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Cracking the ACT exam pattern

Updated on 13 April, 2023

Mrinal Mandal

Mrinal Mandal

Study Abroad Expert

act exam pattern

The ACT is a widely accepted and standardized examination in the U.S. and several other countries. It is used majorly for undergraduate admissions into several colleges and universities. Learning about the ACT exam pattern is important since many foreign institutions ask for SAT/ACT scores as a part of the application package. All universities in the U.S. accept the same with only a few exceptions. The examination is run by a non-profit organization by the same name, i.e. ACT. It is a computer-based examination and comprises four primary portions, i.e. Math, English, Science, and Reading. It also comes with an optional Writing (Essay) section. 

The ACT exam structure offers passages which evaluate punctuation, grammar, persuasive abilities, and sentence structure. The reading test has four passages from social studies, prose fiction, natural sciences, and humanities. Major math test topics include Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Data Analysis and Trigonometry. The science test evaluates data interpretation and comprehension based on science passages. No prior knowledge of science is needed for this test. The examination takes 3 hours and if the optional writing section is chosen, then it will take up to 4 hours. The score range is 1-36 for all four skills and the optional writing section is called the ACT Plus Writing section with multiple choice questions. There is no negative marking and a total of 215 questions are present in the test.

ACT Exam Pattern, Duration & Crucial Aspects 

Here is a brief look at the ACT exam format

Total Time- 2 hours and 55 minutes

ACT Test 2021 FormatTwo formats- ACT (no writing)
ACT (with writing)
Number of Questions215 or 216 (One extra essay question for ACT with writing)
Type of QuestionsMultiple-choice questions (MCQ)
Subjects asked in ACT® TestEnglish, Mathematics, Reading, and Science
Additional timeAdditional 40 minutes is given to those choosing ACT(with optional essay writing)


Here is a closer look at the ACT Exam Pattern


Time (minutes)Number of QuestionsAnswer Options 
Mathematics6060Multiple-choice questions with four or five choices
Reading3540Multiple-choice referring and reasoning questions with four or five choices
Science3540Four-choices for one question, multiple-choice data representation, research summaries, and conflicting viewpoints questions
English4575Four-choice, multiple-choice usage/mechanics and rhetorical skills questions
Writing (optional essay)401One writing prompt

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Scoring Pattern and Other Aspects

Number of Answer Choices (Reading, Science, English)

Number of Answer Choices (Math)


Odd-Numbered Questions

A-D/E Labeling 
Even-Numbered Questions

F-J/K (I is excluded)

Correct Answer Marking 

Raw point for each correct answer without negative marking/penalties 
Score Range for Every Test


Composite Score Generation 

Averaging English + Math + Reading + Science Scores 
Writing Test Scores 

2-12 without impacting Composite Score 

Essay Scores 

4 Writing Domain Scores (Development and Support, Ideas and Analysis, Language Use and Conventions and Organization). Each one is scored on a 2-12 scale. Writing domain scores ranging from 2-12 are sums of scores given by two readers on the 1-6 scale for every domain. The essay score is combined with the Reading and English score to generate separate ELA (English Language Arts) score between 1-36. 
STEM Score 

Provided by ACT Test and sub-score range for each of the four subject-based scores


Components of Subjects


MathReading Writing (Optional)


  1. Usage Mechanics- 40 Questions 
Pre-Algebra (14 questions)Prose Fiction Passage (10 questions) 3 Perspectives on any Debatable Topic/Issue 

2-3 Charts and Graphs Passages (5-7 questions) 

a. Punctuation (10 questions) 

Elementary Algebra (10 questions)Humanities Passage (10 questions)  2-3 Science Experiment Passages (5-7 questions) 
b. Grammar & Usage (12 questions) Intermediate Algebra (9 questions) Social Sciences Passage (10 questions)  

1/2 Fighting Scientists Passages (5-7 questions 

c. Sentence Structure (18 questions)

Coordinate Geometry (9 questions) 

Natural Sciences Passage (10 questions) 

Rhetorical Skills- 35 Questions

Plane Geometry (14 questions) 


a. Strategy (12 questions) 

Trigonometry (4 questions) 

b. Organization (11 questions)     

c. Style (12 questions)


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