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:
The ACT College Readiness Benchmarks are the minimum ACT scores required for students to have a high probability of success in credit-bearing first-year college courses. Students who meet a benchmark on the ACT have approximately a 50% chance of earning a B or better and approximately a 75% chance of earning a C or better in the corresponding college course or courses. Read more about how the subject-test benchmarks were developed.
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Benchmarks for the ACT STEM and ELA scores were developed separately from the other benchmarks because these scores each incorporate multiple subject areas and academic skills – math and science for STEM, and English, reading, and writing for ELA. The STEM benchmark was based on a combination of typical first-year math and science college courses taken by students majoring in STEM fields, specifically, calculus, biology, chemistry, physics and engineering. Data came from nearly 80 institutions and included more than 84,000 students. The ELA benchmark was based on a combination of typical first-year English and social science college courses, specifically, English composition, American history, other history, psychology, sociology, political science, and economics. Data came from 233 institutions and included more than 198,000 students. Using the medians values, the STEM and ELA Benchmarks were 26 and 20, respectively.
ACT research suggests that academic readiness for STEM coursework may require higher scores than those suggested by the ACT College Readiness Benchmarks given that Calculus instead of College Algebra is the typical first math course for students in a STEM major. The ACT STEM score benchmark of 26 is associated with at least a 50% chance of earning a B or higher in a STEM-related course. A student’s STEM score is the average of his or her Math and Science scores. More detailed information about the benchmark is available here.
The ELA Readiness Benchmark represents the level of achievement necessary for students to have a 50% chance of obtaining a B or higher or about a 75% chance of obtaining a C or higher in a combination of typical first-year English and social science college courses. These courses include English composition, American history, other history, psychology, sociology, political science, and economics. The resulting benchmark, an ELA score of 20, was the median value across 233 institutions and included more than 198,000 students.
Why Trust ACT Scores?
We are committed to keeping our score scales consistent and stable. Learn more about Why Scores on the ACT Are Scores You Can Trust (PDF).
Score Reporting Timeline
National Test Dates
The ACT is administered across the US seven times annually on seven separate dates. See the National Test Date Schedules.
Scores for students who took the ACT without writing are normally reported as early as 2 weeks after the test date.
Score reports for students who took the ACT with writing will be released only after all their scores are available, normally within 5 to 8 weeks after the test date.
Reporting may take longer for a variety of reasons, including late-arriving answer documents, discrepancies in student matching data, and unpaid student fees. Reporting of these records occurs after resolution in the next available cycle.
State and District Testing
In states and districts that administer the ACT to all students as part of a contract, the test date(s) will be determined between the state or district and ACT.
Scores are normally reported to students 2 to 8 weeks after testing.
Colleges use ACT test score reports in making decisions about admissions and course placement and to advise students throughout the enrollment process.
ACT test results, high school grades, academic preparation, out-of-class accomplishments, and future plans—these and other kinds of information help admissions officials identify applicants who can benefit most from their programs.
Colleges usually try to take into account individual strengths and weaknesses as they place students in first-year courses. For example, a college may offer three sections of a subject—developmental, regular, and advanced. A student's ACT test results, academic background, and high school grades might be used to determine which section would be most appropriate.
College academic advisors may consider ACT results, high school academic program, high school grades, planned extracurricular activities, areas in which there is a need for assistance, and part-time employment plans to tailor an appropriate program of study to a student.
How Scholarship Programs Use ACT Scores
Some scholarship programs may use ACT test results with other information such as high school grades to identify qualified candidates. However, the programs may not look at academic potential alone. The ACT score report provides information about a student's educational needs, extracurricular achievements, and educational plans. This information, along with high school grades and test scores, helps the programs evaluate applications for scholarships and other financial assistance.
Subject scores aren't the only things included in the ACT score report. It also provides valuable information that goes beyond the scores, including:
- High School Course/Grade Information - To increase the usefulness of ACT results, the High School Course/Grade questions ask students about the courses they have completed or plan to take in high school and the grades they have received.
- ACT Interest Inventory - The 72-item ACT Interest Inventory helps students explore personally relevant career options. The Interest-Major Fit measures the strength of the relationship between the student’s profile of ACT Interest Inventory scores and the profile of interests of students in the student’s planned major.
- Student Profile Section - The Student Profile Section (SPS) collects responses about students' educational and vocational aspirations, plans, abilities, accomplishments, and needs.
Standard Reporting Services
Score reporting for the ACT test is available in electronic and paper formats.
- College and University Student Record Layout (PDF)
- Student Information Booklet (PDF)
- Test File for the College Student Record Layout (Text)
- Predictive Modeling Data in the ACT Electronic Student Record (PDF)
- Country Code List (PDF)
- ACT Old-to-New College Majors Crosswalk – Effective September 2010 (PDF)
Reporting Services Order Form
To change your reporting service preferences, complete the Reporting Services Order Form and return it to ACT for processing.
Viewing Student Essays
Colleges and universities may use ACT Essay View to access images of the essays written in response to the ACT writing test. Authorized staff can review essays written by students who have reported their ACT writing scores to your school. There is no charge for this service.
Perspectives on Multiple Scores
Through the years, many postsecondary institutions and high school counselors have asked us how they should use ACT test scores sent to them by students who have taken the ACT more than once. Learn more about various perspectives on using multiple score reports.
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.
After conducting a preliminary review of the information available to ACT, we will determine whether to initiate an Individual Score Review. Individual Score Reviews begin with a letter to the examinee summarizing the reasons ACT is questioning the score and provide the examinee an opportunity to submit information to ACT in support of the scores.
For more complete details about ACT’s Individual Score Review process, please see the brochure Procedures for Investigating Testing Irregularities and Questioned Test Scores.
For privacy reasons, ACT is generally unable to discuss the details of a score review with anyone other than the examinee unless the examinee expressly authorizes us to do so. If your institution has a need to know the status of your inquiry or details of an Individual Score Review, it should coordinate with the examinee to ensure he/she completes ACT’s Authorization to Release Personal Information form, naming your institution as an authorized recipient, and then contact ACT with your questions.
If you have any questions regarding this process, please do not hesitate to contact us.
- Authorization to Release Personal Information (PDF)
- Procedures for Investigating Testing Irregularities and Questioned Test Scores (PDF)
- Myths About ACT's Procedures for Investigating Testing Irregularities (PDF)
Contact Test Security
ACT Test Security (53)
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