or make predictions.
The optional ACT writing test is an essay test that measures writing skills taught in high school English classes and entry level college composition courses. The test consists of one writing prompt that describes a complex issue and provides three different perspectives on the issue. You are asked to read the prompt and write an essay in which you develop your own perspective on the issue. Your essay must analyze the relationship between your own perspective and one or more other perspectives. You may adopt one of the perspectives given in the prompt as your own, or you may introduce one that is completely different from those given. Colleges may view student essays using the free ACT Essay View tool.
Complete information about the ACT test is available in the technical manual.
ACT High School Report
The ACT High School Report provides comprehensive information about a student's needs, interests, background, and abilities. The report includes the following sections:
- Identifying Information
- Scores and Predictive Data
- College Readiness
- Information about Colleges
- College Selection Items
- Educational and Vocational Plans
- Educational Needs and Interests
- Interest Inventory Scores and Map Regions
You can also see the questions that students answer when they register to take the ACT test:
For training on how to use data from the ACT test for advising and curriculum development, see the list of available videos, webinars, and workshops that ACT offers.
Data from the ACT High School Report are available in ASCII flat file format, delivered online for high schools and districts to import into any system set up to receive the data. Records are available on demand as scores are released. Data is also provided for the current testing year as well as three previous testing years.
The 2020-2021 High School Record Layout (xlsx) is the key to interpreting the file you receive from ACT. It identifies location, field name, and field content for each data element.
Help your students do their best on test day!
ACT offers numerous ways for students to prepare for test day, including:
- The Official ACT Self-Paced Course, Powered by Kaplan — Bite-sized, on-demand lessons offer the perfect mix of structure and flexibility.
- The Official ACT Live Online Class, Powered by Kaplan—A whole team of expert teachers keeps you engaged in a virtual classroom.
- The Official ACT Subject Guides - Individual prep books perfect for students who want to practice a specific subject to improve their test scores.
- The Official Beginner’s Guide for the ACT - Step-by-step guide for the ACT test success and gain exclusive online access to the PreACT Diagnostic test and a brand new, full-length ACT practice test
- The Official ACT Prep Guide—An ACT-authorized prep book, with three practice tests, each with an optional writing test, plus access to hundreds of additional questions online.
- Preparing for the ACT—This free booklet includes helpful test information, a complete practice test, and a sample writing prompt.
- Sample Test Questions—Practice questions to give you a taste of what to expect on the ACT test.
- Live and On-Demand Webinars - Choose from live and recorded webinars to help make the most of your ACT test prep options.
ACT Online Prep
Help your students prepare for the ACT test. The same research and expertise that has made the ACT test the most widely used college entrance exam in the nation was used to develop ACT Online Prep. Benefits of the program for schools and districts include:
- Ability to monitor performance with the Administrator’s Dashboard—See how long your students are spending in the system, how they’re performing on the practice questions and tests, and the areas in which a whole class may need targeted help.
- Flexible, personalized learning paths—The ACT Online Prep system drives students through the courses so they can review independently, at their own pace, without falling behind.
- Confidence-building experiences—Using the practice questions and tests, students will familiarize themselves with the structure of the actual ACT test. There will be no surprises on test day for your students.
- A free mobile app for students so that they can review for the ACT anytime, anywhere.
Please note that ACT test preparation materials are copyrighted and may not be copied or distributed without ACT's prior written permission.
Purchase ACT Online Prep annual licenses for students in your school or district. Discounts are available for GEAR UP organizations and schools with more than 50% free and reduced lunch students.
After your order is processed, each school-level administrator will receive an email from ACT that includes a quick-start guide and instructions for activating their account. The administrator can then upload students, assign instructors, and create classrooms.
Administration User Guide
The ACT Online Prep Administration User Guide (PDF) provides all the information you need to set up classrooms, instructors, and students as well as to monitor performance.
ACT provides a variety of materials you can use to help your students learn about and prepare for the test.
Use ACT's account based ordering platform to request:
- Fee Waivers
- Preparing for the ACT Test®
- ACT Registration flyers
- Other support materials
Additional information is available through the Counselor Toolkit.
High School Codes
An ACT/SAT Common High School Code allows students attending your school to send official ACT and SAT scores directly and automatically to your school. Forms are available to apply for a code, to request name or address changes, or to indicate a school is no longer in operation. No payment is required for these services.
- Apply for a High School Code
- Make Changes to an Existing High School Code or Deactivate a High School Code
Help students remove the guesswork in finding a test center. Your school can request to be a test center for students taking the ACT on a national test date. As a test center, your school provides:
- A staff member to serve as the Test Supervisor
- Other school staff willing to serve as room supervisors and proctors
- Space for testing on ACT National Testing dates
- Quiet areas—free from distractions and other events
- Classrooms, preferably, with full-sized desks
- Plenty of space between examinees, for security purposes
- A secure location to store test materials
Complete the ACT Test Center Request form if you would like your institution to become an ACT Test Center.
More than three thousand colleges, universities, and scholarship agencies use ACT test scores to make decisions about admission, scholarship awards, and course placement. Because these institutions, as well as the examinees, rely on the integrity of ACT test scores, ACT takes seriously the importance of reporting valid test scores.
In addition to conducting our own internal score reviews, ACT regularly receives inquiries from college admissions officers, high school counselors, and others who have concerns about an individual examinee's score.
You can report concerns using ACT's Score Inquiry form. ACT will review the inquiry and investigate the validity of the scores. If you prefer, you may submit an inquiry anonymously online or by calling 855.382.2645 to use our dedicated Test Security Hotline.
If ACT initiates a score review, ACT will notify the examinee directly. For privacy reasons, ACT generally does not discuss the details of a score review with anyone other than the examinee unless the examinee expressly authorizes us to do so by executing an Authorization to Release Personal Information form.
Only official score recipients will receive notice of ACT’s decision regarding the validity of the scores. For your institution to be an official score recipient, the examinee must request that ACT send the score report to your institution. An examinee can send official scores by logging into his/her ACT web account and choosing "Send Your Scores."
For complete details of ACT's score review process, please see Procedures for Investigating Testing Irregularities and Questioned Test Scores (PDF).
- Authorization to Release Information (PDF)
- Procedures for Investigating Testing Irregularities and Questioned Test Scores (PDF)
Contact Test Security
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Test Security Phone: 319.337.1371
- Fax: 319.341.2303
- Mail: ACT Test Security (53) P.O. Box 168 Iowa City, IA 52243-0168